Ten years ago, just before my 21st birthday, I had an unforgettable haircut. The salon was in Long Street and I bunked a tut to make the appointment. I’d heard about Peter the Haircutter. That a trim could take anywhere from 20mins to four hours, depending on how Peter was feeling. That he was a genius with hair, but a little scary with the scissors. And that, no matter what you asked for, you’d end up with something better.
Now, I’ve never even owned a hair dryer. Still don’t. I don’t use ‘product’. Don’t get me wrong, I love someone running their fingers through my hair (*purr*). I love the way my hair goes wild and curly when I’ve swum in the sea. I think the scene in Out of Africa where Robert Redford washes Meryl Streep’s hair is one of the sexiest in cinema. But I’m just never going to be one of those perfectly groomed women who gets up at 5am with a pair of styling tongs and a bottle of mousse.
Which is why, usually, haircuts are a bit of a grudge. But that day in Peter’s salon was completely unexpected. I was given a cup of herbal tea, led to a dentist’s chair which was fully reclined and asked if I preferred the smell of coconut or avocados. Since it was winter, coconuts won. My hair was washed, my scalp stroked and massaged and then I was left, head wrapped in a turban, while the coconut stuff did its island thing.
Peter, soft spoken and gentle, sat on his haunches beside me and asked me how I felt about my hair. No hair person had ever, or has ever since, asked me how I feel about my hair. He pointed out my cows lick, my widow’s peak, asked if they were a problem. He led me over to a barbers’ chair and proceeded to ponder and snip and ponder. He whispered myths and legends about hair. How the cutting or growing of hair is symbolic in most cultures. How women particularly weave magic with their hair, lure men with their hair. He spoke of Samson, Rapunzel. He seemed to know that a haircut, for me, is about a passage into change.
It was an astonishing afternoon. One I’ve thought about in the last decade, travelling, living in other countries, having other haircuts. I was never able to get an appointment in the short stops I had back in SA. Since I’ve moved back, Peter’s been in the back of my mind, something on the list of things to rediscover about home. And then, about 6 weeks ago, I was thinking about celebrating my 31st. It occurred to me what symmetry there would be, and how much Peter would enjoy the symbolism, of framing my tumultuous 20s with two considered haircuts. So I made an appointment. And I’m wondering how much we both will have changed and if it will be as good as I remember.