A Christmas Story

24th December 2014

Every shop has its seasonal rhythm.

I spoke to Dave, who runs the local deli and market in Howth, during the week.

‘Tomorrow’s the day the phone rings and they’ll ask have we sprouts, and will they be fresh…’, he said, certain of how folks on his peninsula prepare to cook their Christmas dinners. ‘There’s always a panic, ‘cos they only eat sprouts once a year. So they have to be right’.

I enquired, as I left The Country Market, if the seasonal greens from Brussels would indeed be available and fresh?

‘Well, they have been for the last 17 years without fail’, he replied, his white teeth lighting up his face.

Walking into the barber shop later on, I assumed I would find a place thronged with the demands of the season.

It was, in the event, mostly deserted. A different rhythm entirely.

As I sat and had a dry cut (losing hair has robbed me of much of the joy in these places), I observed, through the mirror, a young kid take his coat off and approach the seat beside me. He was perhaps ten years old.

My own hairdresser was both beautiful and dour, a combination that happens most often east of Vienna.

I was right. Ukraine.

‘Why would I miss my country?’, she volunteered. I had asked what her Christmas plans were. ‘Why would I miss a place I have not been to for ten years?’

There was something longing in the way she spoke those distant words. Like she was convincing herself as well as me. Her country meant nothing, but then again, perhaps there were layers beneath the nothingness.

I felt a certain chill in what she had said, and my eyes wandered, seeking comfort.

It was then that I saw it.

The young boy was now sitting beside me – level with my own eyes, perched on a flat piece of wood straddling the arms of a swivel chair.

I stared at that wood, and I too became ten years old, awaiting the clip of scissors.

That cold, crunchy feeling to the forehead, as my fringe was robbed from me. That itchy sensation of loose hair on my eyes, which I couldn’t scratch because hands were pinned down by a black nylon sheet. And the hard, cold feel of the wooden board on which I sat.

In the crossed lines of memory it had become colder still, as I was sitting mid-winter in unfashionable shorts, bare skin now touching that puckered remnant of a tree.

The boy began to speak, and I returned, back in the room.

He had little trouble in negotiating with the barber, who stood by his side. Together they looked at books, pointed to one or two key pictures, and, through the grabbing and scrunching of hair, discussed exactly what length.

Would this be enough off? This?

The moment was fleeting. I smiled – at the kid’s comfort in his perched world, and at the memory of my own de-fringing.

As she brought a blade to my skin, I noticed my Ukrainian lady glance to the boy and smile too. It was a weak curl on the lips, not because the moment was unfelt by her, but because it had blossomed on a cold and saddened face.

It was, in its own desultory manner, a shimmer of joy.

Since leaving the barbers, I have found myself in gentle, reflective mood. I wonder if that beautiful woman will ever get back on the rocky road to Kiev; if that child will ever remember his boyhood decisions made on a high bench; and if the people of Howth will ever, without phone call, place their faith in Dave’s sprouts – to be available, to be fresh, and to be simply perfect.


© 2014. Brian Mcintyre.

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