The Barber Shop

Another short fiction.  I was reading a lot of Roald Dahl’s adult fiction at the time and felt inspired.  Further inspiration came from a strange experience in an actual Vietnamese fishing village.  

By the standards of tropical Indochina, it was your typical humble fishing town in that the streets were unpaved, the humidity and heat hung heavy on the skin, and the odors in the air were thick with dried squid and fish entrails.  Old salts, drunk on clay pot fermented rice wine, littered the lanes.  This was not the kind of town that travelers visit for the fine food, the memorable scenery, or the historical points of interest.  However, the occasional tourist, lost, confused, or curious, may stray from the bus station from time to time.  So it was with Ignatius and his companion Adeline.

The two lovers stepped gingerly between the mud ruts left in the road by the old diesel lorries that carted mackerel, trout, and shrimp away from the boats each day.  They took care not to tarnish their designer shoes with grime or guts, but with very little success.  Still, they were vacation, they were away from the freezing cold of their home country, and therefore, they were happy together.  They were the sort of cute couple that made single people barf into their own laps.

There were never more obvious tourists in the Mekong Delta.  With their pasty white skin, now partially pink from the harsh equatorial sun, and oversized sunglasses, which made their goofy grinning faces look ridiculously bug-like, these two stuck out like kitty cats at a dog show.  The local Vietnamese fishers watched them with mild, brief curiosity as they passed, far more concerned with offloading their catch from that day.

As Adeline photographed her billionth picture of a dead fish (“My friends will simply never believe I set foot in a place like this!” she remarked again and again), Ignatius noticed a tiny shop front with a single barber chair.

“Darrrrrling!” he said with a chipper, but fake, British accent, “We’ve been on the road for what, two weeks now?  I believe I could go for a haircut.”

“Oh lovey-dove,” she replied, “As much as I adore your scruffy man-chin, nothing would make me happier than kissing your handsome, smooth cheek once more, free of prickly hair.”

It was decided.  Ignatius sat down and with a magnificent display of flair and volume, said to the barber, “A little off the top, and a razor to the beard, my good man.”

The barber set to work immediately, his hands swiftly moving like a card dealer in a Macao casino.  He worked with such explosive passion that tufts of hair flew into Adeline’s face.  Coughing out a hairball, Adeline announced she would be leaving to photograph more dead sea life, and would return within the half-hour.

Upon returning, she saw her boyfriend’s face and dropped her camera in shock.  Before the haircut began, he was only mildly good-looking, but she always had kept that ungracious thought to herself.  Now though, Ignatius looked… well he looked like a bona fide super model, straight out of those fashion magazines at fancy hair salons!

His hair was bobbed in a perfect wave, just like one of those fine fellows from Hollywood.   His face was so smooth, baby gerbils could ice skate on it.  More than this, his teeth were white and neatly arranged as a dinner set, his eyes had gone from a sky blue to the sort of blue one sees on the planet Venus, and… was it possible?  Yes, his biceps and pectorals had definitely grown, making Ignatius look more like an Olympic finalist than the pot-bellied architect he was in real life.

“What do you think, honey?” he asked in a voice that sounded somehow more masculine, more self-assured.

“We must be sure to tip the man,” she replied, slightly distracted by Ignatius’s perfectly manicured fingernails.

They still had some time before their bus left for bright beautiful cities, far from this Podunk wharf town.  Adeline suggested they grab a quick bite to eat.  Ignatius agreed, adding, “My barber suggested an excellent place for lunch.”

Just a stone’s throw from the waterfront, they soon settled into a humble café.  Adeline still couldn’t believe the remarkably changed appearance of her boyfriend.

“Sugar bee, I must say, that barber did incredible work.  I could just stare at you all day.  I mean, how did he—”

She was cut off when the waiter brought out menus.  They were written completely in the local language and contained no pictures of the food.  Adeline was relieved to hear Ignatius say, “Don’t worry, my love.  The barber also taught me some basic Vietnamese.  I know exactly what to order.”

With expert pronunciation, Ignatius proceeded to communicate fluently with the waiter.  As he left, Adeline picked up where she had left off.

“Ah, so what I wanted to ask was, how did this barber do so much… work?  I mean, your hair, your shave, I get that.  It’s just… if you’ll forgive me for saying so, you have never looked this good.  Ever.”

“Well, I’ll tell you a little secret,” Ignatius responded.  “The barber is also a plastic surgeon and voodoo priest.  Because his skills were so highly prized, rich and powerful men fought over him as their exclusive barber.

“Entire wars were fought for this man!  You know how Vietnam has had wars with France, America, Cambodia and China in the last 100 years?  Did you ever wonder why?  It’s because of this guy.  This seemingly simple barber is the most powerful man in the world.

“Because he felt such guilt over the tens of thousands of people who died in his name, he went into hiding.  He has worked a two-stool barber shop in this no-name fishing town for the last several years, no one the wiser.”

“I’m sorry my darling, but did you say ‘voodoo priest’?  Isn’t that like, black magic?” asked Adeline.

“Oh muffin butt, don’t worry your pretty little head about such things,” Ignatius said.  “He knows exactly what he’s doing.  All he had to do was cut me open, swap out a few organs, cast some spells… honestly, I don’t remember much when I think about it.  But look at me now!  Devilishly handsome!”

Just then the food arrived, two bowls of soup, smelling of the sea.  Ignatius hungrily began swirling his chopsticks in the musky, murky broth.

Adeline was still visibly concerned.  “Sweetie, it’s just that I don’t like the idea of a man cutting you open.  I mean, what if he changed some things that can’t be reversed?  What if…”

Her voice trailed off as she noticed Ignatius lift his chopsticks from the bowl.  He began slurping away at – noodles?  No.  Those… are… wriggling worms!

“Like I said already, poochie kins,” he said through mouthfuls of live bait, she noticing for the first time him breathing through the gills astride his neck, “it’s just a few changes he made.  You’ll get used to the new me in no time.”