Sunday, June 3, 2007

cairo barbershop

The sun throws a square on me. A dog barks from a rooftop in the hellish white landscape yawning out beyond my window. He is lonely; he pestered a woman. She brandished a brick. He was cowed. Last night when I went down on the street perfumed smoke lay in the busy air; the Eid holiday is coming and goats and cows munch grass before butcher shops. This morning, I throw open the windows -- the scent of burning plastic invades our rooms.

Sitting in the barbershop the insistent waver of Umm Kalthum’s scratchy voice lulled me out of the magazine I was reading. Two men were playing backgammon. They were in their thirties, tossing the dice, rapidly responding. One man tossed the dice with a downward swipe of the wrist. I smiled to myself, felt lulled by or into the atmosphere, heard a third man comment on their quiet game. When the barber motioned me to the chair I sank further into it all; the dregs in the tea glass in front of the mirror were as rich a golden brown as my silence. The barber too, inquisitive a moment, was silent once he ascertained my attitude of indifferent confidence in his ability.

His scissors clacked constantly like a hovering bird plucking at my hair; closing my eyes I felt the metal beak touch my brow a moment and fly clacking away again. Still the music plucked away at me and her voice smoothed me right back down. He touched the buzzing shaver to the back of my neck. A spray of water tingled over my scalp and his hands rubbed my hair wet. In the mirror were our two faces; we communicated silences, mine of contentment, his of focus. He drew my part slowly several times, with an architect’s precision for line. I heard the group of men joking. One finds a culture’s genius of male communion in obscure places.

Walking home I saw the men sitting in shadows, half inside doorways, saw the group of boys digging down into a sandpile, saw two boy grease monkeys carrying a metal frame, saw a middle aged couple walk by thick-middled preoccupied with the most mundane of worries, heard two street sweepers conferring under a tree, heard a breeze walking across treetops, crossed the line into our neighborhood and saw the sheep and cows tied, saw the carcasses hanging from hooks, lit by strings of cheerful lights.

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