The Reluctant Barber

Elite Hair Saloon was an establishment older than its current owner, passed on to him by his enterprising, impatient and short-tempered father. The father had no flair for cutting hair, but back in the day money was hard to come by for a fourteen-year old orphan.
Abu Hafeez had to put food on the floor for himself, so he started shaving beards. He figured hair would never stop growing and neither would people’s laziness to shave on their own. Abu knew this from his own experience. The hair on his chin and cheeks kept growing back stubbornly no matter how many times he trimmed it. He didn’t mind it at all in the beginning, but after a thrilling year of self-discovery the novelty wore off as swiftly as his beard kept growing back. So off Abu went around the village, blade and scissors in hand, eager to shave. He often felt secretly pleased about overcoming the laziness of so many men.

For the first five years, he travelled daily to all villages in the district, looking for work, relentlessly pounding the same beat. In the sixth year he opened his own saloon in the neighbouring village. He bartered a lifetime of free shaves with the previous owner of the premises – a worthy daily investment of five minutes, considering that the previous owner was eighty-five years old. In the five years after that, he opened three more saloons, two of them in his village.
At the age of twenty-five he decided the time was right to fall in love and get married. So he duly fell in love with the youngest grand-daughter of the erstwhile eighty-five year-old, now deceased previous owner of his first saloon. A week later they got married. Within a year the couple was blessed with a hairy baby boy. The father proudly named him Hamza, a clever wordplay on “Hajaam“, Urdu for “barber”, thereby clearly outlining an intended career path for his son.

After thirty years of toil Abu Hafeez abruptly decided to take early retirement one day and handed over the reins of eleven saloons to an unwilling Hamza Hafeez. Hamza was all of nineteen then, and keen to make a career as a theatre artist.
All throughout his growing years, Hamza avoided his father’s saloon by going for a hair cut to the only other saloon in the village. This was a monthly bone of contention between father and son. It wasn’t Hamza’s fault as Abu started explaining the nuances of the hair cutting business to him from the time he was five. “Abu, please let me go play with my friends”, Hamza would plead. The first time he said this Abu lost his temper thinking that his son is calling him by name. He promptly realised Hamza was merely calling him “father” as per their cultural tradition, but not before Hamza had received two slaps in front of all the patrons and barbers.
Hamza managed to avoid the saloon on most days by devoting majority of his time to school activities and drama practice. The latter was frowned upon by Abu with a passion second only to the one he had for beards. Discontent manifested itself in various forms over the years, but Abu was confident that Hamza would eventually fulfil his wishes without question.

Meanwhile, Hamza’s stature as a theatre artist grew in concurrence with his father’s trade. He scripted and acted in all his plays. Hamza’s troupe travelled all over the state, earning plaudits for their performances. Impressed with his talent, Hamza received an invitation to join a leading acting academy in the city run by one of the finest theatre actors in the country. Overjoyed, Hamza promptly approached his parents to give them the good news. Abu in turn promptly hung up his blades and handed over a flat refusal to Hamza along with the responsibility of all eleven saloons. There was real drama on display at the Hafeez household that night, and anyone who would have witnessed Hamza’s pleas would be left in no doubt of his passion and ability for theatre. Only this time the tears were real and the ending wasn’t scripted by Hamza to his liking.
That night Hamza gave up theatre and sullenly took up his father’s profession. Travelling to all the saloons and overseeing their functioning became a daily, despicable chore for Hamza. Some nights he would visit the local theatre and wistfully watch the plays. Being the perfectionist that he was, Abu routinely berated Hamza for his general disinterest and continued exercising an iron fist over his professional and personal life.

One fine June afternoon, Abu decided to make one of his customary visits to the saloon. Hamza was sitting alone, leafing through the newspaper. The other barbers had gone out for lunch. It was summer time and people rarely ventured out in the afternoons. A bunch of enthusiastic kids were playing football on the street. Most of the shops had their shutters down half-way. The occasional kulfiwala passed by tinkling his bell, much to the delight of kids and old men fanning themselves outside shops. Abu walked in and sat down for a shave in one of the chairs. Hamza groaned, dragged himself up and wordlessly started with his job. He lathered shaving cream on his father’s face, changed the razor blade and started shaving. He looked at his father’s face – eyes closed, a half-smirk permanently plastered across his lips. The next moment a powerful stray kick rocketed in through the open door of the saloon. The football struck Hamza’s arm and bounced back outside. His arm slipped and the blade cut through Abu’s jugular. Blood spurted out like a merry, erratic fountain everywhere – on to the counter top, cascading down the barber’s cloth, on to Hamza’s arm, and all over the mirror. Hamza stifled a cry of disbelief and stood transfixed, watching with a growing sense of calm as his father choked and bled to death.

2 thoughts on “The Reluctant Barber

  1. The way it ends is almost M. Night Shyamalanesque, but you can see it coming, and whether he meant to do it or not physically, the fact that he feels so calm after he’s done it symbolizes the relief from his almost-lifelong pressures. It’s so important to be proud of your child’s achievements, and to enable them rather than to restrict and force them down the path you have pre-determined for them. Your story says something very powerful: A bond as sacred as that between a father and a son can be the most stressful and venomous, so much so that the death of the former can lead to a new lease of life for the latter. Parents should know the kind of power they weild, and then use it wisely. Your story is very relevant to this –

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