Richard C. Terrington was getting old but that wasn’t his fault. Nor was the hairline that shone back at him in the bathroom mirror as he rubbed a razor up his neck. He failed to convince himself, as he did every morning, that he had always had this pair of dull bright spaces up in the corners of his forehead and that he was not, as yet, losing his hair. He lifted the hair back and let it fall and changed the angle of his head in the steamed mirror. His mind said yes, we are old, but the voice, lost and mixed with the outside rushed panic of his family’s morning preparations and the high-pitched melody of the kitchen radio, replied no, not yet, not quite yet.
Despite being comfortably wealthy, Richard C. Terrington still took the train to work. He stood next to rushed strangers in the morning smell of sweat and work and read a book from a library. Wearing a high street store suit; he was, and always had been, tight with himself, allowing few luxuries and treats. But this is not to say he was a frugal, closed man. His wife drove a new German car, both his daughters enjoyed, rather than survived at, elite Universities, and his house was full with the newest comforts available. His own matters were his own and he treated them modestly; he had not arrived at this day by being a spend rift and he was not able to change. Fellow colleagues, who wore tailored rich suits and arrived to work in gorgeous low vehicles, tried to persuade him to change his ways and enjoy the life he had worked so hard for but to no avail. This is me, he would say, and I wouldn’t feel right pretending to be something else.
After clinching a high profit deal Richard C. Terrington went for lunch. He enjoyed his one hour away from the office and, if there were no customers to see or events to organize, he would eat alone at a small café ten minutes walk from his office. Again, it was a modest affair, a far cry from the gourmet table-clothed brassieres his colleagues enjoyed. The coffee was above drinkable, but only just, the sandwiches made from supermarket brea. The other clientele were locals who had escaped the dirty effort of cramped offices or quiet stores. He liked the owner, a polite and trendy American, and enjoyed the happy jazz that always drifted around the tables. No one here knew who he was, a man of some international repute, and no one cared. He was the man in the corner reading the book from the library who always smiled when he came in.
Leaving the café Richard C. Terrington caught himself a glance in the window of an office supply shop and decided he needed a haircut. He phoned his secretary who said that after the success of the morning there was little pressing business this afternoon and shuffled his schedule accordingly. Richard C. Terrington walked two blocks to the cheapest barbers in the city and sat down to wait for his turn.
As he waited he watched the hairdressers. They all had bad hair. Two men waited next to him on wooden stools and neither of them looked like they had any hair to cut. The men who were having their hair cut were silent and the only noise was the rain like drum of the cars outside and the tin squeal from a small radio. Richard C. Terrington watched the barbers work with quiet efficiency; the rapid twist of the scissors, the hum and slide of the razors, the constant checking and rechecking of the mirror. After finishing one of the customers and taking the money, one of the barbers began to sweep the floor; he was methodical and practiced; he missed no hair. Richard C. Terrington was next and sat down in the big leather chair and asked for a trim: the barber smiled and began. Richard C. Terrington closed his eyes and let the barber, this stranger, put his hands through his hair and found it strange; he would only, under normal circumstances, let his wife become so close to him, so intimate, but here was a man he had never met before rubbing his fingers down his temples. And he was paying for this.
The whole world slipped away. Richard C. Terrington closed his eyes and felt. The morning, so full with money, and problems, and risk, was lost and only the present remained; he enjoyed each touch from the barber, each swish of the scissors, every sensation of being handled. He entertained a fantasy: he wondered if he could stay here all day, keep asking for his hair to be cut shorter, keep paying more money, keep being touched. And this fantasy fell into another: he dreamed of being able to stay here and work, not for money and not as a barber but as a sweeper, just a sweeper. The fantasy flew and he imagined himself being friendly with the customers, being a favourite – a clown, a fool, yes, but also a favourite. He would have no boss, he was not getting paid; he was a volunteer and could take a break, could even leave, whenever he wanted. He saw himself sweeping, sweeping up the dead hair of the customers into little piles and then putting all the piles together into one big pile and then sweeping them into the bin and then doing it again. The beautiful simplicity of it all delighted him and he did not know he was smiling. A moment later the barber said that he was finished and Richard C. Terrington opened his eyes. He was surprised that the person in the mirror was still him. He paid the barber and gave the normal tip. He looked at his mobile phone and saw that his secretary had called him twice. He left the barbershop and looked behind him and saw the head of the barber looking down, his hands moving, his body sweeping up the hair he had left behind.