Sunday, May 29, 2016

In Which the PakAmeristanican Gets a Haircut

I accompanied Mr PakAmeristanican and baby to the barbershop today. I was being magnanimous. Husband was nervous about baby's first visit. Haircuts are the one regular kid thing I refuse to take on. It has taken on a symbolic significance for me that is entirely disproportionate with its real life impact.

I've met the barber before because he shaved the baby's head for the baby naming, but I've never been to his shop before. It's a small place, a long mirror and counter along one wall, three barber's chairs, and a long bench along the back wall. A smaller room beyond, which I assume functions as an office or something. There's a TV set up on the wall, set to Geo News. It's more spartan than most women's salons I've visited. Also, instead of ten gazillion varieties of hair product, there are simply several different shades of hair dye.

Husband sits down in the chair, holding the baby, while I sit on the bench. Baby is placidly getting his hair cut. We are all amazed, since baby is usually loud and restless. I'm thinking, "I've been trying to go for a haircut for a couple of months now" ( I think I've gone twice since the baby was born eleven months ago), "maybe I should ask him to cut mine, too". But I think about how strange it will look to be a woman getting a haircut in a men's hair saloon, and worry whether the barber will be uncomfortable if I ask him. So I do some work on my phone instead.

Then the barber asks me where I get my hair cut, and I tell him. He says, "Baji, kabhi mujh se bhi katvaa ke dekh lain" (You should let me cut your hair some time and see how you like it.). He is smiling as he says this, but it's his regular friendly smile, so I jump at the chance, and hop into the barber's chair. He seems a little taken aback at my ready agreement, but quickly gets to work.

He wants some directions on how I want it cut, and I am back in the uncomfortable moment that comes for me in every trip to the hairdresser, or in any encounter where I have to make an appearance-related decision beyond what clothes and jewelry to wear. What if I give him the wrong instructions and my hair ends up being all wrong, wrong, wrong? So I tell him I'll show him a picture, but that it should be short and above the ears.

Because of the baby, we had come right at the shop opening time, so there weren't any other customers waiting. The barber asks me if it's ok if other customers come in. I say sure. He tells me otherwise he has a more private area. I tell him it's fine, enjoying the bucking of the norm.

I'm covered in the plastic drape, wearing pants and getting a mannish cut. Another customer comes in with his two sons. They sit down on the long bench behind me. In the mirror I note the father's beard and the prayer callus on his forehead.

The children make themselves thoroughly at home in the shop. Their father says little to direct their behavior. He's busy with his phone.

As the barber snips away, I hear the name of the trans woman recently murdered in KPK. It's just a quick headline about the investigation. As the focus shifts to a story about a new shopping centre in Karachi that is creating traffic problems due to the lack of an adequate parking area, it occurs to me that I can't remember ever listening to the news while I got my hair cut. It's always music at every hairdresser I've ever visited before.

The barber asks me something and I respond. The bearded father looks up, eyes narrowed, clearly surprised by my voice. I enjoy his frown, which seems to me a combination of confusion, disapproval, and mistrust. I look right back at him and he looks away, discomfited. I'm mean enough to enjoy his discomfiture.

The haircut is done. Do I want it blow dried, he asks. I decide not to push my luck with the baby and decline. Time to pay up. (Husband had already paid for his and the baby's cut before I had been offered one. Rs 350 for the two of them! I have always known that barbers are cheaper than women's hairdressers, but I hadn't realised the difference was exponential). The barber asks me what I pay my regular hairdresser. I pause for a split second, but tell him honestly: Rs. 1500. He laughs, says it's my first time with him so he'll simply keep the change from the thousand-rupee-note Husband had paid with. I'm simultaneously struck by the facts that a) I've paid less than half of what I normally do, for a cut I'm just as happy with, and b) I've still paid more than four times what my husband pays, for a cut that isn't much different than his, and I didn't get my mustache, eyebrows, or nose hair trimmed, either.

I know as I leave that I need to write about this.