Edward Hopper style oil painting, The Barbershop by Theo Michael

The Barbershop, I like the feel of the knife against my neck

It was a day like any other. One day seemed to roll into the next, but here I was counting my winnings. I didn’t lose to the betting shop next door which made a pleasant change. Nothing much happens in this place, but for me that is the charm.

Crazy owning a barbershop right next door to a bookmaker, it was always going to be a losing streak. Day in day out, all my hot favourites turned into donkeys with three legs, but today was my lucky day, Leicester Piggot came in 5/1, not complaining.

Also I had a smile on my face all day, as it had been very busy. I cut more back and sides, due to the summer holidays coming to an end, and the junior high schools reopening.
My back was hurting a little, this trapped nerve wouldn’t budge.  The shrill alarm of my watch startled me, making me forget. It was getting on to 5pm and I started the tidy up routine.
At exactly five thirty I would close the front door, never a minute before, habit of course. It was important that all my customers could rely on me.

I removed my apron, ready to hang it on the old coat stand in the corner. I noticed a man outside looking in, elderly, much my age, haggard, clutching a leather brown briefcase, and looking lost. I reached for the door, opened it and smiled. ‘’Are you coming in?’’

He looked up startled and replied relieved, ‘’oh, you are still open.’’ He entered cautiously, taking his scarf and hat off. ‘’I need a shave, and if you could tidy up what’s remaining of my hair, I would appreciate that George.’’  Then he carefully placed the briefcase down by his feet.

I was puzzled that he knew my name. I felt uneasy and had to support myself against the counter.
He sat himself in the chair, and as I gained my composure, thinking perhaps I was simply mistaken.

I conjured a smile and replied, ‘’sure no problem, a shave it is’’ as I fixed a towel under his chin.

I lathered the soap on my brush and discreetly stared at him out of the corner of my eye. I began to sharpen the cutthroat razor, hypnotized by the sound of the blade grinding against the steel, when abruptly, ‘’be careful with that’’ he said, ‘’ you could do a lot of damage with that.’’
The sound and tone was unmistakable, a voice I hadn’t heard for perhaps more than 40 years.

One can’t avoid the past forever. The man sitting in that chair, and the acts he had committed, haunted me for the best part of my life. And any hopes that I might be mistaken were shattered, when he asked, ‘’have you been to our mother’s grave lately?’’

‘’Hello Andreas,’’ I stammered. I was shaken and nervous, and at the same time saddened.
 ‘’Forgive me for not recognizing you. All these years, I’ve been praying for your release.’’ And I reached for my brother’s hand.  

He held it tight as he had always done, and pulled me close whispering in my ear, ‘’I’ve forgiven you, forty years in prison changes a person.’’
I breathed a sigh of relief. Andreas seemed calm. Perhaps the years had changed him. Perhaps my worst fears were unfounded.
‘’The years have been good to you,’’ was the best I could come up with as I instructed him to lean back in the chair. I lathered his grey beard and began shaving. ‘’And yes, I was at mother’s grave, just this Sunday morning. I go every Sunday to make sure the candle is lit, ever since you...’’ I hesitated.
He squeezed my wrist. ‘’Ever since she had died,’’ I finally said.

‘’We need to talk,’’ Andreas interrupted, ‘’her falling down the stairs all those years ago was so tragic. But little brother, we can’t blame ourselves, accidents happen.’’

It was not an accident, we both knew. I could see her crying out and falling and screaming again and again in my mind’s eye as Andreas gave her that fatal push. But there was no point in bringing this up right now.
I removed my wrist from his grasp. My brother caught a glimpse of my scars.

‘’I see your wounds have never healed from that fire, another tragic accident. I am surprised you can cut hair with a hand like that.’’ He jested.

We had lost our house that day. I remember walking home from work and seeing the blaze from half a mile away. The walk was painful and my worst fears became reality to realize our home was burning to ashes. A box of fireworks was inadvertently the cause. A lit match had fallen into the box, somehow another accident. The burnt wrist, a constant reminder in my effort to save our dog trapped in the basement.

I had Andreas committed, I had dreaded this moment ever since. At the time I had no choice, it was a decision I had to make, but once made there was no turning back.

‘’Don’t stop shaving.’’ Andreas said. ‘’ I like the feel of the knife against my neck.’’
The sound of his voice was coming from his mouth but it was no longer his voice.
‘’You seem tense George. Don’t be. I spent a lot of time inside and a lot has passed since then.’’

I looked at him suspiciously. I no longer knew who I was talking to. The past was flashing before my eyes. The doctors told me that he had stopped taking his medication. Perhaps it would have been different if the doctors had confided in me earlier.

‘’Finally out of prison.’’ Andreas said. ‘As I already mentioned we need to talk. I have a request, a journey, just you and me together where we can continue this conversation.’’

As I was holding the knife at his throat a thought occurred to me that I could be free. No more looking over my shoulders as I had been for the last 40 years. I was perspiring, one second and it would be over, but I knew that I didn’t have the guts to do it.

‘’I found faith, I found the Good Book and it has given me much to dwell on. Truthfully all that time inside I had two thoughts. On the one hand, what I missed most was you. Our friendship, the laughs we had, the joy of growing up, the future of planning our lives ahead. ‘’

‘’I could only guess where this was leading to.’’ I thought.

Andreas continued, ‘’but on the other hand, over night this was all taken away, replaced by the agony of living in a cell with only four walls for company. These were the two thoughts constantly recurring in my head. And I feel hurt brother. And you should be hurt equally.’’

‘’ Why are you here Andreas?’’ I finally butted in.

Andreas continued, ‘’ If only we could start again. We live our lives as before. Perhaps we could go away. Perhaps this is a possibility, but at the same time I can’t get out of my mind that you did take away the best years of my life. That isn’t fair. They say, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.
Yes, I was looking forward to this moment’’ Andreas continued, ‘’and it’s finally here’’ as he cast his eyes at the suitcase. ‘’It is time for reconciliation to put our past behind us and I have come to a decision. There are many things you learn in prison and one skill I learnt was making small explosives. You wouldn’t think there would be much demand for that‘’.

His eyes kept flirting back to the suitcase and I suddenly realized!

I lunged at the suitcase but it was too late. The explosion took out the barber shop and everything inside it.
It wasn’t long before passersby stopped outside and tried to peer in through the smoke.
What happened they asked? One of the police men replied. ‘’It was such an old place, I always told George to get his wiring looked at. I guess he never did.’’

That was how it was reported, and two hours later, the street was pretty much back to normal.

Sometimes I think back and ponder, but now I have no regrets. I have finally forgiven Andreas. Now I know our last journey together was inevitable and ultimately so was our reconciliation. Who are we to judge our actions in this life, or the next. The place we are in now is beautiful, mother has clearly forgiven Andreas and her love is paramount. And as she says, after all we are family and nothing is more important than that.

Yes, it’s quiet here, nothing much happens, perhaps that’s the charm of the place...

Story by Theo Michael 

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