Early morning walk for teenagers is analogous to online classes for English, both of them do not make sense. After a two day walking streak, I had successfully dodged the walks for a week. It feels good when you determine a task for yourself and you successfully do it the next day and even better during the period you stop doing it living with the satisfaction of the first-day achievement. I felt it too, enjoying the super-saver pack of nirvana because I knew I had to go for the walk again after the pack empties. After successfully dodging it for consecutive three days, I was woken up by my father early morning on the fourth day. I felt terrible because of two reasons. First, because I expected the Nirvana pack to last a few days more and the second, the most important reason for the day being Sunday. Although every day was a Sunday amidst the Lockdown Sunday never loses its sanctity, the same way use and throw pens don’t. Everyone enjoys using the use and throw pens because you never have the fear of losing it. You use the pen with complete clumsiness and independence because you know you can get the next one easily but this clumsiness relaxes you because, among so many things to care about, you don’t have to care about it and thus you are eased while writing with it. Similarly, the way you do not plan for Sundays because they give you the freedom to be clumsy and independent with everything. And when you lose the pen, you regret losing it because you have to use the ‘responsible’ pen till you get a new use and throw pen. Alike the regret of Sundays as you have to pass the ‘responsible’ days to get another one.
It was normal for other members to wake up till this time but the hustle at the front veranda of the house today wasn’t normal. I walked up to the veranda scratching my head to find my parents setting up things for the barber, who was arriving soon. Dad had called for a local barber, an acquaintance from his early days of transfer in this city. After a while, I was called as it was now my turn for the haircut. I was introduced to the barber by my grandpa, who had just got his hair colored. It is weird the way the black color of hair makes us appear ‘white’ in our lives. Grandpa introduced me with the same old introduction comprising of who I was, i.e., telling him the name of the college I study in. I greeted him and he took off his mask to reply, the face triggered flashbacks of the good old days. The time when you used to visit the barber with your parents because you were too curious about the life happening around and the barber needed someone to hold and stop you from shaking your head. Yes, the same guy who lets you preserve the cuteness in your primary school days, unlike today where every kid appears to be some football player from their haircut.
My haircut began after the regular sanitization of the scissors and other kinds of stuff. After a few minutes of silence, he tried to start a conversation. I do not think he did it on purpose because this seemed to be his habit. It is normal in small towns to find people who try to connect with you. Although the conversations are purposeless, it serves as a moment of escape for the people to dive into a million other stories, who are tired of their non-dynamic and work for survival jobs from indefinite decades. He began by mispronouncing my college name and I agreed to whatever the name he said. Taking offense or trying to correct the name is a way too superficial thing to fight for. I got to know about his period of the reign when his shop used to be the ruler of all the primitive shops in our part of the town a decade before. Entitled with a better workforce and skill, he conquered a vast amount of customers till a new Salon shop was set up nearby. I was astonished when he told me that the owners of the new shop were his nephew, the same shop which was currently ruling the area today. It is also the one that I have been visiting for the last several years. The only barbershop where you can wait for your turn even for hours to get the haircut from the barber who needs no explanation, no do-overs with no mistakes, and unmatched peaceful experience with no worries. Everyone has met such a service provider in their lives, whatever the service may be. With an underlying sadness, he tried to cover up by saying that he was happy that they are earning well and taking care of their families. He added that his nephews are blessed that he gave them this skill when they were mere unemployed migrants in this city a decade before and now the streams have risen above their source. I just sat with patience and nodded to whatever he said until I realized that it wasn’t a normal haircut. He was trying to give the best presentation of his skill in that half an hour's performance. Was he trying to justify the fact that he was the ‘guru’ of those barbers or was it just an attempt to gain a new customer for his shop that now had become a gossip site for the old ones? I couldn’t figure out as his face remained covered by the mask.
He kept on continuing with his storytelling session, where I got to know how things have changed from the last decade and how famous his shop used to be. This reminded me of some of the teachers in my secondary school. We all have witnessed such teachers who were soon to be retired. The ones who were only remembered during award ceremony or functions. The ones who could be seen during the pre-assembly time, excluded at a corner chatting with their few alike colleagues or standing alone and staring at the students when the colleague used to be absent. The ones who weren’t now much energetic to stop that guy from the backbench from talking or to take private tuitions like the new ones. The ones whom we loved as they wasted most of the class period in narrating stories of their life or of their students who are now extremely successful in their lives. The sadness in the words of praises of the barber for his nephews and that teacher for his students seem to resonate; the sadness of streams never returning to their source. I noticed it late, probably because of the mask the teacher had like the barber.
His hands don’t move smoothly now. Probably due to the stiffness of the routine that he is practicing for several decades. I noticed the hard strokes of the razor on my neck and the mild burn it gives as I am writing this now. I preferred not to tell it to my father when he asked for my feedback when the barber left. I didn’t want to dilute his words of praises for his old acquainted barber and I preferred to have my mask on.
Later in the evening, I asked my dad how he managed to contact and bring up the barber as barbershops and Salons were shut since last month. He told me that he met him during his early morning walk a few days back. The barber too used to go on morning walks. We both appreciated the way the barber maintained hygiene during the haircut session. Even though we have negligible active cases in our city, the barber goes for his morning walk with his mask on, my father added. Now when I give it a thought, it is surprising how my father recognized the masked barber amid the dizziness and fog in the early morning and that too so many years later. I think he has got the art of recognizing people behind their masks probably because he owns a mask too.