[Issue 8 / February 2014]
In Mumbai, after gorging on Afghan chicken, I patronize a hair salon aptly named “Imperialist’s salon.” The barber can’t be more than nineteen. He wears a purple collared shirt and a robust seriousness as he sprays a loosely shaken concoction into my shaggy and unkempt hair. He slaps at my head as if he were flattening dough to make a roti, pushing so forcefully against the bumps that my neck shifts from under his palms. When the cutting begins his concentration remains. Latched there, plunging in, he lets the precise movements of his fingers carry him into that sublime sonata of the mind. The snips of his scissors refuse error, his hands listen to the curves of my scalp, tracing its bumps and thinning patches. He wields a shaving puff dipped in white powder, ices it over my face and neck, then snaps open a large razor blade. He measures the symmetry of my face with the length of my sideburns, and saws at my head, stroking the razor back and forth, letting tufts of hair fall onto the brown-stained tiles. The sweat of my palms makes my hands clammy, but the concentration of his eyes infects me with his confidence. Even as he runs his hand through my hair, tossing about the spare pieces, slapping my hair as if slapping the dust out of an old quilt, I still cheer him on. I want it dead, not a single hair standing. I want him to beat it out. From the world, my visions turn inward, to the freely carved metal bracelet around my wrist, the succulent pastries at the ubiquitous corner shops near every intersection. The young barber subjects my hairline to careful examination, his eyes undeterred by the game of cricket on the television just above the mirror, his ears unbent by the meddlesome gossip of his friends watching the match. As he yanks at my hair, pulling my body back up, I feel a startling numbness. Even when he beats my neck with a long white hand towel, just the numbness remains. The dumb docility. I am a corpse feeling only the plush velvet of my own coffin.
Struggling to keep my composure, I hand him two one-hundred rupee notes, ashamed that I could not tip more, and I leave the salon in a breathless panic, the boy’s eyes flashing in my brain, more permanent than the three headed shrine of Shiva.
For days his umbrage haunts me. It comes out of my hotel wardrobe as an apparition, skin the color of a black bull, his hair a sideways crease of perfect symmetry. The fine bark of it.
Kawika Guillermo is currently in Seattle, revising a collection of short stories and finishing a dissertation at the University of Washington, where he also teaches literature. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Medulla Review, Smokelong Quarterly, Annalemma, and The Monarch Review. He is the Assistant Prose Editor at decomP, and a Programming Director for The Seattle Asian American Film Festival.