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The Merchant by Sean O'Hare

"Hello, I'm Tina Frost - you rang me earlier. You must be Mrs Jameson."

"Er, yes. That's right. You got here rather quickly."

"Well, from experience, I think that's best. May I come in?"

Tina was not what I expected - although I didn't really know what to expect really. She was young - in her early 20s - she wore an expensive looking white suit with a short skirt and a tightly fitting jacket. Her hair, French braided, reached her waist. She carried a briefcase - and looked every inch a successful businesswoman.

I have to say I was feeling a little nervous now and seriously considered saying no. But Tina, full of confidence, waltzed past me and into the lounge. She walked over to the dining area and placed her case on the table. She then looked as I followed along behind me.

"OK, Mrs Jameson, if you could stand over here in the light please."

I did as she asked, and she spun me round so I faced the large mirror on the wall.

She promptly removed the comb holding my hair and it fell to its full length, way past my waist, with that comforting tug of thick, well-conditioned hair. Tina's rather business-like expression and manner was temporarily shaken - I could see in the mirror - she was clearly impressed. But she took a comb, lifted it to assess its weight and condition, and then measured it.

"Hmmm, yes that's fine," she said. "Perhaps you would now like to sit down." I had little choice as she gently but firmly guided me into the dining room chair next to me. I sat back from the table - I could still see myself in the mirror.

She took a plastic sheet from her case, flicked it open and began to fasten it around my neck. "Well Mrs Jameson I am pleased to say that it will be 20. OK, I'm ready to start."

$20! $20? But she had said up to $100 on the phone. I needed $100. I needed more but that would be a good start. $20?

She was combing my hair through once more and fastening it into a ponytail at the crown.

"Er, but the advert... and on the phone... you said $100. I'm not sure..."

"I believe I said up to 100 depending on length, condition and weight. Unfortunately the condition is rather poor - you've coloured or permed haven't you?" I hadn't but couldn't get a word in as she stared at me sternly in the mirror with one hand holding the ponytail and the other reaching into the case. "Also, while your hair is certainly long, it is a few inches short of the threshold to be classed as very long and hence qualify for the higher rate. That's if I leave it shoulder length." She paused, and stared at my hair with head to one side with scissors tapping at her cheek. "Of course if you were to me to cut a few more inches then I would be able to offer you the higher rate. Perhaps $30. OK?"

Well, I had come this far, what difference would a few more inches make? $30 was certainly better. But hang on, this was all done on a whim this morning. I had always sworn never to cut my hair. But I needed the 100 and the offer appeared to be there. Clearly there was no point in going ahead for just $30.

As I pondered - I don't know for how long - the scene in front of me appeared frozen. An hour ago, a scene I could have hardly envisaged - indeed, one that may well have had me screaming nightmare! There was this attractive young woman, smiling sweetly down at me - one hand continued to grip my hair while the other held the scissors. My ponytail rested on the plastic cape over my right shoulder, and coiled in my lap as it had so often done in the past.

I decided I needed to think about this. I was trying to work out how exactly I was going to tell Tina, when she released my hair and put down the scissors. I closed my eyes in relief. She had taken my silence for a No!

As I opened my eyes again I saw, with horror, that she had indeed put down the scissors but she had removed from her case and plugged into the wall a barber's hairclipper.

"OK, Mrs Jameson, the clippers will allow us to remove the extra couple of inches and leave a nice even look. Perhaps you could hold the ponytail up for me."

She handed it to me and without really thinking I held it over my head. I was in shock. I had already decided not to go ahead but hadn't actually told Tina. What should I do?

As I continued to ponder. I heard a buzzing sound and felt a cold sensation on my neck. I looked in the mirror and saw Tina passing the clippers up my neck until it met the base of the ponytail.

She was leaning over but looked up and smiled at me in the mirror. "It's OK Mrs Jameson. This won't take too long." It was clearly too late to stop now. I just stared at her as she repeatedly passed the clippers up my neck. At this stage I couldn't see - or even imagine - what damage they were inflicting.

As she moved round to the side, I could see. Unfortunately. I realised that within a few short minutes my lovely long hair would be all gone. And not just some of it, or even most of it, but virtually all of it. A few tears started trickle down onto my cheek.

"OK, you're very brave Mrs Jameson - Clare isn't it? - not much longer now Clare."

And she was right. Within a couple of minutes all my hair was suddenly free and I was holding it all above my head. She took and held it out in front of her, almost in admiration. I also looked at it admiringly, thinking, yes that was mine. I then looked in the mirror and the truth struck home - it WAS mine!

Surely the face staring back at me was not mine, surrounded as it was by a half an inch of fuzz.

"OK, I would have trimmed the remaining hair into a bob at this stage. Of course you haven't enough hair for that so I can either leave it to allow it to grow or shape it a little. Shall I shape it."

I nodded with no idea what she intended to do - What she could do - with the little that remained? I noted, almost with no emotion, that she once again picked up the clippers. She flicked a plastic attachment on the end and pushed my head forward. The now familiar buzz restarted and I felt the clippers go to work once more. When I looked up I could hardly believe it. Gone was the fuzzy look. Indeed gone was nearly all my hair at the sides - and also the back I noted as she held up a mirror. The top was combed to stand straight up and cut very precisely. The shape of my head could be seen clearly - and looked perfect. I was almost bald - but I looked stunning, and felt wonderful.

"I think that looks quite satisfactory, Mrs Jameson. $30, I think we agreed, didn't we." The money was placed on the table as my hair disappeared into the case. Tina removed the cape and I stood up - I actually felt and looked a foot taller.

"Goodbye Mrs Jameson."

"Oh, er yes. Well, thanks Tina - for the money but most of all for this." I passed my hand through the crown and down my bare nape.

As Tina walked down the garden path I noted her long braid - wondering if it was her own and also contemplated where my own hair would end up - and I thought, misguided fool. Why didn't I do this years ago?

I went back into the dining room, sat down in the chair surrounded by fine clippings, and lost myself in my thoughts as I stared in the mirror.

THE END