I let out a long breath and settle into the chair. It feels like a thousand people have sat in this chair before me and my back sinks into it. Outside its windy but summer windy so we call it breezy. The man who stands over me smells like aftershave and hair wax. He touches my chin and turns my head from side to side. Then a tap turns on. A loud sound in a quiet barbershop. It roars and gurgles as it heats up. The shaving brush makes a tocking sound as it hits the sides of the bowl that the lather is mixed in. The lather is hot on my cold skin as it is brushed onto my cheeks and chin and then smeared on my upper lip with the barber’s finger. A few, tiny stray drops slide down my neck.
The blade makes a snapping sound as its broken for size and then scratches against the metal of the straight razor as its slid into the handle. My mouth goes dry and I think of Sweeney Todd and the song Pretty Women starts playing in my head. More than love, sir / What, sir? / Women / Ah yes, women / Pretty women.
My girlfriend is sat to the side of me asking questions.
‘Is it hot?’
‘The soap? Not really, just warm.’
The blade touches my skin, below the ear, the metal should be cold but instead its hot and sharp. It moves slowly down my face, scratching with each hair it cuts. The barber works quickly but carefully and the blade is only on my skin for seconds before it vanishes to have the soap wiped away and then reapplied.
It becomes hypnotic, rhythmic and any earlier nerves I had disappear and I almost feel sleepy.
My hands rest in my lap, entwined, a fine sheen of sweat covering each from the warmth of being beneath the sheet that lays across me. My hand drifts to my jacket pocket. Inside I know is a box containing a ring, both light and heavy at the same time.
‘That must feel weird,’ she says.
‘Mmm?’ I don’t talk during a shave like this for obvious reasons.
‘Someone shaving you.’
‘Mmm,’ I hum in agreement. ‘Mmm.’ A slighter higher pitched hum that she’ll understand means that you get used to it.
The blade moves to my throat and very gently and carefully the hairs scratch away and I hold my breath, afraid to gulp lest the bobbing of my Adam’s apple somehow causes my throat to get slit.
The blade makes a twinkling sound as it is put down and the barber scrubs the remaining soap from my face with a coarse towel.
He pushes my chin to tilt my head back and I feel small metal blades go up my nose as he snip snips at my nose hair. It’s very quick with only a few snips in each nostril.
I lick my lips. Outside there are no cars beeping their horns and I’m as far away from Istanbul as I can imagine being even though we’re only an hour’s flight away.
A flammable smell fills the air and the snap of a lighter. Heat bouncing off my face as he bats my face with a flaming cotton bud on a stick. Fire travels across my face from my ear across my eyes and to my other ear. I daren’t move again and my girlfriend gasps and laughs nervously.
The tap turns on again with the sound of a tiny waterfall and he pushes my head forward into the water. Rough hands rub my face and my scalp and my neck. It is nearly painful but not quite and I know that I will feel great afterwards or at least I hope I will. He pulls my head back up and water drips from my hair onto the back of my neck. Again he uses the coarse towel to dry my face.
I sit there, my face tingling, my hair dripping, my girlfriend giggling and asking if it feels nice.
Outside the ocean is lapping at the beach and some dogs are fighting.
The barber slaps his hands together and they smell like lemon cologne. He rubs it into my cheeks and my neck and my hair and it’s a dull burn, especially on my chin where he must have cut me. He rubs my face slowly and deliberately and the burn begins to fade and the aroma of lemons fills my nose and my head.
Outside the call to prayer begins and echoes off the walls of the restaurants and the barber’s shop.
Ash-hadu anna Muhammad-ar-Rasoolullah.
Ash-hadu anna Muhammad-ar-Rasoolullah.
Hayya ‘alas-Salah. Hayya ‘alas-Salah.
Hayya ‘alal-falah. Hayya ‘alal-falah.
Allahu Akbar. Allahu Akbar.
La ilaha ill-Allah.
‘All finished,’ says the barber and I can hear his smile.