Johann groaned as the Avenue B bus pulled away from the 6th Street stop, and he slowed his hopeful dash to a stroll. Having missed this one he knew he had twenty cold minutes to wait for the next and he huddled deeper into his dark wool reefer jacket, wishing the Navy regulation cut was lower around his knees.
He was, in fact, on the wrong side of the road for any hope to catch the bus, having crossed over, as he did every evening, so as to pass the old barber shop on Avenue B and 6th. A group of Italian barbers had run this unpretentious shop for as long as Johann had worked in the area, and he always peered in at the three chairs hoping to see something that would excite his obsession with hair. As he did so tonight, peering across his raised collar into the bright interior, his heart stilled and his stomach flipped: there was a young woman sitting on the waiting bench.
He had often in the past gone in and sat watching – and equally often getting an unneeded haircut himself – if he saw any ladies in the barber shop. Mostly it was a disappointment, a light trim, a re-shaping … but once … Once he had sat panting in a near-swoon as a young Jewish girl was shaved completely bald, following the traditional orthodox custom of marriage. So Johann was ever hopeful. But then, he saw that this was to be disappointment, not an excitement; the young woman was addressing the barber cutting the head of a young lad whose raven-dark and glossy hair so obviously matched her own that Johann knew it must be her son.
In fact, as he strolled pass the shop front, he now saw a further lad, freshly clipped and seated beside his mom. Then Johann noticed that across from the woman, there sat a younger and smaller duplicate – a young girl of six or so, adorable and cute and a total miniature copy of her darkly lovely mother. He was still grinning at her cuteness as he swung across the avenue to go stand in line at the bus stop.
The cold evening was already darkening, and the warm beacon of light from the barbershop glowed with the false impression of warmth as Johann idly watched the barber finish the standard ‘summer-cut’ on the youngster with his clippers. The barber, after a perfunctory flick at the boy’s near-bald head with his brush, took off the cutting sheet. Released from his imprisonment the lad joined his brother, each with freshly clipped head, to run around the place in the typical high jinks of their age, the mother calling and gesturing to them to try and bring them back under her control at her side.
The young girl stood up and the young mother pulled her to stand directly in front of her and spoke to her in such an earnest way that Johann could almost ‘hear’ her tone of voice. The young girl bubbled a grin at her mother, tossed her mid-length dark hair and skipped across to the waiting barber, climbing up onto a booster-plank he had laid across the chair arms.
Johann grew interested as the cutting sheet was spread – still sprinkled with the clumps of her brother’s hair — around the little form. Johann watched as the barber’s mouth soundlessly moved as he spoke again to the mother, and the little girl’s hand flew up to his elbow and she spoke directly to him. Johann grew curious — whatever the girl had said had caused her mother’s hand to fly up to her mouth, frozen in disbelief. The barber turned and picked up his clippers and Johann started to move, to cross the road, to go in, to watch and… He froze and a flush of guilt colored his features. Sexually aroused, he discovered in stunned disbelief, by a six-year-old.
He stepped back to his place at the bus stop and deliberately averted his eyes from the shop, steadying his feelings as he tried to feel disgust with himself for this pedophilic reaction. But it was not there, the guilty reaction to his stimulation of a potential shearing of a young girl’s hair had dissipated. He returned his gaze to the shop in time to see a cascade of dark hair tumble off her head. The young girl was grinning — her dark eyes flashing in the mirror — her mother still frozen in disbelief, the back of her hand now held in front of her mouth. The two boys were tumbling again, indifferent to their sister’s denuding as the clippers rose and fell, creating a further and third summer crew-cut on the youngster.
Gradually he saw more and more of the young girl’s scalp as the barber peeled away the dark tresses to fall in clumps on the sheet. The mother spoke, her hands flying in excitement, and her protest was obvious. The girl turned to look at her mother, arched her young body in the chair and ran her hands up the back of her now clipper-shaven head in a display of satisfaction, but with that strangely knowing look of the young and again Johann drew away his gaze, suddenly uncomfortable at her gesture and poise. He looked back at the shop again as the young girl was being brushed off, the sheet spilling her cropped hair onto the floor to mingle with her brother’s. The bus drew across his view.
After he was seated he caught his last sight of the drama. The young mother was now stroking an erect crew-cut on her daughter’s head, and was caressing the shaven neck of one of her boys as she talked to the barber. As the bus drew Johann away he wondered… it was quite evident that the cute, young girl was directing the course of the haircut from the moment her mother had completed her last plea, and that she was pleased both with the cut, and its effect on her mother.
Had she, Johann wondered as the bus turned the corner, always had the intention to get her little head sheared and had been begging and persuading her mom to let her for days — or had she only insisted after watching her brother’s shearing. The mother’s hand at her mouth — hiding her shock or a slow smile?
The final scene of that mother’s caressing of her daughter’s cropped head stayed with Johann for far longer than his journey… much longer.
The bus turned onto 6th and Janet turned back towards the window. She re-focused to look at her reflection, rather than through the window of the bus, the dark evening acting as a strong mirror. Her lips split into a grin — a rather self-satisfied and smug grin, for her reflection confirmed it yet again — she was an attractive woman. Perhaps her eyes were set just a little too high in her features, tucked up there close to the naturally elegant arch of her eyebrows, and, if she tucked in her chin… Janet did it now while regarding her reflection – there was just a hint of plumpness around her chin, but yes, very attractive. Her dark Italian looks were confirmed and enhanced by her glossy hair, curving around her face to brush at her shoulders, her soft bangs broken up just as she liked them – dropping below the dark sweep of her brow.
The bus began to pass down this street and Janet started from her narcissism to look further up the block towards the pool of light spilling from the barber shop front. Her mind flew back over twenty years to that day she had astounded the barber, her mother and even, over the following days as the implications were revealed, her two younger brothers. She grinned again as the bus slowed to pause at the upper 6th Avenue stop as she recalled in a brief moment that seemed to stretch on and on, her gradual awareness of her need that evening so long ago but so like this one. The smell and emotions of that event suddenly crashed back with a totality that shocked her. A vivid recall of the actual feel of the freshly clippered hair on her palms as she had ‘strutted’ her new look at her mother’s protest.
A warmth of love for her poor mom flooded through Janet as she remembered the last impassioned plea she made to that young girl that was Janet then — reasoned and begging, warning too, but in the end Janet was allowed her way — as she was to get in so many other occasions as the only girl in the family.
Her father! She had never seen him cry before, but his eyes were full of tears on her return home that evening, as he caressed her cropped head and growled at her mom. Janet’s grin grew rueful as she recalled his dire predictions of the frightened hate and rejection this latest of Janet’s ‘adventures’ would create in their community. Then she felt herself grew softly vulnerable and tearful at the unexpected reaction of her friends who spitefully referred to her as George – a nickname that persisted thereafter until High School.
That spur of the moment need, stimulated by much confused emotions that evening — of envy for her brother’s carefree styles, of her need to be more included in their play and companionship, the daring sense of being different and her inherent tom-boyishness — and, Janet found herself becoming aware of another aspect that surprised her; an unexpected thrill of being shaved by a man in front of her mother and siblings.
Janet blushed, but it was with a cold flush and she could not meet her own eyes in her window-mirror. Yet, she could actually recall her indulgence in the strange fluid warmth inside her as she had turned in mock defiance to her mom’s aghast face and felt the bristles at her nape that the clipper had etched. She felt it again now, twenty odd years later, as her reverie was broken by this resurgence of that feeling — but whose sexual origins she now firmly rejected. It had been no more than a daring adventure; an indulgence for a spoilt little girl, allowed a passing fad.
The bus was hacking through the down-town traffic rush but had drawn near enough to the next stop for Janet to see ahead, through her ‘mirror’ to the old barber shop. There seemed little change since her young foolishness to her eyes at first — then she saw the name had changed to Jose & Maria’s; the new wave replacing the old, she thought and began to day-dream again of her youth in this area. Now she lived with her husband up-town and only came back to visit her mother for special occasions or when, as she was tonight, to get out from under his dominance, to retreat from her husband’s pettiness and nit-picking jealousies. She grew as angry as she had been when she had first boarded the bus — an anger that had gradually cooled over the last forty minutes until it had created just a small bitter pit in her stomach and an ache in her heart. Her anger renewed, she renewed her reasons for it and, once again, felt her resentment at his unfairness stiffen her back. Her reflection grew hard as it echoed her features as she struggled to reach out and hurt him, as he hurt her. She grew calmer. Her reflection grew paler in her glass-mirror as the bus slowed to the stop directly opposite the barber shop.
Janet looked into the shop and saw that there was indeed little change – two chairs instead of the three her memory told her there had been, and, of course there was Maria, a lady barber. Janet mused on what reaction she would get from these new owners if she repeated her younger devilish act and request. As the bus stopped she suddenly knew what she was going to do, and that strange warmth in her loins she had felt all those years ago returned again, but fully recognized and acknowledged this time. Janet stood up and called to the driver who re-opened the door for her. He gave her a puzzled look as she broke into a throaty chuckle as she stepped off the bus — he could not know that one of his gender was about to receive a body-blow in the age-old battle of the sexes from his departing passenger.
Johann groaned as the Avenue B bus pulled away from the 6th Street stop, and he slowed his hopeful dash to a stroll. Having missed this one he knew he had twenty or thirty minutes to wait for the next, besides he was in fact on the wrong side of the road for the stop anyway, having crossed over so as to drift slowly pass the barber shop, as he had always done these twenty odd years since he first moved here.