I got back from Chitwan with a beard that was a jungle in itself and would have needed a three day/two night tour package commitment to hack off with my tired little razor, so, remembering Barberji’s gestured question if I wanted a shave too, I went back to my new favorite barbershop as the monsoon began to rain on a typical Tuesday morning street of smoking bus exhaust pipes, scraps of pavement, and a few scrawny and patient cows ignoring the stray dogs who only occasionally notice their bovine cohabitants.
My buddy, Burning Eyed Barberji, was again not in evidence as I walked up, but his son/apprentice, Cautious but Stern Eyed and Incredibly Tan Barberito nodded at my shaving gesture and returned it with an open handed sweep to the chair. He draped the same faded pink towel over my front, which still bore the leftover hairs of an unknown quantity of previous customers on it, but I hypothesize it’s not too many since, judging by the degree of mildew smell (only moderate/non-overwhelming), the towel is washed regularly.
He started energetically rubbing some sort of preshave liquid on my chin, paying a lot of attention to my neck and not much attention when he swept further up, where he tended to poke me in the eye. After the third near loss of my depth perception, I shot him a look in the mirror to find he was watching the TV in the corner. I think the preshave liquid was water.
Barberji came in, and Barberito grabbed a big tube of caulk and squeezed out an appropriate amount for toothbrushing onto my cheek and whipped it into shaving cream with the little brush. It was the first time I’ve felt shaving cream since 2008. Barberji sat down and started watching TV. When Barberito lathered my other cheek I got a glance at the screen and was deeply shocked to see a Bollywood-looking conversation going on…in a strip club!
The culture here is not as severe as the Middle East, but women’s clothing is utterly unrevealing of any sense whatsoever that there’s a body under there, and holding hands across gender lines is absolutely scandalous. Yet here were some lass’s yams twitching up on the screen! I think a swatch of her bum was originally visible, but they had blurred it out.
(We watched a Nepali show the other week that apparently involves mild political satire at times, which you can detect when the sound cuts out entirely. Nepali censors don’t bleep, they mute.)
Luckily the scene was over by the time Barberito got out the straight razor and started methodically removing my facial chaos with short precise strokes that reassured me that he is in fact his father’s son, and practiced wipes of the resulting funky lather onto his palm, which quickly looked like he was holding a rat meringue pie.
He did the razor thing twice, doing an impressive job over the impractical angles of my chin, and a much-appreciated job on the super-upper-lip hairs that, if left untended, fraternize with and impersonate nose hair to my chagrin. Then he hosed my face down thoroughly and without warning with the sprayer thing (of the type we use for applying pesticide to a mid-sized garden).
Next he picked up a brick of white stone and came at my face. I could only hope there were no strip clubs on TV at the time. It was definitely a rock, but it was the smoothest and slickest rock I’ve ever had close personal contact with. As the pores on my face stung into obedience I remembered seeing rocks that serve as styptic pencils in the hippy shops in Santa Cruz. Homeopathic! Cool! The water streaming down my face after the rock tasted like a slightly mineral benign nothing.
It was preferable to the aftershave that came after, with it’s alcohol sting. Or the deep pore cleansing lotion he dabbed onto my face like chicken pox medication that followed that. He even put a spot on my nose, which felt kinda flirty. Then he paused to watch some TV.
It was, of course, at this point, with my face covered in white dots, that our school bus came by, slowed to a crawl by the jigsaw puzzle remnants of what may once have been pavement. Dozens of little eyes looked over at me, though mostly of kids too small to have my classes. I did make eye contact with Nishan, grade seven, who gave me his familiar shy and contagious smile.
I swear there were at least 4 more courses of antiseptic and pleasant-smelling treatments, which he topped off with a thorough rub down with the mildew-smelling towel, complete with all those previous clients’ hairs.
I have been trying futilely to introduce the concept of Critical Thinking into the Nepali classroom. But more on that some other time.
Because it was time for my beating.
He held his hands in the same loose namaste posture that Barberji had used, slapped me in the head with it, followed by a quick tap to the shoulder, then 6-8 practiced whacks around my noggin, followed by the bonking fists that left me a tad woozy.
I gestured a smiling request to omit the neck snapping attempt, since last time I woke up two days later with my neck muscles locked in a brick wall of agony. I think it was a good idea, because instead he gave me an abrupt (and oddly stern) manly shoulder rub, gripping the (what muscle is that? The trapezious?) shoulder muscle and giving it a single concerted squeeze. I expected to hear him say “harrumph” for some reason.
I’m learning this country, bit by bit. Next time I’ll skip the namaste-prayer noggin-bonks too, since I spent the afternoon and evening with a pounding headache, no pun intended. And I learned that I want a straight razor.