After asking how do I get up there?
by Tiffany Austin
I’ve decided to shave my head bald so I enter the local barber shop. I wait.
And listen. Pipe in about the local politics and am half listened to. I think it’s my time next,
but the barber nods to the young man who has come in after me. I speak
up and say it’s my turn. The barber replies, I just thought you wanted to sit in or was waiting
for your boy. I do not have children, but do not tell him so. Instead I ask for a buzz cut.
The men stare at my head, trying not to stare at my head when I’m in the chair.
The barber keeps cutting when I think he should be done.
“A man has a right to sex. Hard sex if he wants it.”
He starts describing a porno, and I want to tell him to stop. I start to tell him that if he were
softer, maybe she would be more willing. But then I would be entering his film.
Besides he keeps talking about positions and need, and I’ve been taught not to
interrupt. At another time, my mother’s young minister laughed after I said the word rape (there
is no other similar word). I stopped the laughter, told him, he was indicative of the problem so he
left for the kitchen and told my sister to fix him a plate. But this man had his fingers and an instrument against my head. The other men are silent. They know what’s going on.
Before, one asked me where I was from: “You’re not from here; you wear too many clothes.”
The barber says most women like “pumping sex,” refers to “cutters”—
women as side pieces. He talks and talks, cleaning my head bare. I wonder what kind of woman
am I for him to think he can say these things. Every soulful turn of the hand, every clipped word,
a beautiful cadence, and I feel he’s opening my scalp; he could make me bleed. Better to survive.
I give him the money and pull the apron off me as he brushes across my neck.
They watch me leave with my naked head. This won’t end until men realize
they’re not men. Better to have taken the razor.
Tiffany Austin currently teaches rhetorical and creative writing at the University of The Bahamas. She has published poetry in African American Review, Callaloo, Obsidian, pluck!, Valley Voices, and Sycorax’s Daughters, a speculative literature anthology. Her photo essay “A South in Sound” was also recently published in TriQuarterly.