Clarence was sitting in his wheelchair, waiting patiently for the nurse to come. It was half past four and that meant it was time for his daily walk outside. Or rather, a ride in the wheelchair. But Patty, the nurse who usually took him, was late today.
Clarence watched the people in the hospital go by, patients and medical staff coming and going, while he sat in his wheelchair, parked at the end of the bench at the reception. He checked his wrist watch and tightened his jaw.
A few minutes later, a doctor came by. He was pushing a wheelchair in front of him in which an elderly gentleman, around the age of Clarence, sat with a plastic collar around his neck and a thick bandage across his head. The doctor parked the gentleman next to Clarence and told him to wait there while he goes talk to some people. Then the doctor walked off at a fast pace and left the gentleman where he parked him.
Clarence glanced over, curious to see what had happened to the man. He could use some company anyway, if he’s going to have to wait for miss Patty any longer.
Clarence cleared his throat. “So, how did you end up here?”
He turned to regard the man. The other couldn’t turn towards him due to the collar, but his eyes darted at Clarence. The man sighed.
“Well, I was having a bad hair day.”
“Pardon?” He was not expecting that answer. “But you don’t have any hair.”
“That’s why it was a bad day.”
As ridiculous as it sounded, there was a certain tone in the man’s voice that prevented Clarence from laughing. Like when a man does something he didn’t want to do, but did anyway for the sake of having some peace. And at the end it would be better if he didn’t do it.
“I’m Clarence,” Clarence said.
“Eustice,” the man said.
“Pleasure. I’ve been here for three months now and as it seems I won’t be leaving any time soon. Besides, my nurse is late for our walk. What the hell does not having hair have to do with a broken neck?”
Eustice mumbled something incoherent and wanted to shake his head, but then remembered that his neck was broken. After a moment of silence, his eyes turned at Clarence.
“Never let them get to you, ya hear? All this is because I let them get to me.”
“Let who get to you?”
“My family,” Eustice said. “My neighbour, random people.”
“Your family did this to you?” Clarence couldn’t help but show his surprise, and wonder what kind of loved ones would do such a thing.
Eustice reached for the wheels of his chair and with some effort, as he didn’t seem to know how to operate it, turned towards Clarence. “Here’s what happened…”
I woke up this morning. At my age that alone is a reason to celebrate. I turned around in the bed and my wife was there and, breathing. That’s another reason to celebrate. So you see, I’ve started this day with two victories. But it all went downhill from there.
My wife woke up and noticed me staring at her.
“Morning, honey,” I said and we kissed.
She looked at me and laughed softly. “Dear, you really ought to get something done with that crow’s nest of yours. It’s a miracle that you still have any hair at all, so you might show some respect for it.”
I’m 93 years old and never in my life have I been to a hairdresser. Waste of time and money. I don’t need anyone to cut my hair for me like I’m some helpless child. When I was a boy, my brother would do it for me, and when I was old enough I did it myself. I did it for 70 years, but now what’s the point? Sooner or later they’ll all fall out anyway.
So I got up from bed and went to the bathroom to do my thing, if I was lucky. I wasn’t, but that’s not important. I couldn’t piss, but I could see myself in the mirror and notice the bald spot in the middle of my head, with long curly hair all around it. Maybe it was a bit messy, but why bother with it? It’s not like I have to look good for my school picture or anything.
Until noon, my wife reminded me many times over, that it was time I go to a hairdresser. Her 89th birthday was coming up and she didn’t want me to ‘scare off the guests’. Damn that woman. And damn my grandson.
After lunch, my grandson came over and he brought the kids with him. I thought I was going to have a nice quiet saturday, but he brought those three rascals and dropped them at my house for me and my wife to look after, while he went to some meeting with his wife. Of course, he too decided to comment on my hair, as this day proved to be against me. And he did it in front of the little ones, the bastard. Four, five and six year olds rarely let a funny comment pass by and they make sure you don’t forget it.
All of a sudden, the main topic of the day became my god damn hair! Or as they called it; a crow’s nest, hairy halo, demon spawn, or simply long overdo. The audacity! In my time they would all get the stick.
I escaped their torment and went out to the backyard to read my newspaper in peace, as I had planned for the whole week. And for some time, the only noises around me were birds chirping and occasional cars passing by. I finally relaxed a little. Until my neighbour came to share her wisdom. She’s a middle aged woman, a school teacher or something, and she thinks she knows what’s best for everyone. Bah! Couldn’t even keep her husband from leaving, and she’s going to tell me that I ought to ‘look presentable’ in front of my grandchildren’s children. It made me want to roll that newspaper and swat her like an annoying mosquito.
Surprisingly, my wife came to save me. “Eustice, have you been to the bank yet?”
I haven’t, since my daily schedule was completely shattered by all the disturbances. “Not yet,” I said.
“Oh, good,” she said. “You can go now and get a haircut while you’re at it.”
I started the car and turned on the radio, something I almost never do. But today I was being attacked from all sides and I needed to release my frustration. I cranked up the knob on the stereo and listened to a station that talked about grooming horses. I wanted to change it at first, listen to some music, but the man’s voice on the show was very deep and relaxing. I rolled down the window, lit a cigarette and cruised down the street. The day started getting better again.
Until the relaxing voice on the radio began talking about how important it is to cut the horse’s hair. So they can look their best at competitions. In my sudden annoyance I forgot about having a cigarette in my mouth and I cursed out loud, thus letting the cigarete fall in my lap. The distraction of the cigarette burning my trousers was enough and I scraped the side of a car, that was parked very widely on the street. I stopped the car, snuffed the cigarette from burning my trousers and put my head out the window to tell the idiot who parked their car so stupidly what I thought of them.
Only it turned out the car wasn’t parked, it was only standing there. It was a police car, that stopped to write somebody a ticket. And I scraped it. And yelled at the officer.
The ticket I got, the damage done to both cars, which I’ll have to cover and the threat with arest coming from the officer wasn’t the worst thing. No, the worst thing about it was when I showed the officer my driver’s licence. He looked at the picture on it, looked at me and didn’t believe I was that person!
“Good god, man, the hair,” said the officer. “You need to get a new picture, sir. Or a proper haircut.”
It is a miracle that I didn’t get arrested for how I reacted. But I didn’t, and I shall say no more. You can imagine, that when I finally got to the bank, my patience and tolerance was shot to hell. I walked up to the woman behind the glass and demanded she give me my pension. My attitude came off as too aggressive for the poor woman, as she almost called security, thinking I was some rober, wearing a disguise of an old homeless person.
And that is when I had it. I stormed out of the bank and went to the nearest hairdresser I could find. The world had gotten to me and I had enough of its insults.
I found some hip, modern looking joint, full of gossiping women. I endured their endless conversations, endured their disrespecting stares at my hair, endured the toxic smells of hair paint, hair products and cheap coffee from the machine. I even endured the hour and a half of waiting before it was my turn. And then, when the hairdresser asked me how I wanted my hair to look like, I said to cut it all.
And she did not hesitate for a moment, neither tried suggesting anything else. Like she was only asking out of politeness and there was nothing else that could be done, but to shave it all. She just took the shaver and in less than five minutes it was done. My head was as smooth as a baby’s but. Only it smelled better, as the dresser put some ointment on it, to prevent my skin from getting itchy. When I looked myself in the mirror, I didn’t recognize the man. My head appeared… small. And shiny. And completely bald.
As I walked outside I felt naked. My skin was exposed and I felt every slight breeze and gust of wind. I did not think of bringing a hat with me.
On the way to the car, a group of teenage kids passed by. They wore those baggy clothes that kids wear these days and they had some awful music playing on their mobile phones. I thought of saying something, but they beat me to it.
“Hey, check it out, yo,” said one of them to his friends. “Gramps looks dangerous. Real gangsta!”
I felt immediately indignated, but there was no mockery in their voices. They seemed… approving.
“You woke, gramps. You cool. All you need is new threads and shades, and you’re the shit, man!”
I must say it felt weird. No youngster has ever called me ‘cool’ before. Not ever. ‘Geezer, old fart, senior, left-over…’ But never cool. Or dangerous. At first it sounded stupid and made me want to say something wise to these kids with no manners. But then I just let them walk by. And the more I walked, the better I felt. Gangsta, I said to myself. Beware of Eustice, he’s the shit!
By the time I got to my car I was already walking with some swing in my arms, eyeing people on the walkside. The day has finally corrected itself, it would seem. I finally got some respect, as people nodded to me or appeared startled, even.
As I started the car and drove off towards home, I searched for a station on the radio that played hip music for youngsters. Rhythm and poetry as they call it. I rolled down the window and lit another cigarette. I even found a pair of sunglasses, probably left in my car by one of my grandchildren, since I never wear such things. The glasses were a bit tight, but I managed to put them on. And then I felt like a real gang member.
As I pulled on the driveway of my house, some neighbours looked with curiosity at who came to visit. When they saw me, they just stared and whispered to each other. I noticed that my grandson’s car was also parked at the house, so that meant he was back already. Boy was I going to surprise everyone.
I noticed that my wife was out in the backyard, busy pruning the hedge, so I decided to surprise her first. Still wearing my glasses and the last remnants of a cigarette in mouth, I slowly walked up to her from behind. She was humming a song and did not hear me through the clipping of the cutters. Boy was she in for a shock.
“Oh, sweet mama,” I said and pinched her in the but. She screamed and as she turned around she screamed again and hit me on the head with the cutters. I stumbled back, but the damage was already done, blood was pouring from my forehead and I held my hands up to feel for the wound.
“You stupid woman!” I groaned, but she didn’t listen, she already hurried at the door, calling for my grandson.
“Michael, there’s a man in our backyard! I think he’s a rapist!”
In seconds, my grandson was out and as he saw me clenching to my bald bleeding head, wearing sunglasses and trousers with a cigarette burn mark on the sides, I thought he’d recognize me. But he didn’t. In the rush of adrenaline caused by my wife’s shouting, he ran and tackled me to the ground. He’s good at that, being a rugby player and all. He held me down tight, threatened to snap my neck if I moved and told my wife to call the police.
It wasn’t until I cursed the bejeezus out of him, that he recognized who I was.
“Dad?” he said, shocked beyond belief. “But… you look like a pedophile!”
I heard my wife scold me from over the lawn, as she heard it was me. “Oh Eustice, from all the stupid things you ever did…”
Even the children came out to see what was going on. “Daddy, who’s that bald man? Is he some bad guy?”
If my neck and forehead wasn’t in so much pain, and if my grandson wouldn’t be holding down my hands still, I’d slap my forehead and cry.
Clarence stared at the man and didn’t know if he was BS-ing him or telling the truth. Eustice’s face seemed genuine throughout his whole story, but it was just so ridiculous and unbelievable. And yet, the man sat right in front of him, with a neck collar, a patched forehead and skin that looked freshly shaved.
“To think I’ve heard it all,” Clarence said and shook his head in disbelief.
“Remember,” Eustice said, seeing the doctor coming back. “Don’t let them get to you. Ever.”
Clarence watched as the doctor took Eustice and drove him down the aisle, towards a group of people. An older woman, a younger couple and three kids.
“Well I be damned,” Clarence said to himself. It seemed the man was telling the truth.
Not long after, Miss Patty finally showed up, over twenty minutes late.
“I’m awfully sorry you had to wait, mr. Pennsworth. There was some emergency situation that we needed to handle.”
She took the handles of the wheelchair. “Shall we go for our walk?”
Clarence thought for a few moments and then turned around to face his nurse.
“Miss Patty,” he said distractedly, “how does my hair look? I was thinking we could skip the walk today and go visit the hairdresser's. All of a sudden I feel like looking pretty.”
The nurse paused for a moment, surprised by the question. “Where did this come from now, Mr. Pennsworth?”
Clarence held to the armrests as Patty rolled the wheelchair down the aisle. “Let’s just say I want to look my best when I return home to my wife.”