Friday, February 15, 2008

The Automated Barber

Phew, this week was hard, with all the projects and Valentining going around. Next week is midterms week, but I'll try to get something, anything up as well. I know! I'll talk about my short story book idea next week. Thus, I won't mention it this week, but I'll let you guys read one of my short stories. Enjoy!


Jasper had a particular tidbit of information that he verified for himself beyond reasonable doubt. For a nine year old, living in an era of force-fed education, it was an astounding feat of persistence and intelligence. He had determined that no one liked the town barber.

The elders living in Jasper’s small hometown were very curt and tight-lipped. One could go as far as saying that they were political. They knew that gossip spread like wildfire among the dry conversations that irritated Jasper. His own caretaker was one of the more talkative types and, as invaluable as that quality was for his research, it pained him greatly whenever he had to sit through lunch dates with her friends.

Equally disliked was Dr. Au, the dentist. That, however, was a long sustained fact that was learned during one such lunch discussion. Dentistry seemed to suffer seasons, becoming busier at certain times of the year, not unlike the efficacy of the sun. Halloween and Easter were usually blamed. When Dr. Au was unable to manage and cope, the town barber would lend a helping hand. It was a strange undertaking considering the modern age that they were living in, but it was often stated that the barber was over qualified for his job. Still, heralding medieval practices made the townspeople uneasy. Jasper also suspected that Dr. Au’s unpopularity slowly transferred over to the barber through association.

Either that or the barber was an awful dentist. It was something that Jasper could not test, being blessedly cursed with teeth that seemed impermeable to cavities. Jasper had even tried skipping brushing once, but was found out before anything good got going. His caretaker took him immediately for a check up after that. Since it was never busy season during regular check ups, he only saw the regular specialist. Similarly, the town’s only barber did Jasper’s regular haircuts.

Jasper was thinking about the barber more than usual today, allowing himself to become deeply immersed in his thoughts in order to drown out the boring banter during lunch. He had a haircut appointment today and was dreading it. Everything about the grooming process made Jasper suffer cold, steely chills up and down his spine.

First, there was the barber. The greeting heard when one first walks through the door is less of a greeting and more of an utterance of distaste. It was as if the barber did not welcome business and would much rather be standing and gazing out the window all day. The next thing that Jasper dreaded was the chair. The barber could somehow know your weight just by looking at you. Jasper was sensitive about his weight, which was deceivingly immense, giving his physique. It bothered him greatly that he had to sit in the heavyweight chair. He would much rather risk breaking one of the normal chairs than to suffer the humiliation of sitting in the big chair. Although it was a weekday and most people his age were at school, Jasper still found himself ill-logically making a quiet prayer that the barbershop would be empty.

The haircut itself was the most frightful thing of all. The barber seemed to assume that Jasper’s head was as hard as his own and would make grotesque, grandiose motions, pausing and posing his hands far above Jasper’s head before swooping in with the scissors to make a single snip. It was an artistic endeavour for the barber, who was of European make, and he liked to create a spectacle and show out of each visit. Most of the time, however, he only succeeds in shocking and scaring his customers. Still, he was the only barber in town and people were forced to go to him when they want to look good.

As his allotted appointment time approached, Jasper’s anxiety increased. Lunch was over and he helped carry the day’s shopping to the car. They had run out of errands for the day and next item of note was his haircut. Along the way, Jasper fidgeted endlessly in his seat. The thought of watching the reflection of the barber’s terrible cold and stern demeanour in the mirror as he contemplated Jasper’s hair made Jasper contemplate jumping out of the car. If he timed it right, he could tuck and roll on a grassy patch and get away with only a few minor nicks and dents. It was only the greater fear of being caught afterwards that kept Jasper in the car.

When they arrived at the barbershop, Jasper obediently got out and politely opened the door for the caretaker, but he dragged his heels when he walked towards the door. As in the past, the barber’s greeting to him was cold and monotone, almost forced. The barber’s eyes fixated on Jasper and his arms gestured awkwardly to the heavyweight chair. Jasper let out an audible sigh, but his caretaker’s stern look made him pick up his heels as he made his way to his seat.

Jasper glanced at his reflection in the mirror before sitting down, committing his long haired appearance to memory. He noted that his outward expression was stoic as usual; save for the slight redness in his eyes that gave away his fears. He closed his eyes for a moment in an attempt to get rid of the redness, but when he opened them again, the first thing that he saw was the barber hovering behind him with a pair of scissors ready in each hand. In that moment of surprise, Jasper could have sworn that his eyes went completely red and glowed brighter than Rudolph’s nose. The barber simply chuckled and waited until Jasper relaxed and calmed down before starting the haircut.

With surgical precision, the sharp edges of the barber’s tools danced about Jasper’s head. His caretaker watched on, intrigued. At times, especially on the sideburns and around the ears, the scissors came within a millimetre of his face. Jasper was normally good at keeping still, but it also helped that he was scared stiff. Unable to watch the blades buzz about his head without shuddering, Jasper watched the barber himself. There was an air of concentration to be found in the expression of the barber. His eyebrows furrowed deep wrinkles on his forehead and Jasper could make out sweat beads that trickled down his nose and unto his neatly waxed mustache.

Suddenly, probability struck. One of the droplets of sweat was too close to the barber’s nostril when he inhaled and the discomfort caused him to falter. The barber’s right hand erred towards Jasper and jabbed him just above the ear while the left hand moved on impulse towards the barber’s nose to wipe the sweat and he poked himself in the cheekbone lightly before stopping himself.

Jasper was still disinclined to move, but he could feel the wet slickness oozing out of his head wound, the cool liquid trickled onto and around the back of his ear. The barber apologized profusely and immediately grabbed a towel from the counter and held it to his own face. The damage on the barber was minimal and he stopped bleeding almost immediately. Using the same towel, the barber wiped around Jasper’s ear and guided Jasper’s hand to hold the towel against the side of his head.

Jasper looked at himself in the mirror again. The towel, which was previously bleached white, was now soiled with black and red. The black in particular was in abundance and Jasper looked around, checking the countertop for a clean substitute. On the bright side, Jasper thought, his hair looked great.

The bleeding stopped before the barber came back with a patch for the cut, making the bandage unnecessary. The barber apologized again as he gave Jasper’s hairdo a few final flourishes. Jasper entertained the notion that the barber’s reputation would surely drop a few more notches after this incident, but he made sure to keep his smile to himself.

Apologizing once more, the barber waived the usual charge for the haircut. Jasper felt alleviated. It would be months, maybe years, before he would have to visit the barber again. He took the sullied towel with him as a keepsake. There was a wonderful tie-dye-like pattern on it, tiny dots of red freckled the middle while streaks of black formed petals around it. Jasper was reminded of the eyes he saw in the mirror, though the colours were reversed.

They were halfway home before the caretaker thought to take Jasper to see the usual specialist regarding the cut on his head.

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