Five days after Barack Obama was elected president I went to get a haircut. There were no other customers in the shop, odd for a Saturday morning. The barber motioned to one of the chairs. He invited me to put my arms through the barber cape. We discussed clipper blades. Then he went to work.
The radio was on. The voice on the radio, speaking Arabic, said “Obama” or “Barack Obama” every five words. The barber was of North African origin—Algerian, I assumed. Neither of us spoke for several minutes. Then he asked me how work was going.
“Doucement,” I said, meaning so-so.
He said, “C’est la crise pour tous le monde,” it’s the crisis for everyone. “Normally on a Saturday there are people waiting but no one today.”
“That’s why I came in,” I said. I’d been heading somewhere in the 11th arrondissement and decided to walk into the empty shop. “I don’t usually get my haircut on a Saturday.”
“Oh, have you been here before?”
“Once,” I said.
“I don’t remember,” he said.
“It was your colleague,” I said.
There were two voices on the radio, I realized. One kept repeating “Obama,” the other “Barack Obama.” I asked the barber what they were saying. He said, “That until the Americans get out of Iraq and help the Palestinians there’s no difference between U.S. governments.”
He held a mirror behind my head to the right. I nodded. He held it behind my head to the left. I nodded.
Someone he knew came into the shop. They spoke to each other in Arabic. They were having a slight argument. Their tone seemed to indicate that they were discussing a mutual friend or acquaintance because their anger wasn’t directed at one another.
The barber used his straight blade against the nape of neck. I heard Obama’s name on the radio repeated a dozen times.
The barber must have forgotten that he’d already held up the mirror behind my head for he did it again. I nodded right. I nodded left.
He waved the brush across my head, against my neck, on my forehead, around my ears. He let me out of the cape.
I paid 7 euros.
I thanked him. He thanked me. I said good-bye to the barber’s friend. He said good-bye to me.
In the barbershop two doors down two barbers were at work and four men were waiting.
I wonder what radio station they were listening to.
© 2008, Gary Lee Kraut
Nov. 8, 2008