1. Welcome to Brussels
I haven't been working in Brussels for long, just over a month or so. It has all come as quite a shock really. I was quite content working for my company in a small town just outside London. Driving in to the office each day, working from 9 'til 5 and returning to my nice little flat in the evening. But my company was taken over by a Belgian firm in the same line of business and, although I could have left, they were very keen to keep me - yes, they made me an offer I couldn't refuse. So I let my flat for six months and here I am in my centrally located apartment to see how I would make out.
The job itself is fine, much the same as I have been doing for several years, but I was finding getting used to working in a different country quite a strain. Although I'm nearly 30 I had never traveled abroad before, even on holiday, much preferring just to rent a cottage somewhere in Britain - usually on my own and sometimes with Mum - and just tootle around in my little Mazda convertible. The thought of holidaying abroad was just too stressful to contemplate.
I know I appear the picture of self-assured confidence - it is the picture I try to portray - but inside I can get rather flustered by the simplest of things. But I have learnt not to let it show. I tend to go with the flow during the day - I try not to make waves and will go along with things so as not to cause ill feeling. That way I can enjoy the time I have on my own.
I have surprised myself a little while I've been out here. I've been into Brussels with some colleagues from the office. I've seen some of the sights, taking the bus out to Waterloo on my own with my heart pounding all the way. But of course I got there, I found it interesting, and I made my way home all without incident. My confidence was certainly growing, but perhaps slowly. Shopping is also an ordeal, although little different from London really. And now that I've found they have a Marks and Spencer AND a Virgin records I can actually rather enjoy it. Fortunately language hasn't a problem - I don't speak French particularly well, and Flemish not at all. But I seem to make myself understood with most of the people I have contact with, even though my heart is often pounding in case they say something I can't understand. I tend to just nod in these situations and maintain my air of confidence.
There are still little hurdles I need to climb of course. Finding a doctor and a dentist for instance, although the company will help out there. And, of course, finding somewhere to get my hair trimmed which I guess is something I'll have to do on my own.
2. Life at Galaxy
At home I used to frequent one of the top salons in London and pay an absolute fortune to have half an inch trimmed every six weeks, any split ends taken care and a deep conditioning treatment applied. I think it is worth it - it has given me what a friend calls 'Pantene hair' because it looks like the models in the advertisements and I do use their products - but when I told my Mum how much it costs she almost fainted. "How much! Penelope! I could have ten appointments at Deirdre's shop for the price of that!". I avoided looking at her 'shampoo and set' hair and mumbled something about Deirdre not really catering for long hair.
Although, to be honest, neither does Galaxy. They're rather an adventurous, well trendy, sort of place. Many of the clients sport short hairstyles when they walk in and even shorter ones when they leave. When I was looking for a new stylist a few years ago, I asked a friend whose hair I admired who she frequented. She had short hair but always perfectly cut. She recommended Craig at Galaxy who she knew was equally good at caring for long hair as he was at cropping hair short.
And so it proved. He never pushed me into cutting my hair shorter, and the only time we discussed it was when I brought up the subject in general terms. But we both agreed it looked great as it was - even better after a year of attention from Craig. He is the ideal hairdresser.
My hair is dark auburn and straight - dead straight - without a fringe, layer or chemical treatment to its name. And this is clearly best. This is the way all women should wear their hair.
I have to say I have been quite intrigued by my visits to Galaxy. I can't really explain it but I do get a sort of strange pleasure from watching the other women have their hair cropped short, often coloured and sometimes permed. Even those with longer hair tend to have fringes cut - these days often ridiculously short - and layers chopped in to it, often leaving a messy appearance around the face.
Often as I've sat rather smugly in the salon while the ends are trimmed or a deep conditioner is applied, I have seen in the mirror the envious glances of women who are having scissors run up and down their neck over a comb. A rather mesmerising action it has to be said, and an intriguing clickety-click sound, when it is happening close by. I do wonder what that feels like to feel the scissors so close to the skin. I'm often tempted to ask one of these cropped women as I wait for my deep conditioner to soak in, sipping coffee and watching. But of course I never do ask.
And sometimes the scissors are dispensed with. To be replaced by hairclippers would you believe. Men's hairclippers of the type you see old fashioned barbers using in old films on TV. Or when soldiers are joining the army. I have to say I have always been strangely attracted to these scenes on TV for reasons I can't really understand. And I've always been attracted to men with smart hair - the short back and sides look I guess you would call it, although I prefer there to be some length through the top. Perhaps it's a slightly old fashioned sort of style - rather like mine some people would say - but that's what I prefer.
A couple of times I've encouraged boyfriends to get their hair cut in this way. It's not really like me to push such matters on a personal level. My shyness, reserve - whatever you want to call it - prevents me from causing a fuss.
James didn't react well to my suggestion, he seemed attached to his rather straggly hair, and never got it cut to my liking. We split up a short while later ... but not just because of his hair.
Carl on the other hand, with his beautifully styled but much too long over-the collar-and-ears hair (at least in my opinion) surprisingly complied almost immediately. I mentioned it one evening over a meal. Like many guys have in the past, he said I should never cut my hair. I told him that had no intention of doing so, but told him that I thought he should have his cut a fair bit shorter. He ran his hands through his hair and I felt rather embarrassed at having mentioned it at all. He looked a little surprised and gave a non-committal nod, and we said no more about it.
Then the following morning we were walking along hand-in-hand down the high street and, rather than having made an appointment with his stylist at the unisex salon he usually frequented, he stopped outside the local barbershop and announced that he would do as I asked. And, without letting go of my hand, he walked in and I had no choice but to follow.
The receptionist stated that he would be next in line with Sophie, pointing out a cheerful looking woman in her mid-30s. She was chatting animatedly to a 20-something guy with a bemused expression on his face who was in the process of having most of his hair clipped away into a crewcut, not unlike the films on TV I found so intriguing. The receptionist caught Sophie's attention, who smiled in our direction and waved indicating the line of seats along the back of the shop where we should be seated. I saw that Carl had also noticed the large amount of hair on the floor around where Sophie was working and I felt his grip tighten in mine, perhaps wondering if this was such a good idea. He smiled and sort of nodded, to no one in particular, and we sat down still holding hands.
By this time I was feeling a little guilty and also more than a little stressed by being in such a strange environment. I didn't feel at all comfortable here - my normal nervousness coming to the fore once again. But I could hardly walk out a leave Carl here, having persuaded him to come in the first place.
We didn't talk as we waited. Just sat and occasionally smiled as we watched Sophie shear the remaining hair from her client's head. And waited.
I took the time to look around, noticing that it wasn't a large shop with only 2 other barbers - a slightly older man and a young woman. The younger woman had a halo of golden curls bouncing around her shoulders while, in contrast, Sophie's hair was cut exceedingly short - not really short in a womanly way, but a rather severe - almost masculine - style. I assumed she was attended to on a regular basis by the male barber, which I guess made more sense than going to a salon … at the cost of rather limited styling opportunities. It made me wonder how long the curls of the younger woman would survive.
My eyes frequently returned to Sophie's hair. It was blonde, and while the crown hair was slicked back with a clear parting to one side, the back - and I mean all the back - as well as the sides over the ears were virtually shaved away to nothing. I could see a glimmer there when it caught the light, but because it was blonde it looked almost bald. What fascinated me most was that, although it was so short, it suited her perfectly and I couldn't really imagine her with another style. For some reason I found this thought disturbing.
I couldn't help but touch my own glossy auburn mane - that day held back from the face by a black velvet hairband - and I could swear that she caught me at least once as I did this and smiled at me ... was it knowingly ... it appeared almost pityingly ... the sort of look that I reserved for all women who had such short hair. I idly wondered if, each day, the barber requested Sophie to be seated in his chair before the shop opened and was closely clippered as an advertisement for his craft during the day.
"OK next please, Carl is it?". I remember being brought out of all these strange musings by her shout, quickly followed by Carl squeezing and then releasing my hand, and seeing him march towards Sophie and her chair. He sat down, and was immediately enveloped in a white cape which Sophie fastened at his neck. She tossed a rubber mat, shaped to fit around the neck, onto his shoulders. She then picked up a comb and, flicking out the long hair trapped under the mat (it was fairly long!), she began to comb it through.
"You have great hair Carl. So thick and in such great condition. What are we going to do with it today. Just a trim is it?".
"Well no, er something a bit different ... well shorter. It was Penny's idea to, er ...". He looked towards me in the mirror and I saw Sophie follow his gaze. She smiled a little.
"Well if it was Lady Penelope's idea we better have her over. Come on over here Penny and let's see what you would like done to this fella of yours".
All eyes in the shop turned towards me. I wanted to sink through the floor. But slowly got up and walked over. I felt very self-conscious.
"Well, I think he should wear it a bit shorter. A smarter style, sort of ...". She was right it was in great condition. "I thought something just to take it off the collar, perhaps over the ears too ...", but she didn't give me a chance to answer fully.
"OK, no problem with that". She ran a hand through the thick hair at Carl's nape. "We'll get rid of ALL this - and over the ears too. Leave some length on top. OK Penny?"
"Er yes, but not too ...".
"And you're OK with that Carl. It's what Penny wants after all".
"If she says so. But how ...".
"OK Penny, thanks. You can go and sit down now. Don't want your lovely hair getting caught up with these do we".
I looked down and saw she had the hairclippers in her hand once again. The ones that had reduced her previous client's hair to a crewcut. She flicked them on briefly and I jumped back at the noise, and the implication of their purpose. She gave a little snigger. As I walked back to my seat I noticed her remove a black comb-like attachment from the blades and saw her make some adjustments. I remembering wondering what this meant.
"OK Carl, let's give the woman what she wants!".
On came the clippers again and she buried them in the hair at his nape. I watched as she placed a hand on Carl's crown and then drove - there's no other word for it - she drove the clippers straight up from his nape, through the thick dark hair, finally emerging high at the back of his head. As she flicked the clippers, what seemed liked masses of balck hair fell to the floor. I watched it fall but then my eyes were drawn back to the white strip at the back of his head. Not pure white- there was a black shadow a bit like if Carl hadn't shaved his face for a day - but the 3 or 4 inches of glossy, black hair had been removed.
I felt shocked. I saw Carl giving me a someone sheepish grin in the mirror, raising his eyebrows as if to say this was my fault. Which it was of course! And he didn't know HOW short it actually was. But what could I do now she had started.
Sophie ran the clippers up his neck once more of his white skin showed through. "Looking good isn't it Penny", she shouted across at me above the noise of the clippers.
"Getting rid of all the wavy locks, just like the lady requested".
Well, did I? Sort of I guess. I felt strange watching the hair tumble down - the hair that I held in a small ponytail a few nights before as I ran my fingers through it, and which I laughingly offered to tie back with one my scrunchies. Well there wouldn't be enough hair to do that tonight. There would be no hair at all. And Carl realised that too as Sophie moved to one side and removed his sideburns and all the hair around his right ear.
The sheepish grin was replaced by a look of shock. I could see Carl wanted to say something, but realised it was now too late as most of his hair was either on the floor or tumbling into his lap. As for myself I found myself intrigued by the action of the clippers as they peeled away the dark layers to leave dazzling white skin.
Sophie put the clippers down and lightly sprayed Carl's crown hair - all that remained. And then with scissors and comb layered the crown, leaving the layers 2 or 3 inches long.
She combed it straight back with a slight parting, a very different look from the floppy "in the face" fringe that he usually wore.
She then picked up a pair of smaller clippers. I wanted to jump up and shout out "Not more, he's had enough", but of course I didn't. By this time Carl's face had turned quite expressionless. Sophie used the clippers to shave away the hair - quite literally - around his ears and along the hairline at the nape.
Sophie then squirted some dressing into her hand and ran it through Carl's hair, giving it a sleek sheen. She ran her hands of the clippered back and sides. And as I sat there I realised I wanted to do the same. Carl's hair looked perfect.
She spun the chair around so that Carl faced me. "Well Penny, is that short enough for you?".
I felt I had to say something. "Er, yes. That's fine thanks. Very nice".
As she pulled away the cape, allowing Carl to get up and pay, I could almost guess what she would then say.
"Well Penelope, now I think it's your turn. How about it?".
I was lost for words. My mouth felt dry. I felt quite odd. "No she's promised never to cut her hair", Carl shouted across.
"Ah, I see. OK, bye then guys". Sophie ran her right hand over her clipped nape and smiled. I think I may have almost ran out of the shop, with Carl in tow.
We didn't really talk much about his haircut. He was pleased with it and was happy that I liked it. He never had it that short again but now regularly went to Sophie who, he said, often asked after me. I didn't know whether to believe him or not. I had always wanted to return to the barbershop with Carl but he never said when he was going, and I felt awkward about asking.
A year or so later we decided to end our relationship and, although we agreed to remain friends, I've not seen him since.
I've often thought about that day when my mind turns to hair. It seems so at odds with my own hair. What I found intriguing about the whole incident was not just the pleasure I felt over Carl's new look, but the whole process of his shearing. I could never put it in words - I still can't really - but it was a strange sort of excitement. The same sort of feelings I have experienced more recently in Galaxy as I smugly sit there while other women succumb to the hairclippers.
Back in the present and more pressing matters to do with hair. Getting mine trimmed. I'm not planning to go back to the UK for a couple of months at least so I need to find somewhere locally. As I sit at my desk, with my lunchtime baguette and a diet coke, I watch Frederique approach.
"Hello Penny, how are you", she said in her perfect English making me feel more determined to take up language classes once more.
"Bonjour Frederique. Je suis tres bonne", I attempted. She gave a little giggle but passed no comment on my shaky attempts.
Frederique is a lovely woman. Younger than me, and with a much more outgoing personality. She had been great and helping me sort out the details of my move. She perched herself on my desk, one elegant leg crossing the other as they emerged from one of her characteristically short skirts.
"I was wondering if you would like to come out with a group of us tomorrow. Just a meal?".
"Oui, merci beaucoup". I do need to meet more people.
She nods and I watch as her hair glides over her cheeks. She has amazing hair. A very short bob would be the best description I guess. But angled not straight so that it was cut very high at the back, got longer above the ears which remained exposed, and ended in points on her cheeks. The fringe is cut fashionably short - in the way I tend to dislike normally - although it does seem to suit her looks and personality quite well. And the back is like black velvet. When she's had a trim, the overall style seems unchanged - but I know she's been to the hairdressers because the back is very short. With clippers I would imagine. Almost shaved. Her hair is very black and deeply glossy, and the whole effect is one of perfection. She clearly goes to a great stylist.
"OK. That's cool. I'll let you know about the time later".
She clearly goes to a great stylist! I mentally kicked myself. My friend who introduced me to Galaxy also had short hair but the stylist I found was superb. It's not the length that matters but how it is cut, as Craig sometimes told me. "Great", I said my French having deserted me and I was feeling surprisingly nervous. "Er, Frederique, I was wondering where you go to get your hair done?".
"Done? Oh, cut! Yes, do you like it?". She runs her hand up the back, lifting the bobbed hair and I watch it all fall back into perfect position. "It is a small salon near the Market Place. It is called Christelle's. She and her sister, Danielle who cuts - does - my hair, opened it last year".
"Oui, c'est parfait". She giggled. "Je suis pendre ... er, I was thinking of getting mine cut ...".
"Votre cheveaux! Coupe!. Mais non, c'est ...".
"No, just trimmed". She looks quite shocked.
"Ah, OK. But Christelle's is ... 'ow you say ... is different. Er ...".
And then her mobile phone rings. "Robert!", she exclaims. A big smile appeared on her face. "Un moment", she says more quietly, and appears a little flustered, almost girly as we say in England. "I need to go Penny so until tomorrow then".
"Oui, a demain". She giggles and, as she walks away, I hear her animated voice babbling away in French ... and watch the longer hair at the back glide over her clipped nape.
Damn, I didn't get a phone number for Christelle's. I walk over to the secretary's desk and pick up the appropriate phone directory, returning to my desk. I flick through and sure enough find a hairdressing salon called Christelle's. I pick up the phone. I feel incredibly nervous as I normally do with anything to with hair. My hair in particular. But it can't wait several months for a trim, I have the name of a good salon, so there's no time like the present.
I press the buttons. After a couple of rings I hear "Oui, Christelle's".
"Ah, bonjour. Je m'appelle Penelope. Er, je desire a ...".
"Pardon. Vous-etes Anglais? Are you English?".
"Oui. Er, yes".
"How may I help you Penelope?".
"I would like to make an appointment for a cut please. As soon as possible. With Danielle".
"C'est moi. This is Danielle. How did you hear of us".
"A colleague. Frederique recommended you. From EPT?".
"Ah Frederique! OK, tomorrow morning at ten hours?".
I can take the day off. There's nothing urgent that needs doing and then I can get ready to go out in the evening. "Oui, 10 O'clock tomorrow"
"Bon Penelope. A demain".
I guess I should have said what I wanted but, as Craig would say, a cut is a cut. I note the address of the salon and then return the directory, send an e-mail informing my boss that I will be taking the day off, and I settle down to finish the day's work.
I awake to the insistent buzzing of the alarm. 7am time to get ready for work. But no, I have the morning off. I walk to the bathroom and begin my usual ritual of combing through my hair. As usual, hardly a tangle and it falls as glossily as it did the night before. I tuck into a cap and enter the shower where I think about the morning ahead.
I'm always a little nervous about going to a salon, especially somewhere new. I feel a sort of fluttering in the stomach, although why I should be worried I can never quite understand. In some ways, it is more excitement. It is a nice experience after all, to be pampered. And also the opportunity to watch the activities in the salon. That can be interesting too.
So I leave the shower and get ready for the day. It looks warm again today so I select my new, rather skimpy purple-coloured dress - a colour I chose as it sets off the colour of my hair so beautifully. And as I brushed it through I was reminded that this was the case. Frederique jokingly said that my hair nearly the hem - and she was right it nearly was.
How to wear it today? It's warm, but as my hair will be attended to soon I decide to leave it loose.
As I leave I remind myself of the address of the salon and begin to walk to the Market Square. I'm probably going to be early but it is a beautiful morning so I see no sense in staying indoors.
My hair attracts the usual quota of glances as I stroll down the main street into town. I'm used to this, but I still find it rather pleasant.
I follow the route I had mapped out in my mind and arrive at the correct road. It's just after 9.30. It appears to have several small and quite upmarket shops. I vaguely remember having wandered down here before. I begin to count down the numbers finally identifying a smart, white shopfront ahead with a sign hanging over the doorway stating that this was Christelle's Salon. I'm far too early. Shall I go inside and wait? No, I decide to sit at a nearby cafe to enjoy a cup off coffee in the late summer sun.
As I sit there I watch the passers by, and also try to look into the salon. But it is a little too far away to see inside. The door opens and a tall, elegant woman walks out. She's dressed in an expensive looking black suit and, as she walks past, I hear the jangling of her gold bracelets which go with the other jewelry on her person. Long elegant earrings hang down from her ears. Ears that are not hidden by hair, by virtue of the style that has been recently been fashioned by Christelle or her sister. She was the sort of woman who you expected to have long, tumbling, blonde waves. But instead it is cut short. Very short. The blonde hair on the crown is cut to an inch, perhaps less, and sticks straight up. Not spiky like you see some times, but sort of uniformly flat over the top. The blonde hair at the back and sides is, well ... not there! Shaved so close that it must just have been done.
And it suits her to perfection. I can't help but stare. She turns towards me and says "Bonjour".
I nod, smiling but feeling awkward. She passes by.
I wonder how it must feel, as I have many times before, for a woman to have her hair cut that short. Particularly an attractive woman like the one who is now disappearing down the street. I place a hand under the hair at my nape, shivering a little in the early morning warmth, feeling its comforting weight. I know I'll never cut my hair but, rather strangely, I do contemplate how it would feel.
I take another sip of my coffee and see two women about to enter the salon. One has short hair and the other has hair just past her shoulders. That comes as a relief as I'm beginning to think they only cut short styles. I look at my watch. Still 15 minutes to go, but I down my coffee and decide to enter anyway.
I smooth back my hair as I approach the door. Looking in, I can see it is rather modern in appearance. Lots of bare metal and black leather. The window contains some sort of modern art display - a sort of see-through box with multi-coloured material inside which looked like ... no it couldn't be ...
"Bonjour Mademoiselle. Comment allez vous?".
As I close the door behind me, a striking woman looks across a small reception desk.
"Er, bonjour. Je ... I have an appointment with Danielle. I'm Penny?".
"Ah oui. My sister. She is just finishing off over there. But ...". She looked at me a little strangely. "But ... er, you are a little early".
"That's OK. I'll just wait here".
"Mais, er, aussi ... but are you sure you sure you should be here?".
"Yes. 10 O'clock".
"Non, non, non. I mean, your hair. You do know about our salon ...".
I feel a little odd as if something was not quite right. But presumably Christelle just doesn't have the English to explain what she means. I think back to my chat with Frederique. She did say it was different. In what way. I can't remember. I think that's when her mobile rang.
"Yes my friend Frederique comes here. She said you were different ...".
The phone on the desk rings.
"Ah, c'est bon. C'est tres bon. Then please do sit. I know Danielle will be very pleased to meet you".
I sit down as Christelle picks up the phone and begins to chatter. As I sit there I see her steal a few glances towards me, and especially towards my hair. I guess that's only natural in a salon.
As I saw from outside the interior is rather hi-tech. The seat, or bench, I am sitting on is bare metal covered with red leather scatter cushions. Surprisingly comfortable.
The woman next to me was the short haired woman who had entered earlier with her companion with the hair down to her shoulders.
"Bonjour", she said, and a stream of words that I didn't catch. She looks at me enquiringly.
"Bonjour. Er, anglais".
She nods. Attempts a few English words but gives up. "Votre cheveaux. C'est magnifique. Est-ce-que vous coupe?". She points at me and then at her own short crewcut. I take in her short hair and feel that chill down my spine that I experienced earlier. I just stare back at her. "Coupe! Er ... cutted!", she repeats somewhat unnecessarily, and rather insistently. She moves towards me opening and closing her second and third finger.
I instinctively back away. I shake my head, and my hair with it. "Trim", I say retrieving a lock and pointing to the ends.
Surprisingly the woman laughs. "Ici?". She shakes her head also. No hair moves. She then points to the woman who came in with her. "Mon ami. Coupe!".
I follow her gaze and see she is right. Her friend is sitting in one the chairs, covered by a striped cape - white and a delicate, feminine shade of pink - and it seems a very unfeminine action is about to be undertaken with her hair. A young stylist standing next to hair, with hair very similar to that of Frederique's, picks up a set of men's hairclippers. She gathers the shoulder length hair in loose ponytail and then, without a word she places the clippers on the woman's forehead and pushes them back through her hair. I'm not sure I can quite believe it but, as if to prove it, she repeats the actions several more times while holding on securely to the ponytail. I'm mesmerised. It's like watching Carl at the barbers all over again.
Surprisingly the woman seems to be enjoying it and her friend, sitting next to me, also had a smile on her face. Even the stylist was laughing a little as her client said something, although this was mixed by a determined look on her face - a look that said I want to clipper off all this hair.
And she did. Finally the ponytail she held came away and she holds it aloft.
"Une autres femme dans ...", and I didn't catch the rest. Another woman in something or other? What does that mean. Both the other stylists, Christelle and Danielle, called out "OUI, C'EST BON!".
How strange. I see Christelle walk over from the desk towards the chair. She has a rubber band in her hand, which fixes to the ponytail.
And she tosses it into the box in the window. The art exhibit. The clear box. I realise I was correct. The box is full of cut hair. Close up it is obvious, but from further away the different coloured, silky lengths intertwine with each other and produce a quite pleasing affect to the eye. Some of the lengths seem quite long. I unconsciously touch my own hair and shiver. I begin to think about where they collected so much hair, although my attention is drawn back to the latest donor.
The stylist takes the large, black attachment from the clippers and picks up another slightly smaller which she shows to her client. She nods. "Mais non, Anna. Numero un!". Anna's eyes open wide, and the stylist looks enquiringly. Anna shuts her eyes and nods slowly. The stylist picks up a much smaller attachment and, without further ado, turns the clippers back on and begins to run them over Anna's head. Over and over. Fine dark clippings seem to fill the air around her. Her head is then gently, but firmly, pushed to the left and then the right and then forward. And all the time the clippers maintain their ceaseless task of denuding Anna's head until what appeared to be just a fine, soft pelt remained. With barely a pause the stylist replaces the large clippers in her hand with a smaller pair.
The loud buzzing is replaced by a higher-pitched whine until they are placed on the neck. Then it sounds like I can hear each blade cutting each fine hair as the hairline is completely shaved on the nape, and then around the ears. A white line has formed between the remaining dark hair and the tanned skin of her nape. She'll need to find a little sun!
Anna, a woman, was nearly bald. I had just witnessed her shearing in this salon. I had witnessed short cuts before in Galaxy but never like this. Why so short? Why?
"Pour-quoi?". Anna's friend is looking at me a little perplexed. I must have spoken aloud. I smiled a little sheepishly at her. "Pour moi! Pas que, je desire". Anna gets up and goes to Christelle to pay. She's smiling but looks a little shell-shocked. I'm not surprised. Her friend jumps up and walks over to her. Did I get it right. She asked Anna to cut her hair?
"Anna, c'est formidable". They exchanged smiles and walked out the door, past the exhibit where her hair now resided.
My attention is now drawn to Danielle, who I have glimpsed several times working at the chair next to the other stylist who has moved over to talk to Christelle.
Danielle has trimmed and then blow dried the hair of her client. The client sports a rather attractive bob. Cut perfectly, and very glossy. It hangs half way between her chin and shoulders. Still much too short of course but not much hair surrounds the chair indicating that it was just a trim. I feel a little more comfortable now at being the next one in to Danielle's chair.
Danielle's own hair is striking too. Short of course, as seems de rigeur for all the stylists. A chin length bob on one side, not unlike Frederique's - indeed this is the style I thought she had - but the other side is cropped short. Clippered to the skin it seems but slowly blending into the longer hair on the other side. An unusal, but immaculate cut. Once more suiting the person perfectly.
Like the barber so many years ago, I wondered if these girls started each day by clippering each others napes to provide a good advertisement for their craft.
Danielle has finished and chats with her client at the reception desk.
"Merci beaucoup Danielle. C'est magnifique! Au revoir".
She spun her head and the neat bob settled perfectly into place once more.
"Au revoir, Madame Casier. Mais ...", and a load of quick fire French which seems to suggest something different would be happening on her next visit. Danielle seems to be almost insisting on it from her tone. Well I guess I must have got that wrong. But anyway Danielle is now approaching me.
"Bonjour Mademoiselle. How are you today?", Danielle asked in a pleasant, but crisp and rather abrupt accent.
"Bonjour Danielle. I'm fine thanks".
"Well I am pleased to see you. So Frederique recommended you to us. I am happy that she has. But a little surprised. Did she say we are different?".
"Yes she did. And your sister started to explain but ...".
"Ah bon, and you are still here", she said before I could ask what precisely the difference was. I'm rather intrigued about what could be different in a salon.
"Of course. I ...".
"That is good. Please come here with me now". I follow her to the styling chair.
8. In the Chair
I perch on the seat of the chair, expecting to discuss my requirements before being led to basin to have my hair shampooed. Danielle takes a fresh striped cape from the shelf beside, flicks it open and begins to fastens it about my neck. My hair tends to get in the way and I'm sure I heard Danielle let out an exasperated sigh.
I watch Christelle looking interestingly towards me, in the mirror. She approaches and lifts my hair as her sister continues to struggle. "Merci, Christelle. Eh voila, Penny". She places her hands on my shoulders and eases me back into the chair.
"You will sit back please".
I do as requested, surprised to find the chair so large and encompassing compared with other styling chairs I have sat in. Rather comfortable actually. I feel the chair rise up under me. Danielle is adjusting the height with her foot. My own feet swing free.
She begins to slowly comb my hair through. Christelle remains beside me and I watch the two of them exchange glances. "We shall start Penny. Are you ready?".
"Errrr ... yes. But, er, how much will you cut ... er, what style".
"Pardon. I thought I would firstly just c... But, we can discuss now".
She looks a little disappointed, as if keen to start. "So what do you wish Penny?".
Less than an inch. I must remember to at least double inches for centimeters. "Just two centimeters".
The two sisters look at each other in surprise. "C'est vrai? Deux centimeters. En brosse!". Danielle smoothes back my hair and holds it firmly in a ponytail at the back of my head. The two sisters chatter in excitement, at my impending trim. "Oui, an excellent choice for sure".
Why the excitement? Onbrosse, what does that mean?
Christelle speaks. "You have 'la grande courage'. But, for sure, it will look very nice. Parfait! Danielle is very good".
'Courage'? Does that mean courage? What does she mean?
"Bien sur. Naturellement!". They are both laughing like a couple of schoolgirls.
I feel Danielle release my hair. She leans across me and selects a large pair of scissors from the shelf in front of me. I see Christelle begin to gather my hair together. What's happening? Shouldn't I be having my hair shampooed now? Is trimming long hair when its dry a continental thing? And held in a ponytail? As it securely is now, with Christelle circling her left hand around the base of my hair - resting on my head - and the other holding it about 12 inches above my head with the remainder falling free.
I feel uneasy. Very uneasy. This can't be right.
I can see my own worried expression in the mirror. Frozen, like the two sisters. With Christelle looking down at the my hair, almost in anticipation of something happening while Danielle stands still holding the scissors with one hand and tapping their blades in the other. She stares at my reflection with a slight smile.
"Eh maintenant, la coupe. OK Penny. Courage. This won't take very long!".
I expect her to take the end of my ponytail. But no! The blades are moving towards my ponytail. The base of my ponytail! Surely she's not ... not going to cut there. Cut all my hair off! Momentarily I feel a sort of blip of excitement at the thought, similar to all that Carl. In Galaxy. And here earlier. Wondering how it would feel to lose so much hair. To have so little hair.
These thoughts dash round my mind in milliseconds as I watch the scissors come closer. What would it feel like?
Butterflies rise in my stomach. My throat constricts and goes dry.
What will it feel like?
I feel Christelle's grip tighten, pulling the hair between her hands taut! This can't be happening! Why are they doing this! But it's my hair. I can stop it.
"STOP! ARRETEZ-VOUS!!. PLEASE STOP!!!"
I try to move my head but find it is held securely. I struggle to pull my hands from under the cape. I move Danielle's hand away. The hand holding the scissors.
I find myself short of breath. I must have been holding it for ages. I finally look up to see the two sisters looking at me a little worried. Perhaps surprised at my action. Possibly disappointed? I don't know.
"Are you OK Penny?".
"Er, yes", I sort of pant. "Er no, not really. What do you think you are doing with my hair. It seemed you were going to cut it all off?".
"For sure. Of course. It is what you requested Penny", Danielle says almost angrily.
"I did not. I ...".
"Two centimetres you said".
"I know. I ...".
"Your hair is very thick. It will be en brosse".
"Onbrosse. What does it mean? I don't understand". I feel a little panicky by all that's happening.
"En brosse. Like a brush", Christelle demonstrates by releasing my hair and holding a hairbrush in her hand and running her hand over the bristles. "It will look very nice".
I shudder as I think what might have happened. These women wanted to give me a crewcut. Still want to by the sounds of it. I could have been like the women in the street earlier. The woman in the chair now. I would have known how it felt to have my hair cropped short. And it would have been too late to do anything about it.
"Yes, it will suit you very well. Shall we start again ... if you're ready".
"NO! LISTEN!", I shout out. The two women are shocked by my rejoinder and almost step back. I'm almost shocked too. "I just want two centimeters cut off. A trim. From the ends. Do you understand me".
"Pardon?". A Gallic shrug from the two of them. "But of course we understand ... now. But we are surprised. Confused? You know are salon is different".
"Well yes. But not why it is different. You didn't explain".
"But you said you knew", says Christelle with an exasperated air. "Very well, I shall explain. Last year we ran a traditional salon here ... where you could have got your little trim", she says with a slight sneer in her voice. "But we don't much enjoy perming, setting and colouring. So we revamped the salon. We now specialize in cutting women's hair short ... or very short".
"A woman's barbershop", Danielle interjects.
"Yes. We have been very successful. Many of our existing clients remain because we have such a good reputation as stylists, but we have many more".
I feel like I'm watching tennis as my eyes go from one sister to the other trying to take this in ... and beginning to understand why they might have made such a mistake. "So most of your clients have short hair?".
"Non!". I'm confused and show it. "All. No clients are permitted to leave with hair longer than 10 centimetres. We expect less. Do you see the woman earlier. Her was too long. Next time I have told her I will cut it much shorter".
"All of them. But I'm here. I ...".
"Yes, but we thought you understood. Many women have sat in that chair with long hair and I have relieved them of it. Do you see the evidence there. in the basket in the window. It is a ... 'ow you say ... a gimmick".
I did understand now! Well time to go I think. I clearly won't be getting my hair trimmed here. "Look, I'm very sorry I wasted your time. I better go now".
Non! Un moment. 'No clients are permitted to leave with hair longer than ten centimeters'. We advertise in this way". Christelle states rather abruptly with an edge to her voice that makes me hesitate ... and, at the same time, to run.
"B... but I'm not a client". The butterflies are rising once more. Images of the earlier shearing cross my mind. The woman near the cafe. Countless images of short hair and cutting from Galaxy and elsewhere. The barbershop and Carl.
Both sisters look in the mirror at me sitting in the chair, covered by a cape and with my long hair in disarray around my shoulders where Christelle released it. There's a long pause. "Mais oui! You are!", states Danielle.
"But I ... look I really need to go". Two pairs of hands lightly touch my hair - one pair resting on each shoulder. Lightly touching. But preventing me getting up without making a fuss.
"Penny, we see many women like you here - with long hair. We know you would like to know how it will feel to have it cut. To wear it short. Isn't that so?".
"Well, I er, I've ...", I gulp. I feel a little flustered by these two women hovering over me. Two women with precisely cut, very short hair. I can't think straight - I feel confused.
"I was watching you as the young lady was buzzed ten minutes ago. You could not take your eyes from her could you", Christelle states.
I hear the buzzing once again. "Well yes, I did but ...".
"And did I not see you at the cafe just now admiring my previous client as she left?".
Her image flashes through my mind again. "Well she ... that is ...".
"You have thought about how it would be haven't you Penny?".
"Yes I have thought about it but ... ".
"We know Penny, we know about 'buts'. But we are here to help you".
They both lift my hair from my shoulders and smooth it down my back. I start to feel I may be losing control of the situation.
Christelle begins to brush it through. I feel a little more relaxed.
"You do realise that we are here to help don't you Penny".
"Oh yes, I know".
"We are very experienced stylists".
"Yes I realise that".
"You've seen our work".
"Yes". My eyes close as I begin to drift from the constant brushing.
"Our clients look good don't they?"
"So you'll know we'll do what is for the best?".
"Yes". I feel very relaxed by the brushing as Christelle talks to me.
"Excellent. It is good that you agree".
Agree? To what?
The brushing stops. I feel disappointed. As I open my eyes I see Danielle has in her hands the scissors once more. She smiles at me and nods as her sister swiftly forms a ponytail of my hair once more.
Am I dreaming? Am I just remembering what happened a few minutes before?
Christelle is pulling my hair taut using both hands and I watch amazed as Danielle slides the scissors around my hair between her sister's two handed grip.
NO! - I want to say - but my throat is dry. The lack of understanding in my mind of what I'm seeing in the mirror seems to have paralysed me. I can't move.
I feel my hair tighten a little more.
I watch Danielle force the scissors closed, a look of intense concentration on her face as she bites her lower lip. No, she can't really be going to do this. One woman can't want to do this to another.
In the mirror I see several strands emerge, tufty like, from Christelle's closed fist. No, this can't be happening.
"Mais formidable. It is so thick", exclaims Danielle with undisguised glee.
"Pour le moment", Christelle chuckles. "Pour le moment".
A lifetime of emotions are welling up inside of me. I try to control the tears that are trying to emerge. I don't want to close my eyes to control them. I must watch.
This is what I have dreamt of watching in Galaxy - and before and after - a woman have her very long hair chopped off in this manner. But I never expected to be me!
I feel really strange now. I wondered how it would feel to have all my hair cut off. Now I know ... but the again don't really. I have never felt such heightened emotions for a very long time. I feel short of breath, slightly flushed, excited - almost like ...
With a final triumphant lunge of the scissors, Danielle severs my whole ponytail and Christelle holds it aloft.
"OUI!", the two women exclaim. Christelle adds, "Penny est departe ... pardon ... Penny has now left the world of those women who have long hair. Welcome to the short hair club Penny!".
Both women are smiling at each other.
I want to deny what I've just witnessed. But my hair hanging in thick, uneven lengths around my cheeks is the proof. "I can't believe you ... I ... NO!".
"It is for the best. You agreed Penny".
"Agreed? What ...".
"To cut of course", Danielle says in a matter of fact way. She begins to run her hands through my hair. Twisting and turning it. It feels very strange as the short lengths slide around on each other and the sharp ends lightly graze my cheeks. "Of course. Now do you still wish me to cut it en brosse?"
"What. I didn't ...". I'm distracted by Christelle she has bound my severed hair with a rubber band. My first thought is to wonder if the band is covered to prevent split ends.
"Voila!". She holds it up in front of me. It hangs, dead straight, glistening in the light as it slowly moves around. Nearly there feet of pantene hair! It can't be mine. I reach out from under the cape to handle it. Retrieve it.
Christelle laughs. "Non, Penny!". I watch her march to the window and she tosses in the hair that I have cared for for so long. "Le tradition!".
"Penny, there is still much to cut off. It is still too long", Danielle states in a somewhat exasperated tone. "So, en brosse. Deux centimetres".
"I never asked for that. No, it was a ...".
"No", Christelle says. Longer on top I think".
That sounds better. "I ...".
"A bob peut-etre", Danielle interrupts before I say anything.
Yes that sounds much better. "I ...".
She rolls the hair under on one side. It looks cute as a chin length bob ... but way too short. I just want it trimmed ... and to get out of here. She continues rolling it under. Both stylists look at my hair ... in the mirror, from the side and around the back.
They are discussing amongst themselves! They appear not to be interested in my opinion at all.
Christelle agrees. "Oui. A sh ..." - a phase I couldn't make out - "bob!". They look at each other, smiling, and both nod emphatically.
"Bien Sur!", replies Danielle, and both of their smiles broaden.
Christelle stands to one side and observes her sister with arms folded. My hair is released and Danielle combs it through. I watch as she sections off the long hair at my crown - it is still quite long - she twists it around andpins it on top of my head. She combs the rest straight down, from a parting at least two inches above my ears which I can feel extends around the back of my head. All this just to even up the ends.
"Please could you just ...". And my breath is literally taken away as I turn my eyes towards Danielle. She has in her hands a set of hairclippers. Men's hairclippers. Of the type I saw used on Carl all those years ago. Large. Brutal-looking. Purposeful. And noisy.
12. The Clippers
She can't be serious. I can't believe that she thinks she is going to use those on me. Danielle places her free hand on my crown and I feel the pressure as she eases my head to one side. I try resist.
"No you musn't! You can't ...". I try to move in the chair.
I feel Christelle's hand on my crown, and another on my shoulder, holding me firmly in place. "Please, don't be silly. You can't leave with hair like that. Be still".
I freeze. I can't move. I'm transfixed by the image in the mirror of my head held to one side and the clippers moving slowly to my temple. Getting louder and louder. I have lost control of the situation. Totally.
Aaah! I feel cold metal as the clipper blades touch my cheek ... and now a purring vibration fills my head. Fills my whole being.
The blades slide up my cheek. I feel the cool, smooth steel. And the tone of the clippers changes. Six inch lengths of hair begin to slide down my cheek as the clippers climb upwards to the white line where the crown hair is parted. With a practiced flick of the clippers the severed hair falls away leaving a furrow ploughed through my hair. Not quite as white as the parting, but white skin is clearly visible. Without a pause she slides the clippers up the side of my head again and again until all the hair has gone. The grip of the two women relaxes.
They swap sides. Christelle pulls my head to the other side, and places a hand on my shoulder and her sister quickly slides the clippers over my cheek and straight up the side of my head once more.
Danielle moves behind me and straightens my head, holding it in place so I look straight ahead. The sides of my head appear shaved. There is no other word for it. My eyes begin to fill with tears. Christelle holds me in that position - for a few seconds - and smiles while staring straight at me in the mirror. And then I feel her pressure as she pushes, almost forces, my head forward. Right down.
My whole body shivers as I feel the cool metal touch my nape. And feel it slide along my neck. And once more the tone changes as I hear the clippers chewing into my hair. I watched Carl have his neck clippered in this way. I realise mine will soon look the same. I've watched smugly as the clients in Galaxy have also had their necks denuded in this way. I feel the same sense of smugness emanating from Christelle and Danielle now ... despite the fact that their hair is already short.
I know I should be feeling anger ... or fear ... or just sadness ... but another emotion is arising from deep down inside of me. These women have now taken full control of the situation. And their actions and smiling faces are showing that they are enjoying themselves - perhaps even excited. And, deep down, I'm beginning to feel that way too.
A coolness surrounds my nape. A coolness from the metal clippers and the tingly coolness that I feel when I put my hair up in a bun, a ponytail or a braid. But at the end of the day there will be no comforting warmth as I release my hair and brush it through. My neck will remain bare. It will remain cool. I try to imagine how it looks as the clippers continue to do their work. Again and again I feel them sliding along my nape and into the remaining. Less and less hair falls past my eyes into the cape with each pass. And with each pass, I can't understand this, I begin to feel a little more ... well, aroused!
The clippers suddenly go silent. My head is allowed to come up in the mirror and I see the bare sides once more. I turn my head a little and, for as far as I can see around the back it looks the same. Shorn!.
My view becomes obscured as the pinned up hair is released. Danielle combs it down. A pause.
I suddenly feel cold steel on my forehead, not far from my hairline it seems. No she can't be.
"No. I ...".
13. The Fringe
SCHNICK! SCHNICK!! SCHNICK!!!
With three quick snips my forehead and eyes are laid bare. I have a fringe of little more than half an inch stretching across my forehead. I have seen women in Galaxy with such fringes. I don't them. And now I have one.
My eyes look huge ... and attractive. They widen further as I watch more and more of the length removed from the sides and then the back. A short bob - not long enough to reach my ears, barely long enough to cover the bare expanse of my clipped temples.
And then, as if not short enough, Danielle lifts a lock at my crown. It's three inches perhaps. And she severs it near the roots. She lifts another - she snips it also but leaves it longer. Her pace quickens and she appears to be haphazardly cutting into my hair all over. It appears random but I can see a definite style taking shape. A very short style.
I still can't believe quite what is happening as Danielle lifts and cuts, lifts and cuts, lifts and cut. I sit there, staring in the mirror, trying to visualise my long hair flowing over my shoulders. As I do so, my state of arousal is heightened as the short - very short - textured crop nears completion.
In the mirror I see the cape moving. I can't understand why this should be. And I realise my hands, under the cape, have strayed from arms of the chair into my lap. And they are moving rhythmically along my thighs ... and higher. I attempt to conceal the movement but I don't stop.
The scissors are put down, and something else picked up.
Bzzzz! A small set of clippers appear in Danielle's hand, and she swiftly runs them a little way up my cheek and a little more hair falls away. I can see that the hairline is now truly shaved close. She moves around the hairline and I try to picture the nape being shaved clean as I feel the tiny little teeth nibbling away. My state of arousal heightens. I see myself chewing my lip, attempting to suppress the cry that would inevitably escape if I were in my flat.
My hands feel warmth under my dress ... a warm dampness. Even through my slight grimace as I bite my lip, I can see myself smiling as I take in the change in my appearance.
The clippers are once more silent.
14. The Finish
Danielle turns away. I let out a small sigh - a modest reflection of the deep explosion occurring within me - and hope this is taken as a sign of relief. I see Christelle in the mirror. And she has a knowing smile upon her face. Did she expect to feel this way? Is this feeling normal? I feel my own face, begin to go warm, as I blush slightly.
Danielle applies some sort of gel to my hair. Pulling up the longer bits so the stick up, come forward to partly cover my fringe, nearly covering one eye.
A word comes to mind. Funky! I haven't a clue where it came from but it suits me perfectly. And I look at least 5 years younger.
"Penny, c'est finis. Do you like it Penny?".
I can barely speak. It looks incredible. No way would I have ever asked for such a style, even though I have always felt this deeep down thing about hair - Carl, the cuts I witnessed in Galaxy, passers by. A mirror is held up and I can see the rear for the first time. I involuntarily gasp. At the top I see all the textured length much like the front. At the back it is very short - I can clearly see the white skin of my neck showing through. And towards the nape it bare. The hairline has been shaved to nothingness and my neckline appears curved and elegant, something only hinted at whenever I put - had put - my long hair up in a clumsy, unbecoming bun.
"Penny, is it OK?".
"Er, oui, c'est magnifique. C'est tres - er - funky".
The two sisters laugh and I join in. But I see my expression remains one of amazement ... but I have a great feeling of delight.
The cape is whisked away and I jump up. Christelle comes forward with a brush and removes the fine clippings from my face, neck and shoulders. I can feel them itching in places where I would not have expected them to get! But I don't mind. A reminder of where they were and what happened to remove them.
"Merci. Merci beaucoup Danielle. Et Christelle". They both look at me knowingly, giving a smile that seems to come from deep inside.
I feel as though I am floating. In a sort of dream. But I don't want to be grounded. This has been such an amazing experience that I just want to hang on to it in my mind.
I pay and a card is handed to me for another appointment in three weeks time. Three weeks I ponder. It used to be every six weeks. And then I realise I can't wait.
I shake hands with both women before I leave. I walk back down the road feeling the fresh, warm air around my neck and even through my textured hair. I admire myself in reflections in the shops and the cafe I stopped at earlier. I consider stopping but quicken my pace as I realise that all I want to do is get back to my flat and investigate my hair further.
"Mais non! Vous aussi! Ah, c'est terrible!". The waiter who had served me earlier had run to the door of the establishment and regarded me with a pitiful look on his face.
I turn my smiling face towards him. "Mais non! C'est tres funky". I broadened my smile even more and was rewarded by a slight grin. Perhaps a glimmer of understanding.
For the first time I run a hand up my nape and through the short lengths of my crown. I feel a sense of amazement I shudder involuntarily. And quicken my pace.
Acknowledgements: This story has been influenced from stories I have read and chats I have had with my friends in the Internet hair community. I would like to thank all of them ... you know who you are :-) But most all, I would life to thank the two sisters who inspired this tale; their story can be found at:
I hope you have enjoyed reading this story. Please feel free to contact me firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any comments.