I walked furtively in the semi darkness, as dusk slowly set in, with mild determination towards what I sought. Huddled in a corner between a closed hardware shop and the Chinese Sensei, the familiar whirling of red, blue and white lights signalled the end of my search: the Barbershop. Its stark white lights flickering avidly with the flitting shadows inside dancing and inviting me in.
As I tentatively pushed open its doors, it was as if a portal had opened into the Singapore of the 1970s, with old posters of cover girls and singers (most of whom would be my grandmother's age by now) haphazardly arranged along the wall. Ancient sounding music lingered in the backdrop, though played by a fairly modern looking CD player planted at the corner of the room. The floor, ceramic-tiled, was cracked at various places, each crack possibly telling an interesting story of its coming to existence.
Hair, was everywhere, a sure indicative that this was not one of those Japanese inspired establishments where vacuum monsters are set upon unsuspecting customers to suck up any unattached follicle.
As my eyes shifted upwards, I was greeted by the back of an elderly man, moving slow but assuredly, hands shifting up and down, as if conducting a symphony, as pieces of hair flutter at his sides. He was Chinese, probably about 70, with little hair of his own, as he finished his work on his customer, another elderly gentleman. His eyes shifted above his reading glasses, towards me.
"Welcome! Come take a seat!"
As I walked towards the long seat facing the row of empty barber chairs san the first one, my eyes caught sight of the sign indicating the different services provided:
Hair Cut - $8
Shave - $6
Hair Cut and Shave - $10
Dig Ear - $3
I began to formulate fancy ideas of having the traditional "Shave and a Haircut". After all, who could resist the $4 savings I would stand to incur should I opt for the Haircut and Shave Combo? Such ideas were dashed when I saw the Barber whip out a non traditional looking Gillete Shaver and did his work on his customer's face. Any other remote possibility left of me wanting the shave was shelved when I observed the Barber chuck the used shaver into a cup of water, and stirring it free of hair particles, in preparation for its next shave with another customer.
It was soon my turn, and after a pat on the back by this kindly old man, I was ceremoniously ushered into my seat whilst a bib was placed around my neck (I tried hard to ignore the red spot on the bib right under my chin). I requested my customary 2 by 4 haircut, to which the Barber, smiled and patted my head.
"Don't worry boy, your hair will turn out good".
Amused by such a rare provision of reassurance (and being called "boy" after quite some time), I just shrugged and left my hair to the control of the Barber, who introduced himself as Mr Foo. Muttering to himself and pacing around, I observed him getting his bearings with the tools he was so familiar with. As he proceeded to start with the electric shaver, my heart initially skipped a beat as I observed the buzzing piece of equipment moving towards my head with shaky hands. I whispered a silent prayer as the buzzing hit the scalp.
Once contact was made, it was the firm assured movements of an experienced master that was felt instead. He moved deftly, carefully guiding my head, and taking some time to inspect his work. He did not bother to rush in spite of the appearance of another customer (another person who was most likely twice my age) in the shop.
He began to tell his stories, about his 50 year experience as a barber, and his love for working. In a time where he could be retiring, he opted to work so that his "brain can still operate". He spoke about the processes of haircutting: A time where people would come and congregate at the barbershops, waiting patiently whilst exchanging stories and opine on current happenings. He lamented how different it is from today where we "youngsters" rush about and look for 10 minute haircuts so that we can continue rushing about in life.
At the end of the half hour session (I don't have that much hair), I thanked him twice for his services, as he had difficulty hearing me the first time out. He placed his hand on my shoulder.
"Please do come again, I have many more things to talk to you!"
I smiled in agreement, and handed him $10 note, and asked him to keep the change, $2 being scant remuneration for the life lesson learnt. Mr Foo's lips cracked open in a smile.
"Are you sure you don't want a shave?"
With a quick glance at the Gillette Shaver soaking in the cup of water, I gave a reassured shake of the head.
And stepped back out into my familiar reality, to the familiar rush for time, and enending errands to complete.
But I made sure to take two steps where one may have sufficed.