He’s sitting beside me. We’re both waiting for haircuts. His hair is thick, pure white. His beard is shaggy. He’s got skin like old boot leather.
There’s a woman with him, she’s in her late-thirties. Maybe forty. She is wearing a Pizza-Hut uniform.
The barber calls out, “I’m ready for you, sir,” while sweeping clumps of blonde hair from his recent victim.
The woman helps the old man to the big chair. He holds her arm. The barber asks what kind of haircut he wants.
“D-d-d-d…” the old man struggles to say. “S-s-s…” He’s working hard to make words.
The young woman interrupts, “Cut it short, it’s way too long.” Then, she returns to the sitting area and sits beside me. The barber trims the man’s mop with commercial hedge-clippers.
“What about the beard?” the barber asks. “You want it trimmed, too?”
The old man stammers so hard, his face contorts. He looks like he’s in pain. His heart is there, the words aren’t.
The young woman hollers, “Give him a shave. He needs it.”
She leans backward into her seat and takes a deep breath. She sighs, closes her eyes. She is too young to be so tired.
Her phone rings. She walks outside to answer it. She paces the sidewalk, flinging hands in the air, talking into the mouthpiece. Whoever she’s yelling at is getting an earful of words.
A customer enters. When the barbershop door opens, I can overhear her outside. She’s saying, “Can’t this wait? I’ve been working all day…”
She’s outside for a good while. When she returns to her seat, she has a red face—she’s sniffing, wiping her eyes.
When the barber finishes, he removes the old man’s cape and spins him toward his reflection. He gives him a hand-mirror. The old man’s hand shakes so violently, he drops it.
Then, he tries to form words, but can’t.
The young woman springs toward them. She picks up the mirror. She kisses the old man’s cheek. She runs her hands through his hair and touches his forehead.
“Daddy,” she says. “You’re so handsome.”
He grins with one side of his face.
All the other barbers gather around the old man’s chair. They all frown and agree: the old man’s a bona fide ladykiller.
I wish you could see the old boy’s smile.
He stutters with a thick tongue. It’s hard to watch. “Th-th-th…” is all he says. He just can’t make it happen.
He’s out of steam. So he holds his daughter’s hand and pats it. The two are silent. Sometimes, hand-pats speak louder than words.
She helps him onto his shaky knees. They shuffle toward the cash register. She opens her purse. She pays.
He blurts out, with a strong voice,“THANK YOU, DARLENE.”
Clearer and more booming words have never been spoken.
She looks at him. She says nothing. Neither does anyone else. And I’m glad.
Because words would’ve spoiled it.