What lies at the root of popular barber’s unexplained death?
Having only arrived in Lethmachen two years ago, it is perhaps surprising how quickly Mani Abood was embraced by the local community. However his premises, too sparse and unpretentious to be called a salon, soon became a welcome refuge for the average gentleman who views a hair cut as a necessary inconvenience rather than a fashion statement. Discreetly tucked away down a tapering alley on the fringes of the high street, Mani’s customers appreciated his no frills, no nonsense approach to both his work and the accompanying conversation. Thus there were many men struck by a genuine sense of loss on his sudden passing last month. Whilst local authorities suspect Mani’s death was the result of a serious medical condition, one of his regulars has contacted us to offer a conflicting story:
‘I’d only got to know Mani gradually, but I’d grown to like him. There were no deep conversations, just the usual small talk about the football or your holiday, but that is probably all you want from the bloke cutting your hair. There was always a bit of a wait and I had the impression his business was doing well. People trusted him; you could tell he was good at what he did and had a real feeling for it, but without wanting to get all fancy. Mani understood his clientele; he knew the kind of bloke he attracted. They wanted a decent, sensible cut that didn’t look too old fashioned but there again didn’t get them stared at in the street, if you know what I mean. And that was how Mani always came across – sensible – at least until my last visit, but I’ll get to that later.
Generally, most of us liked something straight forward: hair shaved in a fairly close crop. But now and again you would get a few trendier types in who wanted something different; mainly students from the college who I suppose couldn’t afford one of those unisex places on the high street. Once I was sat waiting my turn and Mani had his clippers ready to shave this kid’s head and the kid said ‘no’, he didn’t want that, he wanted some much more complicated style. As I said, Mani was a professional and followed the description to a tee, but I could tell what this kid was asking for really pained him. You see Mani liked to give a clean cut, a clean shave, taking off as much hair as possible. When this kid left the shop with a long fringe still hanging down in strands, which I swear was what he asked for, you should have seen the look on Mani’s face. It was almost disgust, like when you try and kill an insect, a spider or a wasp perhaps, but you realise you didn’t do a decent enough job the first time and the thing is still half alive. Occasionally there’d be a bloke with long hair who didn’t even want a proper cut, just a trim and tidy. Yet when the time came for Mani to spin them round and rinse them over the sink…I hate to put it like this, but when he clasped their flowing locks he got such a look of hatred on his face you’d think he was holding a struggling child under the water. These sorts of customers would always ask for advice on hair products before they left. Mani kept a small selection of bottles on a shelf at the very back of the shop, only they were hidden away like a cabinet of poisons.
Mani always kept himself and the premises very clean and tidy, although it was only towards the end I realised he lived above the shop. As soon as one customer was finished he would be frantically sweeping up all the cuttings, like his life depended on it. He would insist you take tissues from the counter and scrub any loose hairs from your face, as if he thought each stray strand was some kind of living thing that would cling to you and do you harm! Personally, Mani was always well turned out. Never flashy, but you could tell he cared about his appearance, unlike some of us! I remember being aware he was quite a, what’s the word, hirsute kind of guy yet his hair and beard were always trimmed very close. For some reason I had the impression he must cut his hair every day to keep it like that. Only, as he worked such long hours to catch the pre and post work crowd, I suppose he must have cut it at night. Certainly Mani seemed to prefer customers who wanted their hair cropped close to those who wanted to keep a growth. When he was circling a bloke’s head with his clippers his expression would just light up with this sort of warm satisfaction. A couple of times I almost expected him to drop the clippers and run his hands over some bloke’s scalp, but he was never funny that way with any of us. He was a stocky, down to earth guy; a man’s man if you know what I mean, not obviously effeminate in any way. There again, there was one thing he said to me I thought was strange, although it did not come back to me until recently, after I knew he was dead. It was during that last visit and I took it as a joke, yet I remember it seemed out of character, different to the way he usually spoke. He said something about how when he cut away hair he felt like a mythical hero cutting away the heads of snakes. That it was either you or them, a battle to the death, and you knew you were victorious when you felt the bristles graze your palms, ‘like trees after a forest fire or rows of crosses in a war cemetery’.
So on that last visit I was much later than usual. A meeting had overrun at the office and I had missed my appointment. However when I walked past I noticed there was still a dim light on and when I glanced through the window Mani ushered me inside, although switching the sign to ‘Closed’ as he drew the door shut. At first it seemed like business as usual, but when I was settled in the chair he began talking, and that was when I knew something was wrong. I mean, he wouldn’t stop talking, went way beyond the topics we were comfortable with. Mani starting getting all emotional, gushing about how he didn’t want to be a common ‘barber’, but a ‘stylist’, only someone or something was trying to stop him. I kept quiet; I had no idea he had these types of thoughts and to be honest, was a bit embarrassed by the whole conversation. Mani claimed he heard sounds in the shop at night. He would lay awake upstairs listening to the swish and brush of movement. Yet whenever he ran down the open staircase and switched on the lights he would find the floor empty, although once or twice he thought he caught a glimpse of a tail, or perhaps some long strands of hair, snaking away into the shadows. When I shrugged my shoulders and asked if he’d seen the game last night Mani gripped my shoulders from behind and fixed his eyes on mine in the mirror. ‘Don’t you understand?’ he hissed at me ‘It’s growing all the time, advancing…but so slowly, so carefully I can barely even notice it…’ He started staring down at the floor, stepping back from the clumps of hair at his feet, like he was avoiding stepping in blood. Right after that I made my excuses and, in spite of Mani’s protests, had less off than usual.
What was the official verdict? Hypertrichosis? If I heard right they think he suffered an outbreak of some hereditary disease that causes excess hair growth, brought on by stress or other medical problems? So we’re supposed to believe he choked to death in his sleep, like a cat with a furball in its throat? That sounds ridiculous to me. My last visit happened only a few weeks before his death and he looked normal then. He was certainly stressed, but I reckon there is more to his death than meets the eye. Perhaps there really were people after him, breaking into his shop at night? I think some of his family were putting pressure on him over the business. Or else he was having delusions and imagined the whole thing. If that is true, then who knows where his mind was at, he may even have done himself in’.