‘Speak now,’ Tove says. ‘Are you coming to the gala, or not?’
She wants to blow off some steam at the bohemian shindig in the park, but I am hesitant because the invitation reads like a set of oppressive instructions: ‘Wear your hair with pride. Play your instrument with joy. Dress in colourful clothing. Be sincere, sensual, and serene.’
She deploys her puppy-dog eyes and I crumble. ‘Ok… But I’m not going to comply with these ridiculous requirements.’
I don’t need to be told to wear my hair with pride; I am a facilitator of follicular freedom. The other requirements are forms of cultural control like the state-mandated ones that are disappearing from our rear-view mirror: ‘Dress in colourful clothing’—that’s a centuries-old cliché started by flower children. Hearing it now makes me wonder if hippiedom was as policed by its exponents back then?
All scoffing aside, I show a slither of enthusiasm, if only for Tove’s sake. ‘It’ll be fun.’
Flocks of bohos stream into the park wearing prescription tie-die and rainbow-puke-circus-tent trousers. I have opted for a black T-shirt and jeans. We find a quiet entrance with a small gate, where Tove presents our invitation to a dreadlocked girl, who takes one look at us and bats the card away. ‘Depressing clothes. No instruments. Not gonna happen.’
Tove points at the girl. ‘Do you know what this man has done for us? This event wouldn’t be happening if it weren’t for him.’
The girl shrugs and indicates that we make way for a youth with a guitar slung across his back. ‘Hey, Saffron. This guy is the bomb. He straightened out my dumb neighbour. You’ve got to let him in!’
He removes a pink paisley bandana and wraps it around Tove’s neck and holds a tie-die waistcoat out for me to slip my arms into. Every fibre of my being balks at this new garment, but the youth hands me a single maraca, and I somehow feel less ridiculous, like the getup is complete.
‘So, how about it?’ I inquire of Saffron with percussive accompaniment.
She narrows her eyes. ‘On one condition, you have to smile.’
I flash my teeth and we’re in. I hand the youth his waistcoat back and politely make an excuse not to attend the jam session. He promises to catch us on the ‘flippity-flop’.
As we wind our way towards the main gathering, Tove puts her arm around me and rests her head on my shoulder. ‘You saved me from another tone-deaf performance. That was very thoughtful of you.’
We arrive at the bandstand, where a large circle of tie-dye wearers are plaiting each other’s hair in what can only be described as a braid-train. People whose hair is too short for grooming sit on the outskirts making daisy chains and strumming ukuleles. It’s a not-so-subtle pecking order—a hairarchy, if you will—showing how the hippies have separated themselves into factions where more hair equals higher status. It’s happening all over again, but this time to a different strata of society.
As I hunt for a seat, Barb draws my attention. Her entourage of orange corduroy-clad cat shepherdesses, as well as her ever-expanding flock of felines, look more welcoming than the compulsive groomers.
‘Well, if it isn’t king Neptune, purifier of water!’ She says.
'Water time to be alive,' I say.
As we settle on the lawn, she presents her crew—along with her cats—to my baffled wife.
‘Kudos to you all on a successful campaign,’ I say, projecting my voice a little in the hopes that the hippies will hear me and show some appreciation. ‘Our work on food and water has dovetailed magnificently, and now contamination is a thing of the past!’
Nope. The hippies are too absorbed in their rituals. Our clandestine work continues to go unrecognised. My band of guerrilla schmucks—who helped alter the course of history—are unlikely to be remembered. At least there are a gaggle of cats to console us.
‘This,’ Barb says, referring to the fluffy one curling up on my lap, ‘is the new and improved Patch.’
‘Wow. Such thick fur… He’s no longer worthy of his namesake.’
The scrawny fella has beefed up, too. His purr is a thousand megawatts.
‘So, tell me about your work with the underprivileged,’ Barb asks of Tove. ‘Do people actually choose to forfeit hair? That would be insane.’
Tove winces at Barb’ presumptuousness. ‘Often, it’s familial dogmas that are the issue. One of my patients is a seven-year-old boy whose plucking problem stems from his father's hatred of hair. Thankfully, he’s in the care of his mother now, who is sending him to me.’
Tove exudes an unfulfilled maternal instinct when she talks of Eno, since no matter how deeply she cares for her seven-year-old-surrogate-son-from-a-broken-home, he will only ever be her patient. And while she might have gotten cross with Barb, she chooses to calmly deescalate her prickliness; we both know that society is rife enough with nuanced grey areas for us all to disagree on and that the Barbs of this world should be more sensitive to the Enos.
Our conversation is halted by a play being announced from the bandstand. A naked woman with locks down to her hips straddles a stationary wooden horse. ‘Let us enjoy this new stage of our existence and be inspired by Lady Godiva's tale. If her revolt against taxation in her community was successful hundreds of years ago, so can ours be…’
As if summoned by Barb’s bad-mouthing of the bald, a shiny-headed child—whose ears must have been burning—wanders into our midst. He gleefully yanks at Patch’s tail. ‘Hairy cat. Naughty!’
‘Eno?’ Tove says. ‘What are you doing here?’
‘Cut that out!’ says Barb. She lunges at Eno, who dances out of the way and snatches Patch, the furriest cat available. Before Barb can give chase, a bigger problem reveals itself at the edge of the park.
A pack of bald men are pelting the hippies with stones and howling obscenities. I recognise the leader immediately: bald; repulsive scowl; teeth too large for his mouth; that breed of man who manages to loathe both hair and music while still being an unpleasant neighbour. I hoped I would never see him again. But here we are.
‘Eno!’ The leader calls out to the boy with the cat. ‘Get back here, you little turd.’
‘Oh, this can’t be good. That’s Eno’s dad,’ Tove says. ‘He’s the nutcase I was talking about.’
The hippies have dissolved the braid train and are poised with their instruments in a dramatic tableau. They chant rhythmically as they prepare for the fight. ‘One for all, and all for one. Lots of hair is better than none.’
‘Attack the hairy scum!’ Eno’s dad roars.
The mindless goons collide with the hippies and pull clumps of hair from their fertile scalps. They grab them in headlocks and inflict uber-noogies. The hippies swing their ukuleles viciously, clattering any bald heads in sight. They strike deadly blows with rain sticks and didgeridoos. A swirling melee encircles the bandstand, trapping Lady Godiva—who has prudently hidden herself under her wooden horse—in the centre of it all.
Tove flits about in a panic. ‘Eno... We’ve got to get him to safety!’
‘I’ll do it, you get out of the park with Barb.’
‘No way,’ says Barb, rolling up her sleeves. ‘We’re going to teach these boneheads a lesson. Come on, ladies!’
Humans and felines march into battle beside her, winding up their punches and extending their claws.
I grab Tove by the shoulders. ‘Get to the clinic. I’ll bring Eno.’
‘Thank you. Be careful, Lux!’
As Barb’s crew rushes into the battle, I sneak around the park's perimeter, scanning the fight for Eno. All of a sudden, my cheek is clattered by something sharp: a tambourine wielded by a flower child. He must have mistaken me for the enemy in my dark clothing. I ruffle my hair at him, like a secret signal, and he pirouettes back into the fight. I stumble up a hill to scan the park, and I see the young man who gave me his waistcoat doing maximum damage to the baldies with his snapped-off guitar neck. Further afield, Eno is by the pond, dangling the cat over the water. I suppose his dad taught him that, too.
I approach the child from behind and pull him away from the water’s edge with Patch helpless in his determined grip. ‘Come on, buddy. Mrs Brovak has a surprise for you. There will be chocolate and lots more fun things. I will piggyback you there. Climb aboard.’
‘Can I bring the kitty?’
‘Yes. Good idea.’
I ferry the child and the cat to the outskirts of the park, where we watch the fighting die down. Only a few members of both sides have enough strength to wrestle each other to the ground. The majority of the barren-scalped are limping away, most likely to be attended to by their long-suffering wives who’ll dab their wounds and praise their bravery. The hippies are crouching over their smashed instruments, mourning their destruction, sifting through the detritus with a view to reattaching matching strands of hair. It’s Barb and her gang that emerge from the fracas looking the best of anyone, kicking unconscious baldies and getting a few last unsportsmanlike shots in. Though it is unclear who, if anyone, won the battle, the hippies use their hoarse voices to persuade themselves otherwise:
A victory gained
By the mighty-maned
Meets all of our desires
It’s all the sweeter
‘Cause we didn’t cheat her
The Goddess who stokes our fires
Oh marvellous hirsute muse
Supplier of such sweet do’s
We worship you daily
Without ever failing
With you on our side we can’t lose
Since our maiden piggy-back ride, Eno has clung to my back like a koala looking for a sturdy father figure—a koala who asks a lot of questions: ‘Is this your house? Are there witches in these woods? How come all of your friends have hair? Who’s that man over there?’ He points to someone slumped down on our porch.
The beanie hat, the beard, and his bulk give him away.
‘You?’ I ask.
Mace props himself up and hunches over with his face buried in his hands.
‘What is it? What do you want?’ I ask.
He doesn’t even look up. ‘What am I going to do?’ he says.
Would it be heartless if I told him to go and count his cash elsewhere?
‘What do you mean “What am I going to do?’’ Why are you sobbing on my porch?’
‘My love… She’s on trial… For tax evasion…’