By Ajay Patri
The girl, four or five years old, stands at the entrance to the barbershop in her yellow Transformers t-shirt and blue dungarees. She holds the hand of a man who is tall, unsmiling, and bald.
The only customer in the shop is the one in the chair, a wide-eyed teenager who gasps at the sight of the girl’s reflection in the mirror before him. This distracts the barber, who nicks the boy’s skin below the ear. The boy’s gasp turns into a yelp as the barber looks over his shoulder and frowns.
Haircut, the man says.
The barber’s frown deepens but he goes back to massacring the boy’s hair as if he never stopped. The newcomers enter and sit on the sofa. The girl thumbs through an old issue of Filmfare and makes faces while the man keeps his arms folded and looks at his knees.
When the boy’s hair is cut, the barber turns to the bald man.
Haircut? He asks.
Haircut, the man repeats.
The girl clambers into the chair and looks at the barber who stares back at her. The boy lingers by the door and rubs the pink wound on his cheek.
What kind? The barber asks the man, his eyes still on the girl.
He shakes the sheet that was used for the boy and drapes it over the girl; it covers her from neck to toe. Then he picks up a lock of the girl’s hair between two of his gnarly fingers and brings his scissors close to it. He looks at the mirror and notices the boy.
Are you waiting to grow a beard so you can ask for a shave? Beat it!
The boy scampers. The barber begins snipping away and stops only after the girl’s hair is so short her scalp shines through. She turns her head this way and that.
Does this mean I’m a boy now? She asks the barber.
He fiddles with the comb’s teeth, no longer looking at her. She twists around in the chair.
Am I a boy now, Papa?
The bald man stands up and holds out money to the barber. The girl jumps off the chair and takes her father’s hand again.
You’re not a boy.
Father and daughter leave. The barber rubs his face with callused hands before reaching for a broomstick to sweep away the black curls of the girl’s hair lying on the floor of his shop.
Ajay Patri is a writer and lawyer from Bangalore, India. His work has appeared in Cleaver Magazine, Eunoia Review, Jellyfish Review, Literary Orphans, Molotov Cocktail, among other places.