Monday, 17 August 2015

Kilometers For A Haircut

I stepped out of the train compartment, into the mayhem that was the central station of the financial capital of India, Mumbai. One look at the chaos and I wondered whether the objective of my travel would be worth the effort and strain of actually traveling over 1000km by rail. I felt dirty and hot. Clutching my overnight bag, I headed out of the railway station. After trying four of the innumerable hotels in the vicinity, I finally managed to find myself a single bed room. Not that it bothered me a lot, because I had a return train to catch the same evening at 1900 hrs. This was going to be one quick in-and-out trip. I climbed up the four floors to my room, and threw my overnight bag on the cot. I got out of my dirty clothes and stepped into the shower for a nice, long, cool drench. The water supply did not let me down. 20 minutes later I emerged fresh, eager and optimistic about the trip that had brought me to Mumbai. It had started eight months ago. I have a hair fetish. Nothing strange in that. 
I always fantasized about cutting off a woman's hair. Once I hit the net, I found thousands (literally. Now don't count them and say I was exaggerating) of sources for pictures and video clips. Boy, it was like a gold mine. Then eight months ago, I met a woman I only knew as 'Shalu.' From the regular chats that we had, I gathered that she too had an active interest in female haircutting. In fact, she was a hairdresser and had a salon of her own! Boy! I admit I got a bit excited here. She would tell me about her haircutting experiences, all that waist long, mid back hair she reduced to trendy bobs and short cuts. The frequency was around twice a month. But in summer, the number of haircuts she gave would be higher.
One day, a couple of months after I had met her, I asked her about herself. She had hair that was 6" past her waist. She never cut it except for a trim. She had considered getting a cut a couple of times, but each time she backed out. And she also had the desire to get her hair cut by a man.
Jackpot? I was doubtful. Anyway cutting things short (pun intended), I proposed to cut her hair for her. She hesitated a little before replying that if I ever got to Mumbai before she went through with her haircut, I was welcome to cut her hair. I said I'd need some time for thinking and planning. She said it was quite okay with her. I was elated but cautious. First I had no way of making sure she was on the level. And, moreover, Mumbai was almost a thousand kilometers from where I lived. Two nights and a day in a train. I could fly, but it would make things way too costly.
All the time, she was punctual to our chats, talked honestly about hair, and even let me give her cyber cuts a couple of times. All this was beside the point. After six months of thought, I decided to give it a try. Nothing ventured, nothing gained as Old Chinese Master would say. I conveyed my intentions to her via mail. She mailed back the directions to reach a supposedly well-known (locally) restaurant in the crowded heart of Mumbai, and a phone number to call her. This was a precaution against me getting lost. It was a good idea, basically because for one, it protected her privacy. Second, it is damn easy to get lost in a crowded city like Mumbai. She told me to give her the exact date on which I would be arriving.
A week later, I was all set. My travel tickets were booked in advance and I mailed her when I would be reaching Mumbai. I agreed to be at the designated meeting place by 1400 hrs. This was how I came to be in a slightly run-down, nondescript hotel room. I looked at my watch. 10:00 am. Four hours to go. I went out, had a hearty breakfast and returned to my room. I felt sleepy so I lay down on the cot and napped.
Suddenly I woke up with a start. I glanced at my watch. 1210. "I'd better get moving," I thought, making sure that my wallet had the return ticket, locked my room and left. Making my way through the crowded city was no joke. Somehow I managed to reach the restaurant with five minutes to spare. The locality was middle class, the sort of place where 10,000 people could live, and you could go for years without knowing who lives in your next street. I located a public call booth and made a call to the number I had memorized.
The phone rang at the other end. A couple of rings and the phone was lifted.
"Hello?" said a female voice.
"Shalu?" I asked.
A slight pause.
"Who is this?"
"Vicky." (This was my chat handle.)
"Wow. So you are finally here, huh?"
"Yes. So are you giving me any directions or are you coming?"
"Stay there. You'll only get lost if you attempt to navigate these lanes. How will I know you?"
"Blue jeans, black T-shirt, green cap and I am currently in the call right opposite the restaurant you told me about."
"Stay there. I will be with you in five minutes."
"Okay," I said and hung up.
"Here goes nothing," I thought, coming out of the booth.
A few minutes later a woman came up to me, looking around 24.
"Vicky?"
"Yup."
"Shalu," she said offering her hand.
"Hi," I said shaking her hand firmly. She was attractive in a simple way. "Come on," she said, Leading me into the maze of lanes that constituted the greater part of Mumbai. I was lucky that she had come otherwise I would have easily gotten lost. I did not attempt any conversation as we were walking, mainly because I was more intent on reaching our destination. As far as I could make out, she was wearing her hair up in a knot, covered with one of those scrunchies that have cloth attached so that it covers the whole knot, making it damn difficult to guess the size. It looked pretty big, more than worth traveling a thousand km to cut, if she let me cut.
Soon we stopped in front of a small building, on the ground floor of which was a beauty salon that was obviously the one which Shalu ran. She opened the door and led me inside. It took a few seconds for my eyes to get adjusted to the relative darkness prevalent inside.
"So, how was your journey?" she asked.
"Okay. If you count two nights and a day in a train, with the same amount yet to come as some kind of transcendental experience."
She smiled.
"More to the point, are you sure you will not back out this time?" I asked.
"Now that you mention it..." she started, looking apprehensive.
My hopes began to fall. It must have showed on my face, for she burst out laughing. "Don't worry I won't back out this time. It is high summer anyway and a haircut will help me stay cool. Moreover, I would not dream of sending you back empty-handed. That reminds me, where are you staying?"
"Some hotel near the station. It doesn't matter because I have a train back this evening."
"Isn't it a bit too tiring?" she asked with obvious concern.
"It is. But I have no choice," I sighed, and added, "The things you have to do for a haircut."
"Very funny."
Silence for almost a minute.
"So what about you? Where do you stay? And what about your family?" I asked her.
"Parents stay in Poona. One sister married and settled in Poona. I live here with a friend, who is a freelance photographer."
"I bet you are having the time of your life doing the thing you love the most," I said.
"Yeah. I love every minute of this job and this place too!"
I looked around the place. Not much to see, just two chairs, a mirror and a sink facing each chair, the regular tools of the trade on a rack, apart from several make-up items.
"May I have a look at your hair?" I asked.
She gave me a sly smile. "Can't wait?" she asked.
"Come on, I've come a thousand kilometers for this!" I said.
"Not just now. There's still time for that. I have a customer coming anytime now."
"What?" I exclaimed.
"Yes. Won't be long though. She wants a haircut. Waist long hair. I could not refuse her. You can watch though."
"Hey, thanks. But are you sure you don't want me to do anything now?" I asked. "No. I don't think so. Your train is not until 1830 hrs."
"Good memory!" I said. "And beautiful hair."
"Aren't you glad you took this trip?"
"Sure am."
I looked at the clock on the wall. 1422 hrs.
"Well here comes my customer," she said.
The door opened and a woman came in. Maybe around 28. Average looking.
"Hi," said Shalu going up to the woman. "Ready for your haircut?"
"Yes," said the woman, looking mildly surprised to see me, a guy, in a ladies' beauty salon.
"He's my old classmate. Passing through and stopped in to see me."
The woman quietly got into a chair.
"Sit down. It won't take long," Shalu told me, motioning towards a couch. The old rule, the uglier the couch the more comfortable it is, definitely held true in this case, I realized as I sank into its comfort. After seeing me settle in, Shalu turned to her customer.
She adjusted the chair a little, turning it, and I realized that she was doing it to give me a good view. Man, things were working out really well after all.
She shook out a cape and covered the woman with it. The she pulled the woman's knot loose, letting down a cascade of thick black hair.
"Definitely waist length," I thought.
She picked up a comb and began to comb out the lady's hair. Slow strokes, working professionally. The lady seemed to relax in the chair. Shalu continued combing for a few minutes, then she gathered the hair into a ponytail at the base of her neck. The customer's head shook as Shalu pulled the hair back into her fist. She ran the comb a few times through the tail. She looked for something on the rack.
"Vicky, come here and hold her hair for me. I seem to be out of elastic bands. I'm sure to have some in the back."
I looked at her surprised.
"Come on, I don't have all day!" she said.
I got up, putting on a reluctant face for her customer's benefit, and walked over. She carefully transferred the hair to me. My heart was pounding away like the piston of my bike when she peaks at 9000 rpm. The hair felt so soft and silky, I barely managed to resist stroking the hair. Shalu, in the meantime, disappeared behind a curtained door in the back. I heard her rummaging through something.
A couple of minutes later she emerged. She came over to me and carefully took the grip on her customer's hair. I stood beside her and watched as she twisted an elastic band onto her hair making a ponytail. She stroked the tail a couple of times and ran the comb though it, the black hair of the ponytail contrasting sharply with the white cloth of the cape.
"Give me a pair of scissors," she said, still combing.
Now I was becoming her bat-boy. I silently picked up a pair of scissors. The cold steel felt good. I could see myself running the same scissors through Shalu's hair in a few minutes.
A few more strokes with the comb and she took the scissors from me. She stuck the comb into the lady's hair and tightened her grip on the ponytail. Firmly, she bent the lady's head forward till her chin touched her chest. The she slid the scissors onto the ponytail. I stood by, watching.
This was like the proverbial seat on the 50-yard line. Shalu ran the blades across the ponytail, above the while elastic band that marked the cutting zone, without any pressure. The customer, meanwhile, had closed her eyes. Shalu looked at me and gave a smile. Without warning she began cutting the ponytail. The scissors crunched their way through the ponytail like a hot knife through butter. I watched silently as the scissors chopped their way through the thick ponytail. I could see the hair begin to separate and spread out across the lady's neck, and I could see a fine sprinkling of hair gathering on the cape. A final snip as the ponytail was finally cut off.
She then laid out the ponytail full length beside the sink. Retrieving her comb from the customer's hair, Shalu combed out what was left of the hair. Parting the hair in the middle, she drew the hair out on each side. Section by section, she separated the hair and snipped the ends neatly to a level. A few dark sprinklings of hair gathered on the cape as the trimming proceeded. Slowly she worked her way from the right, across the back and finally finished on the left. She had cut the bob neatly, and dry. It had not taken her more than 15 minutes to finish it. I went back to the couch as Shalu combed out the freshly cut bob. The she took the cape off her customer and shook it out. The lady got up. "Feels funny," she said.
"You'll soon get used to it," replied Shalu.
"Well at least I don't have to spend hours washing and drying my hair. And it feels great to have that hair off my back. How much do I owe you?"
"Fifty."
The lady paid Shalu and left. As soon as the door closed behind her, Shalu picked up the ponytail she had cut off and held it up like a trophy.
"What do you think?" she asked.
"Beautiful. But should you have teased me like that? Asking me to hold your customer's hair and using me as an assistant."
"Okay. I'm sorry. But how did it feel to hold her hair?"
"Great. It made me look forward to cutting yours. So, are you getting into the chair now?"
"Easy boy. Hold your horses. I've got to make a phone call," she said, going over to a corner.
She picked up the handset and dialed a number. This is what I heard of the conversation.
"Hello? May I speak to Kiran?"
"Kiran? Shalu here. Listen, how fast can you come over?"
"What do you mean what for? Vicky is here, and he has to leave this evening." 
"Really? That's great!" 
"Okay, Okay. I won't. Promise," She hung up.
I stole a glance at the clock: 1440 hrs.
"That was my room-mate. She is also interested in a haircut. And guess what? She wants one from you. So you are giving two haircuts today."
I could not believe my ears. "You're kidding!" I exclaimed.
She looked hurt. "Why would I kid you?" she asked, "In any case, you will see for yourself in 30 minutes."
She walked over to the door and flipped the "OPEN" sign over to "CLOSED" and locked the door on the inside.
"Hey, I'm sorry. I did not mean to hurt you," I said, not feeling unlike Tom Thumb.
"It's okay," she said with a bright smile that made me feel better. She walked over to a chair and sat down.
"So how's your friend going to get in?" I asked.
"Back door. She has a key."
"So what shall we do till she comes?"
"Well I certainly can't let you cut my hair before she is here. She also has this thing about haircuts and occasionally moonlights as my assistant. If I let you cut my hair before she gets here, she will have me for dinner."
"Sounds interesting!" I said.
"What? Kiran having me for dinner?"
"No. This piece of news about her having a hair fetish too!"
"Oh that! And anyway don't worry about ruining our hair. We are quite capable of repairing any damage you do. Provided you leave some length to work with."
"You sure trust me a lot."
"Have to. I have waited long enough for this. And you are the first guy with a hair fetish who's come along in eight years."
"Hmmm. Would Kiran mind if I combed out your hair...? It certainly is tempting to see you in the chair."
"You writing a poem or what? I guess there is no harm in that."
I eased the scrunchie off her knot revealing a thick braid tightly wound into a knot. She held her hand out for the scrunchie. I passed it to her and she tossed it onto the counter.
"You won't be needing that for a while," I remarked as I squeezed her knot gently, probing with my fingers for the tell-tale signs of hairpins.
"Very funny," she said with a slightly miffed look.
One by one I eased out five of them. She leaned her head back so that I had the weight of her knot pressing into my hands and closed her eyes. I felt all over her knot for signs of any more pins. Then, on a hunch, I probed behind her knot. Bingo! There they were. Slowly I eased them out, and handed her all the eight. "Hmmm not bad! You have nice hands Vicky."
"Thanks," I said still feeling and squeezing her thick knot.
"Pull it loose. What are you waiting for?"
I gave a small sigh and pulled her knot loose. A long thick plait unwound itself into my hands, like a thick silky rope. I was surprised at its length. The plait was tight, thick and almost 4 1/2 feet long! I let out a low admiring whistle.
"I take it that you are not disappointed," said Shalu.
I coiled the plait around my left hand. It went around four times with almost half a foot still hanging loose.
I shook my head still in surprise. "I can't believe you are letting me cut this off!"
"I can pinch you, if you think you are dreaming."
"Well if this is a dream, I don't think I want to wake up! Why do you wear your hair in such a tight knot?" I asked fondling, stroking and squeezing her plait.
"I certainly don't want my customers to see the real length of my hair.
Especially when I am about to cut off theirs. They tend to have second thoughts you know."
"That a fact?" I asked.
"Yes...! That reminds me. If you will let go of my hair, I want to show you something."
I reluctantly let her gorgeous plait slip through my hands. She climbed out of the chair.
"Come," she said going towards the curtain behind which she had disappeared a while ago. It was a small dark partitioned area. She flicked on a light switch and I saw a large table and some assorted furniture. She took a bunch of keys out of the corner of a shelf, and unlocked the drawers in the table. It was filled with cardboard boxes of various sizes. She pulled the bottom drawer open and extracted a box out of it. She opened the box. I saw two plaits in it. I looked at her questioningly.
"Mine. Cut 8 years ago."
"Wow! And you held onto them all this time?"
"Yes."
"And the other boxes?"
"Plaits and ponytails of my customers. Cut over the last four years."
She took out another box and opened it. Three thick plaits. She took them out and laid the out side by side. Long and thick. Each one had a tag on it, with the customer's name, date and time of the cut. She certainly was organized!
"You can have a couple of them if you want," she said.
I reached for her plait, and held it near the nape.
"I would much rather keep this," I said.
"I don't quite think so. But anyway, I must have at least 40-50 plaits in there, not counting around three dozen ponytails."
She started taking out boxes and opening them. Box after box, almost bursting with plaits, neatly folded, tied up, tagged and sorted by length and thickness.
She laid out a few plaits as if I was a prospective customer. Long thick and silky, each plait that I saw reminded me of the ponytails on eBay, on the auction at the Hair Enthusiast Hotline, or the HWAS site or even on the Ponytail Collectors club.
"You have a fortune in hair here!" I exclaimed.
"I know. But I'd rather not sell these. Sentimental reasons you know." She smiled.
I was still holding her plait.
"Your plait would be worth at least $400-500."
"I know. Now don't make me get second thoughts about getting my hair cut!"
"Okay, okay," I said, letting go of her plait, and picking up one of the plaits she had laid out. Long thick and silky, It was a shade over 3 feet long. I turned the tag towards the light. '12/3/1997 12:45' it read.
"Walk in customer. Decided to get her hair cut on an impulse."
I wound the plait around my hand. "How does it feel when you run a pair of scissors through a thick plait?" I asked.
"You'll find out soon enough." she gave me a sly grin.
"So what shall we do till Kiran gets here?"
"All I know is that I can't let you cut my hair."
"What do you say to letting me comb your hair out a little?"
She thought for a while. "All right. So long as you stay away from the scissors."
She turned around and walked back into the salon. She walked to the chair in which she was sitting earlier and climbed onto the raised footrest and turned around. I reached forward and picked up her plait as she sat down, and let her plait down behind the chair. She smiled as if it had been a French courtesy.
I reached forward and picked up a comb. The scissors lay temptingly close. I let my hand stray towards them.
"Very funny and tempting, but NO!" said Shalu, with a firm set to her face.
"Please Vicky, I promised Kiran."
"Relax. I was just teasing," I said, moving behind her and picking up her plait. I let the comb run through the ponytail at the end of her plait. Slow strokes.
The feeling of her thick, heavy plait in my hands is hard to describe. But it's something that I think I will not forget in my life. Then, I eased out the hairpins holding up her side locks. She closed her eyes. I placed the pins on the table and returned to her plait. Slowly, I pulled off the elastic band at the end of her plait. She held her hand out for the band. I passed it to her and slowly started to undo her plait. I let my thumb slip into each twist of that gorgeous silky plait, running it down the length of her hair, slowly working my way up, twist after twist.
"I am surprised you did not model for any shampoo or hair oil ad."
"Come on now. You know what a mess the advertising and movie industry in Mumbai is. And not to mention sleazy. Forget it. Talk of something else."
I was one-fourth up her plait. I took the comb and began to run it through the loose hair.
"How many haircuts have you had?" I asked.
"Only one. Eight years ago. Unless you count the trim Kiran gives me every other month."
"What about your haircut?" I asked. "The one you had eight years ago," I added hastily.
She had opened her mouth to protest, but changed into a smile. "I did not quite enjoy it, but it is unforgettable."
"Tell me about it," I said removing a couple of twists.
"It was eight years ago, when I was seventeen," she said as I began combing again.
'Close guess, she's 25,' I thought.
"Till then I had no idea of a haircut exciting me, but anyway, my graduation exams were coming close and my mom was tired of having to do everything for me, mainly because I wanted to do well and was studying really hard."
"Go on," I said slipping a couple of twists.
"Well, so one fine day, my mom tells me to come with her and takes me to a beauty salon."
I started combing again.
"I suspected something, but anyway we went to the salon where my mother used to go for the occasional facial or trim. A girl was already in the chair getting her hair combed out so we sat down to wait. Imagine my surprise when the beautician pulled the girls hair into a ponytail and began to cut it off. It was the first time I had ever witnessed a haircut, and it left me pretty much excited. I watched intently as the girl's hair was cut really short into something resembling a boy's haircut, but slightly longer. Looking at all that hair tumbling to the floor was exciting."
I encouraged the comb through a tangle.
"Then when my mother told me to get into the chair for a haircut, I was shocked. I had never dreamed something like that. My mother had that 'don't-argue' expression. And I knew better that to pick a fight with her. I know she always meant it for the best. And with a tight study schedule, I b arely had time for my hair. So I got into the chair. I was wearing twin plaits that day. My mother had done them only hours before. The beautician eased my plaits out and covered me with a cape. She looked at my mother for instructions. I was tense not knowing how much my mother would ask her to cut."
She paused. I eased out a few more twists from her plait, passing the halfway mark. I started combing again.
"My mother said, 'The same haircut you gave the last girl'. I barely registered what my mom had said. Before I knew what was happening, the beautician had scissors in one hand and my right plait in the other. She bent my head to the left and began cutting off the plait at the base. The sound of the scissors crunching and snipping though my hair was exciting. It was like nothing I had been through before. I close my eyes and relaxed. A few seconds later, the plait came off. I felt the other plait being picked up and the cold steel of the scissors against my neck."
I began undoing the rest of her plait.
"It was then that I decided to become a hairdresser. Anyway, the beautician cut off the other plait too, and then using a comb and scissors, she proceeded to duplicate the haircut on me. The sensation of the comb and scissors running through my hair, snipping it short, clumps of hair tumbling into my lap and onto the floor is something that I don't think I'll ever forget. And that made me more determined to become a beautician. There was a lot of opposition at first, but somehow I fought claw and tooth to make it here. And I kept the plaits to remind me of my goal."
I gathered her hair into my fist and help it at her nape. It was a handful. Her head bobbed as I pulled it back into a firm grip. I eased the comb into her hair and began running it down the length of her hair. Slowly.
"Interesting story behind the tails." I said.
She closed her eyes and from the expression she was wearing, she was obviously enjoying this. I smiled to myself. First time I ever had a woman in the chair.
My nervousness had disappeared. Slowly I ran the comb through all parts of her head and into my fist. I eased the comb up her nape and held it there for a second. She opened her eyes and looked at me questioningly.
"Next time there will be scissors over this comb." I said.
"Very funny. You stop to tell me this?"
I resumed combing her silky mane, her head bobbing with every stroke of the comb. I cast a glance at the clock. Almost half an hour since the phone call. I wondered when the other girl would come.
"Ouch!" she complained as I ran the comb through a tangle. "That's what makes me wish for a haircut," she added. "I sure hope you are getting your money's worth."
"I am getting more than that," I replied.
I stole a glance at the clock: 1515 hrs.
There was the sound of a key turning in a lock from behind the curtain.
"Here's the tigress," said Shalu.
I turned around and saw a woman emerge from the curtain.
"Shalu, you promised!" she exclaimed accusingly.
"Come on, Kiran, He was only combing my hair."
"Just kidding." She broke into a huge smile, "Hi Vicky. I expect she told you about me."
"Yes." I said taking her hand, still holding Shalu's hair in my left hand. She was attractive, though not drop-dead gorgeous. She had a camera and a shoulder bag hanging from one arm. She dropped both onto the couch.
"Shalu, get up from that chair."
"Come on, Vicky is *my* friend. I get the first haircut."
"You know better than to argue with me."
"I'd better do as she says. I can't fight with her. She's the only reason my parents let me stay here in Mumbai," Shalu whispered from the chair.
"Give me a second," I said, coiling Shalu's hair around my hand. I coiled it around four times into a loose knot and pulled the end through. Six inches stuck out like a ponytail. I wrapped it around the knot and tucked it in. She got up from the chair. Kiran came up and climbed into the chair. She too had her hair up in a knot, away from her neck, held in place with one of those hairclips that look like crocodile jaws. Neatly trimmed bangs fell down to her eyebrows.
"Well, I am ready for my haircut," she said.
I glanced over at Shalu. She gave me an encouraging nod.
"Anything in particular?"
"That reminds me. Can you do this?" she asked handing me a photo that I recognized. It was straight off Sean O'Hare's site, the picture of Sharon Stone in a short crop.
"Methinks I know where you got it from."
She grinned in reply. "I got it off the web. Well, can you?"
"Looks easy. All I have to do is cut your hair real short. Down to 2" on the top and 1/2" on the back and sides."
"That's it. And shave the back of my neck."
I picked up the cape that was recently used by Shalu and flicked it over Kiran.
Drawing it back, I tucked it in snugly around her neck. Then, I eased out the clip and tossed it onto the table. Gently I pulled her knot loose. Three feet of silky hair came loose. As I gathered her hair and began stroking its length, I saw Shalu rummaging in a drawer. She took out a straight-edge razor with a replaceable blade. I looked at her quizzically.
"For the back of the neck."
"I see," I said, reaching for the comb that I had run through Shalu's tresses a few minutes earlier. I slid the comb into Kiran's hair and began to comb it out in slow strokes. I encouraged the comb through the tangles of the sun and wind, but still in good condition. Almost 3' long, soft silky black hair, with natural highlights of a deep brown. Not quite as thick and full as Shalu's hair felt, but I was not the one to complain. Slowly I combed her hair up to the crown of her head holding it in a firm grip. Her head bobbed with the strokes of the comb. Finally I gathered the hair on the top of her head.
"Elastic band," I said.
Shalu pulled open a drawer, took out a packet of elastic bands, took one out and offered it to me.
"You sneak," I said with an annoyed smile.
"Come on. Be a sport," she replied with a grin that reminded me of the proverbial vixen-that-got-the-rooster. (Okay, I made that one up.)
"What was that all about?" enquired Kiran from the chair.
"Just a private joke," replied Shalu. "Sit tight and enjoy your haircut. I'll tell you later."
"If you don't..." Kiran left the better part of it unsaid.
I twisted the elastic band around her silky tresses, making a high ponytail. The feeling of the hair falling over my forearms as I twisted the white elastic band is indescribable. I gave the ponytail a small tug and began to coil it around into a knot. I pulled it into a firm knot and using the knot as a handle, I bent her head forward.
"Water."
Shalu handed me a water sprayer. I sprayed some water into the fingers of my right hand and rubbed the water behind Kiran's right ear. She squirmed a little at my touch. Spraying more water into my fingers, I rubbed the moisture into all the stray hair growing on the back of her neck under the hairline. Slowly across the back of her neck and the up behind her left ear. I handed the sprayer back. "Razor."
Shalu handed it to me. Kiran seemed a bit nervous.
"Now try not to move," I said bending her head further down and to the right. She was obedient. I was used to using a straight-edge razor for shaving in my late teens and so was absolutely comfortable with it. Anyway, I folded her right ear and began to make short gentle and careful down-strokes removing the stray hair. Water and hair began to gather on the sharp edge of the blade as my strokes reached the cape. I paused to wipe the blade on her knot. I moved over to her left, turned her head to the right angling and folded her left ear.
Slowly I went about the same process once again and wiped the blade on her knot. Then I held her head straight and down, and slowly stroked up the center of her neck. I caught sight of Kiran closing her eyes, reflected in the mirror. The sight of the razor gliding smoothly up her neck, getting rid of all the strays was something I always wanted to see. Now I was doing it. Slowly I worked away till I reached the right side. Once again starting in the middle, I worked to the left. A few tense minutes of scraping later, I removed the last of the strays or 'peach fuzz' from her neck. I stroked the back of her neck. "Mmmmm. Feels real good," said Kiran. I wiped the blade on her knot and handed the razor to Shalu. Kiran straightened her head. Shalu handed me a flat box and received a quizzical look from me.
"Come on, open it."
I opened it. And was stuck for words. Inside, nestled in a bed of Styrofoam packing lay a pair of exquisite cutting scissors. I took it out. The stainless steel finish gleamed in the light. I shook my head with a smile that threatened to crack my face into two.
"I only hope you don't get too carried away now," she said.
"It's like trusting a monkey with a matchbox in a dynamite factory," I replied. I got an annoyed and distinctly 'that's-not-funny' look.
"Okay, okay" I said, turning Kiran around in the chair so that she faced me. "You won't be wanting those bangs, will you?" I asked, tilting her head back using her knot as a convenient handle. I held her chin in my left hand, slid the scissors under her bangs and waited. She closed her eyes again. Snip! Snip! Snip! They floated down to the cape covering her. I turned her around to face the mirror once more. I pulled the knot loose and the ponytail fell down her back once more. I slid the scissors into the elastic band and cut it off. It flew off somewhere in a hurry of pent-up kinetic energy, and her hair cascaded down, falling all around her. I handed the scissors to Shalu, took the comb, and began to comb her tresses the way they fell naturally. As I combed her hair, I separated it into four sections and made ponytails of them, Shalu handing me the elastic bands as needed. Two ponytails about 3/4" thick hung on each side of her face, and two ponytails a little over an inch thick hung down her back. The dark hair contrasted with the white cape.
"Scissors."
Shalu handed me the scissors and moved in beside me to get a good view. I picked up the first one, right front quarter of her hair and slid the scissors into position above the elastic band. Slowly I began to cut. Scrunch! The scissors bit into the ponytail and a few locks of hair spread out. Scrunch, Snip! All too soon the ponytail came off. I handed it to Shalu and picked up the right rear ponytail. Shalu bent Kiran's head forward. I held the ponytail taut and began to cut. Scrunch! Scrunch! Scrunch! Snip! This one lasted a little longer, and I was treated once more, to the glorious sight of scissors cutting their way through soft silky hair, which spread out as the scissors sliced through. This one too I handed to Shalu and picked up the third one, left rear. Pulling it gently, I slid the scissors onto it and began to cut. Scrunch! Scrunch! Scrunch! Snip! Shalu was left holding three ponytails, approximately 3 feet in length. I picked up the fourth and stroked it playfully.
"Looks lonely, doesn't it?" I asked.
Kiran gave an impish smile. I began to cut the final ponytail. Seconds later I was holding the last ponytail and Kiran was wearing a roughly hacked bob. I looked at the wall clock. It had been only 20 minutes since Kiran had gotten into the chair.
I began to comb out her rough bob, letting the hair fall naturally to the sides of her head. Her head shook from the strokes of the comb.
"Feels lighter already," she said, as I bent her head forward. She obediently bent her head forward. A few strokes of the comb down the back of her head. Then, I reversed the comb and pushed up a clump of hair at her nape and let the scissors slash through it. Snip! Snip! Snip! The clump of hair rolled down her back and fell on my toes. Another clump beside it. Lifted up and snipped short. Time seemed to be in slow motion for me. I would push up clumps of hair and scissor them off, working up from close to the skin at her nape to a couple of inches at the top. It almost felt natural for me to be doing this. Dark clumps of hair continued to cascade down the cape to the floor as I continued working with vigor. Soon I finished with the back of her head.
I slowly moved to her right and slid the comb under her long locks. The teeth of the comb emerged from under her hair. The scissors slid into place over the comb. Snip. Snip. A clump of black hair lay on her shoulder and a pink ear emerged from underneath the hair. Slowly and carefully I began to cut the side to merge and match the back. Defining her hairline and making sure that no locks of hair crossed it, I continued snipping her hair short. Her lap began to fill with black-brown snippings. Soon I reached the top of her head. The haircut was beginning to materialize. I eased over to her left and continued working in the same interest. More and more hair cascaded into Kiran's lap as I worked with the scissors. The short crop of Sharon Stone began to take vivid detail in her hair as I cropped the top of her head down to 2". After I snipped the last few locks of hair down to size, I stopped to catch my breath. Kiran looked simply stunning in that haircut. I ran the comb though her close-cropped hair, making the odd snip here and there, and stood back.
"Lovely. You would make a good hairdresser," said Shalu, "Nothing left for me to do though."
"Second that," said my first 'client'. (Maybe victim would be more appropriate.)
"Thanks girls," I said slowly removing the cape, and tumbling the heap of hair in Kiran's lap to the floor. She climbed out.
"Your turn now, Miss Beautiful Hair," said Kiran looking at Shalu. I too looked at the reason for me to travel a thousand kilometers. She had a faint trace of apprehension and dread. She took a deep breath and climbed into the chair. I shook out the cape and a few of Kiran's locks flew out. I let it float down on Shalu and eased it back. Wrapping the ends around her neck, I tucked them in. She was covered from neck to knee in a white cape. I slowly unwrapped the six-inch ponytail from Shalu's knot, and started combing it.
"Can I cut that little ponytail?" asked Kiran.
"I don't know if you can, but you may," I replied with a grin, holding out the ponytail.
"Not fair," said Shalu. "I did not ask to cut your ponytails."
"Your fault," replied Kiran, taking the scissors.
She slid them above the knot to include the knot in the cut.
"Hey! Not there," I said, taking her hand and guiding the scissors onto the ponytail instead.
"Just kidding."
Snip! Snip! Snip!
The ponytail hung from my fingers and I handed it to Kiran.
"That's the most I've ever cut in four years," she sighed.
I pulled the knot loose and a cascade of hair fell down Shalu's back. I picked up the comb and began to run it through her hair for the second time in the day. "How do you want me to take off the bulk?" I asked.
"Two ponytails."
"And the cut?"
"Simple bob."
"Bangs?"
"Sure."
Using the comb, I parted her hair into two halves. I Gathered the right and combed it out a few times.
"Elastic band." Kiran handed me one.
I carefully twisted it around my 'client's ponytail. Ran the comb through the tail a few times. Then I picked up the other half of her hair and subjected it to the comb's attentions. Kiran was ready with another elastic band. In a few seconds, my 'client' now had two ponytails cascading down her back.
"Scissors."
Kiran was already holding them out to me with an 'I've-waited-a-long-time-to-see-this' grin. I gave her a smile and took the scissors. I bent Shalu's head forward and picked up her lush ponytail. She seemed a bit nervous.
"Ready?"
"Yes," she whispered.
I slid the scissors above the elastic band. With a good bit of premeditation, I had prepared the ponytail such that when I slid the scissors onto it, she would be able to feel the cold scissors on her neck. Holding her ponytail tightly and pulling slightly at the same time, I began to cut.
Scrunch! The sharp scissors bit into her ponytail, and I saw locks of hair separating and spreading out. Scrunch! Almost halfway through. Scrunch! Skrrrk! Snip! It came off with a jerk, I was left holding a four foot long ponytail. I handed it to Shalu, and turned my attentions to the other ponytail. I picked it up, slid the scissors onto it and began cutting slowly. The sharp scissors hardly met with any resistance as they slowly, but surely cut through the ponytail. Soon Kiran was holding two four-foot ponytails.
"Vicky?"
"Yes, Kiran?"
"Can I finish her bob?"
I gave her a smile and the scissors.
"Thanks." she said handing me the ponytails. I took them, went to the couch and sat down to watch. Kiran was combing out Shalu's rough bob. Slowly and carefully she trimmed the ends to a sharp straight line, combing and snipping away professionally. I gave a low sigh stroking one of the tails.
"You can still cut her bangs," called Kiran combing hair over Shalu's face. I laid out the ponytails on the couch and went over. She gave me the scissors. I slid the scissors into the thin locks of hair just above the eyebrows.
Snip! Snip! Snip!
"That does it." said Kiran taking off Shalu's cape.
I looked at the clock: 1610 hrs.
"Boy. Time does fly," I said.
Shalu climbed out of the chair.
"I'd best be leaving straight away," I said.
"Thanks very much for coming all the way to give us haircuts," said Shalu.
"We'll meet you at the station to see you off," said Kiran.
"Sure you don't want any plaits or tails from my collection?" asked Shalu.
"Nope. But thanks for the offer," I said.
Shalu led me through the back and let me out of the door and accompanied me to the bus stop about 15 minutes away. She helped me find a bus back to the railway station. It took me half an hour to get back. I finished a late and a hearty lunch.
"Mission accomplished!" I thought as I made my way back to my hotel room. I threw in my toiletries into my bag and looked at the clock: 1710 hrs. I checked out of the hotel and went to the railway station. My train was already on the platform, so I sought out my coach, found my window seat, tossed my luggage on the upper berth and settled down for the long trip back home. I dozed off. The next thing I remember is being pinched on the arm. I woke up startled, looking at Shalu through the window. She was grinning at me, looking gorgeous in her fresh cut bob. Kiran was beside her. They had obviously been shopping for they were carrying a large plastic carry bag.
"Hang on, we are coming in." said Kiran and they walked off towards the door. I heard them tramping down the corridor. I looked at my watch: 1815 hrs. "Barely in time," said Shalu.
"We got you a small thank-you gift. Don't open it till you get back," said Kiran, placing a good-sized package on the top berth beside my bag. It was obvious because there was no one else in the compartment. The train was returning half empty. We chatted for a while about various things, and the girls told me how much they loved getting their hair cut by me. They got off as the train started on its journey back home. 24 hours later, I reached home dog-tired late next evening.
"Well, it was worth it I guess," I thought.
"So how was your trip?" asked mom, meeting me at the door.
"Okay," I said. I had given her a cover story of being out meeting an old friend. I stumbled into my room, had a bath and wolfed down some dinner and had a blissful night's sleep, thinking of the haircuts I had just given. Next morning, I had a lie-in. After mom left for shopping I got up and opened my travel bag and took out the 'gift' given by the girls. Unwrapping the packaging, it turned out to be a good sized box. I opened it and my heart skipped a beat. Inside it lay three ponytails. I let out a long breath. There were also four plaits lying in the box. There was a note on the top: 
Hi Vicky:
I think you might recognize the three ponytails. Yes, you are right. They are the ones you cut off. We just wanted to show our thanks for the trouble you took in coming so far just to give us haircuts. As far as the plaits are concerned, two of them are mine. The ones that were cut off eight years ago. One of the other two is Kiran's plait that I cut when she lost a bet to me three years ago. And the last plait is the very first plait that I cut off. Apart from these, you will find a couple of ponytails packed separately in the bottom. Feel free to sell them if you like. It will pay for your traveling expenses. I hope you find our gift to you memorable. 
Shalu. 
P.S. I will be waiting for you online. The usual day and time.
I laid out the ponytails and plaits. One by one. The three tails I recognized immediately. I also recognized the plaits that Shalu had shown me. The other two plaits carried tags. Kiran's plait was a mite longer than the ponytail that I had cut. And the first plait to be cut off by Shalu was a beauty. Though not as good as Shalu's, it was 3 1/2 feet long thick and lush. I found another plastic cover containing a couple of ponytails. I took them out. 3 feet each. I put up one of them on sale at eBay. It fetched me a cool $200. Which was almost 9 times what my traveling expenses were. So I promptly mailed Shalu a cheque for the balance amount. She appreciated it by sending me back half the amount. Nuts. A couple of weeks later, I got a bulky package in the mail. It turned out to be a CD and a single printed note saying surprise. Boy was I surprised! It turned out to be a video of the haircuts I had given both the girls. There was a letter in the CD explaining that one of Kiran's contacts had been persuaded to install a couple of surveillance cameras. The day before I was to arrive, they set up the cameras to focus precisely the way they wanted it.
It turned out to be the best experience in my life. As for Shalu, we continued to meet on the net, until a couple of months later, I proposed to her. She went offline for a good three weeks, scaring me. Then on the 21st day came a mail accepting my proposal. Now, a year later, one shelf of our bedroom cupboard holds boxes containing plaits and ponytails, spare bedroom has become a beauty salon and the odd plait or ponytail is used when we make love.

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