Sunday, October 21

An Account of Absolutely Nothing

There are fine dark moments in the autumn when it rains and the streets clear. Everyone goes running; that’s fine by me. The rain is not bothersome. I consider myself sane. Why should rain bother me? This British rain is cold – I have felt tropical rain, mightier but warmer – and it is a slap across the face. The people in this newly christened city went running from the rain. I walked through it and felt good. Cigarettes get wet, difficult to grip in the rain. Shop signs dribble and distort. I went to the hairdresser’s and the warm was upon me. There was the melt of other peoples’ hair, barbicide, chatter, beauty, middle age, the weary smell of life just making a dent in the passenger door. ‘Hello,’ the boss, a long-time family acquaintance, assured me that I would be seen soon and he hollered up to a girl who was sweeping the floor. ‘Tia, can you wash this gentleman’s hair.’ He didn’t say ‘please’. ‘Me?’ ‘Your name is Tia, right?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Yes, I mean you.’ She invited me up. Another young girl was washing a manikin head in the sink. The plastic head dwelt there uncomfortably and was washed roughly by a blonde girl with a Monroe piercing. ‘Take a seat here,’ said the girl. She was sweet. I noticed that right away. She was not old enough, not for me. It was possible she was still studying. Her voice was high, girlish. Her cute face juxtaposed her height, so that you thought she should be shorter, but she was tall with long legs and white Doctor Marten’s at the bottom of them. Her legs might be considered too long by anthropologists. I sat down in the chair. She set about washing my hair. Grey entered through the rooflight and with it a soggy static of rain. I stared at the rooflight. As she started to wash – ‘Is the temperature OK? … what do you do? … that sounds difficult …’ I kept my answers down to a minimum. I wanted to go to sleep with her fingers in my hair. I was only focused on her fingers in my hair. After a while of me just staring at the rooflight she forgot I was even there and started talking to her friend. ‘I can’t go back with you tonight … I’ve got to see the social worker and the solicitor.’ ‘Really?’ ‘Yeah … I don’t like the solicitor.’ They were talking about her mother – ‘I saw her in town the other day.’ ‘O, did you?’ asked the girl who was cleaning the manikin. ‘Yeah, but I couldn’t go and talk to her.’ ‘Why not?’ ‘Because of the law.’ ‘What?’ ‘Yeah, I’m not allowed to … we have to stay a certain distance away from each other.’ ‘How is she?’ ‘She looked OK … but, still … we’re not allowed to talk … she’s still on the medication, but I think she’s doing better’ – a slight pause with the rain filling it appropriately – ‘She’s still depressed.’ I just lay there, listening and feeling the tenderest romance for this little girl washing my hair. I thought, how silly of me to be like this for a young girl washing my hair. A good name she had, though; all sounding like a pen at the end of a sentence: Tia. Until now she had been quite faceless. As she led me to the sink I did not study her nor look at her in any great depth. She simply was. At that moment, though, when she was saying what she was saying and mastering the nerves on my head, I wished to know exactly what she looked like. She shampooed my head twice. Once would have done. When she was washing it the first time she said – ‘I’m not getting your back wet, am I?’ ‘No, don’t worry.’ ‘Good. He might see your back wet from the rain and think that it was me!’ ‘I got you covered.’ She giggled. After I was shampooed twice I lay there. She kept talking to the girl next to her with the Monroe piercing. I did not mind listening in; they spoke as if I weren’t there; what else to do on rainy Fridays? Without asking she applied conditioner that smelled of pineapple and coconut. That is where my plans went wrong: she manipulated me, she cheated. I was under the spell of her digits. She was all over my scalp. Let her have it, my scalp. It’s hers. It’s hers. That technique sent shivers down my spine. ‘I love the smell of the green conditioner … it smells of spearmint.’ She sat me down and combed my hair very gently. She imagined that I was recovering from an illness that predominately affected my scalp. She combed with such care. Then, during my hair cut, she swept the floor, often needlessly, no hair trimmings, just sweeping. I watched her. Her legs were still out of proportion to her body. She was beautiful, immature looking, young looking, with a big forehead that had leapt forward several centuries, and a mole upon it. I studied her hands in the mirror. Very red nails. She was all there was then. Rain kept falling. I bought a hamburger and ate it in the street, too hungry for manners, onions hanging from my gob, the sweet taste of ketchup, the vendor telling me – ‘I’ll get this ready first … should’ve worn a jumper today.’

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