I sat and I studied. I acted as though I was reading the paper, though anyone with any knowledge of me whatsoever would know I would never actually read the Daily Mail. Fortunately I was an unknown in that room. A recognised face maybe; not a person they would consider someone they knew anything about.
So I listened. My eyes scanned the same paragraph over and over. If they had been paying attention they would either have seen through my ruse very quickly, or merely assumed I am a simpleton, reading very slowly indeed. But they were engrossed. They were in conversation.
So I listened. I studied. I made mental notes.
“… but the wife doesn’t really want to so I have no idea what we can do.”
“Yeah, well, that’s how it is isn’t it? Still, could be worse – do you have any holidays coming up?”
“Some, yeah, yeah. Only a couple of days here and there, though. Nothing big.”
“That’s a shame – the weather’s so nice right now.”
“It is, yeah…”
He stopped short. Had I been found out? Were they about to turn on me like a pack of rabid dogs picking up the scent of a timid shrew? My grip on the paper tightened. I felt a sweat begin to develop on my brow. Read it, my brain told me, read the fucking news so you don’t get found out!
But it was too late. Their conversation had ended, the man once sat now stood. He glanced at me. Everything slowed. An instant became a decade. What was barely a glance became a ten-year, thousand-yard stare. I prepared for the worst.
Almost as suddenly, he looked away. Was the conversation about to begin again? Could I risk more study having just that second almost been found out?
“Eight pounds please.”
“Here you go.”
“Cheers mate, see you later.”
And just like that it was my time. My turn to put everything I had ever learned – all that I had studied – into practice. I rose, forcing the best genuine smile I could to appear on my face and I sat. He approached. Covered me. Stared over my shoulder, into the mirror, expertly reflecting his gaze right into mine. I hesitated.
“… Umm… Short back and sides, please. With about an inch left on top… ?”
He sensed my uncertainty and pounced. The training would have to kick in now or it would never come to me. “I can shave it all over with a number eight if you want it exactly an inch?”
The sweat ran faster. My hands, concealed undercover, began to clench involuntarily.
“No, I… that’s fine… if it’s not exact, it’s okay.”
The gamble paid off. He bought it. The training had worked. I had succeeded. I began to relax, safe in the knowledge I was going to get through this unscathed. But he was a wily old veteran and he simply waited one tick, two ticks, three ticks longer before hitting with his hardest volley of fire.
“Weather’s nice right now.”
But I was ready – I had prepared in my earlier faux-reading session. I could parry this. I could win. I could win! I copied the other one word for word.
“It is, yeah…”
He hadn’t bought it. He didn’t bite. My inexperience – my lack of training – had let me down. He continued in silence, his face sullen, his mind surely thinking of the horror he had just witnessed in the chair in front of him.
I had failed.
And that’s why I always fail at talking to barbers.