This whole situation is Milissa’s fault. I feel no hesitation in blaming her either as she is more than asking for it. Partly because her decision to go by Milissa rather than Melissa screams “make me your scapegoat!”, but mainly because as my hairdresser, she should know better than to schedule a vacation the week before I go back to school.

If it wasn’t for Milissa I would be in a top of the line salon right now, being offered a delightfully foamy latte, and receiving a follicle stimulating scalp massage. Even though I always refuse the latte and the scalp massage makes me uncomfortable, I would still rather endure my salon’s hospitalities over the unknown horrors that await me within the $11 barbershop I am about to enter. I was sent here by my father, who has been coming to this place for years, but as he is rapidly running out of hairs on his head left to cut I value his recommendation about as much as I now value Milissa’s reliability.

I creep through the flimsy narrow doorway of this unnamed “barber shop” and shuffle two steps to the left before planting myself in the nearest of three chairs. The simplicity of this shop astounds me. Uniform beige wooden planks cover the floor, ceiling and walls, and the room appears to be configured into a basic four-corner plan.

Corner one, in which I am seated, is the waiting corner. It is used by those who are waiting and features issues of three different cycling magazines, and one copy of yesterday’s newspaper.

Corners two and three are bare-walled and nearly empty, spare a minefield of hurriedly piled hair, and the tattered straw broom used to set the explosives.

Corner four, directly to my right, is the most important corner of them all. It is where the hair gets cut, and is also the place I hope to get in and out of as soon as I can. In it is a dull red barber’s chair, one thin frameless mirror, and a word-processed paper that reads “Haircut: $11.00”, permanently joined to the wall by a single nail.

Right now the chair is filled by a middle-aged man receiving one of the cleanest looking flattops I have ever seen. As I struggle to covertly examine the edge-perfect masterpiece being constructed before me, I briefly lock eyes with the Barber, and receive a slight nod confirming that I am lucky enough to be next. I spend the rest of the wait brushing up on my cycling.

When the door clicks shut behind flattop, I am at last alone with the barber and accept the invitation into his chair. He mumbles over his name and I am not brave enough to re-ask it, but he continues on with some amusing yet surprisingly self-deprecating stories of how unskilled a barber he actually is, and the vast array of hairstyles he refuses to provide. He manages to have me fully convinced that he is indeed a blemish upon the barber profession before making the confession I should have seen coming: “Your hair is too thick, and I’m not good enough to cut it.”

While I am proud to be one quarter Italian, and of the thick luscious hair this heritage provides, the barber’s statement concerns me.

“I’m going to have to just trim up your sides and send you on your way” he says as his eyes deliberately glance to the $11 sign and then back into my own. My lips quiver in anticipation of a response, but fall limp when my body instead simply slumps back in the chair. I spend the rest of the cut cringing at every clip, as I watch the sides of my head transforming into a stem, barely able to support the tremendous weight of the cap with which it is burdened. The barber’s moans of complaint at how my thick hair is making things difficult only prolong a final few minutes that deflate me of all self-esteem.

The cut ends with the barber’s heartfelt words of “If you ever come here again, I will have to refuse you service”, and I am out the door with a dead heart and a blank mind. Outside, the morning breeze biting my face is harsher than I was expecting, but all I can focus on is that my head is a mushroom, and that I hate Milissa.

I start school in two days.

– – –

Portobello is a (mostly) true story about a hair cut gone wrong. It was named Top 10 in the Polar Expressions National Short Story Contest.