I had been dreading going into fifth year purely down to Dirk coming to stay with me. The German students were due back for two weeks at the start of October for their portion of student exchange. At least we got two weeks off class at the start of the year to go do more work experience.
Despite the fact I was now sixteen, meant to be more mature and entering an important year of school, dossing off class was always a highly attractive incentive. Still, the thought of hanging around with Dirk and having him in my house was depressing. If only I had a secret indoor pool and gym area to keep hidden from him. Alas, I didn’t. The gods did smile down on me though.
Two weeks before they were due to arrive our German teacher Ms. O’ Golden informed me that Dirk had failed his summer exams and his repeats. This would mean Dirk had to repeat the entire year. He wouldn’t be able to come stay with me in Ireland.
“What? Seriously? No way!”
Did a victory lap of the classroom in celebration. Couldn’t believe my luck. The Mirk and Dirk Show had been canceled!
Ms. O’ Golden waited until I calmed down before telling me another boy had asked to take his place, Marcus.
“Oh yeah, I remember him. He got us tickets to the soccer game.”
Marcus reminded me a bit of Barney, the purple dinosaur children’s character. Tall and goofy, with a big fluffy head of light brown hair that just bobbed around as he spoke with a smile. Good laugh when I met him that time at the soccer game before. Still though, do I want him staying with me?
“So would you mind if he stayed with you instead? It’s up to you entirely, you’re not obliged.”
“In that case I would mind. I prefer to have no one stay with me.”
Very particular, at the time. Liked to work on my own schedule, free to come and go as I pleased. Not have to worry about being a host. Getting out of the whole affair suited me just fine. My snakey friends Leo and Vinnie had other ideas though. Insisted to Ms. O’ Golden that Marcus should be allowed stay with me instead. Claimed they really wanted to see him but that was spoof. Just wanted me to suffer if they had to as well. I’d do the same really. Wore Ms. Golden down so eventually I was told I actually hadn’t a choice in the matter. Marcus was going to stay with me. At least it wasn’t Dirk. Wuu. But still. Dose.
Another reason I didn’t fully mind Marcus coming to stay with me was that it meant a break from being grounded. A few weeks earlier I took my Mum’s car out without permission. Ended up crashing it into a packed bus full of people while trying to do a U-turn in the middle of the main street in Cork City. Everyone on the bus looked on in amazement but I fled the scene anyway, the damage was minimal. I hoped. I had friends in the back seats wearing wigs and shouting at passersby in Scouses accents out the windows (don’t ask) so that threw me off and didn’t make it entirely my fault, in my own mind at least. Helped justify fleeing the scene. Also didn’t want to be arrested again.
After I dropped my friends off and drove the car home to survey the damage I tried to do another U-turn at the top of my street in my park. Flustered. Dark. Freaked. Not good. Managed to drive the car into a light pole. Neighbours out for a walk saw me and asked if I was OK. Sitting there stunned, I panicked. Laughed, gave them a thumbs up and drove off again. Flee the scene seemed to be my motto.
Next day I pretended I to have caused the huge light pole dent in the bumper and the smashed indicator damage by kicking a soccer ball off them really hard. My parents knew something was up. We just settled on me being grounded at weekends for a month. It was a fun time. At least now I could see some nightlife again though.
Seeing as I thought I was free and then told a week later I wasn’t, I had little time finding somewhere for Marcus and I to go on work experience. As a result, he ended up working an Indian restaurant and I became a hairdresser. This came about while I was waiting for Darren to get his haircut in De Barbers one day. Busy eating an ice cream and minding my own business as I kicked an empty coke can off a wall, I spotted a girl walk out of some new shop that just opened up around the corner from Xtravision. Jesus – She looks unreal.
Long, flowing black hair with wine and purple streaks, tanned skin, big lips, heavy eye make-up, slim figure but curvy in the right places. Older than me, in her mid-twenties maybe. Dressed in all black, tight black leather pants and tight black low cut tank top, highlighting her bouncing beauties, strutting along in her big black high heels. Where did she come from? She’s definitely not from around here. Looks like Princess Jasmine. Well, I’ll be Aladdin.
While trying to be cool and pass her the coke can like a soccer ball my ice cream falls out of the cone. Flops on the floor. She laughs. I laugh. We all laugh. Who is this beauty?! Try to squeak out a hello. No joy. Sounds like a bird just chirped no. Not the smoothest boy in the box.
Instead I just watch her like a creep as she crosses the road and goes into the bank. I wait. Lick my cone. Kick the empty can. Here she comes. Exits the bank, walks past me again and goes back inside this new shop. She must work there. Mosey my way past to check out the sign – Douglas Hair Salon. She’s a hairdresser? No way. She might be the one (to give me a good haircut!).
In a moment of rare genius I devise a cunning plan. Next door to the hair salon a new Indian restaurant had just opened up too, The Taj Mahal. In I go and ask if Marcus could do work experience there. Place is dead. Looks like a purple cave. Bean bags. Candles. Elephant ornaments. High pitched Indian music blaring out of their speakers. Marcus will love this place. Twenty minutes of charm later and the restaurant manager (who surprisingly enough was actually Indian, Ireland was getting more diverse) agrees to take on this random German boy he’s never met. Good work by me.
Now, time to ask at the hair salon if I could do my work experience there. If anyone asks, I’ll just say the restaurant was only able to take on one of us so I took the short straw and went to work at the hair salon next door. Genius. Deep breath, in I go.
The hair salon looks like an Irish attempt of a New York fashion salon. Brand new. Small shop, maybe the size of half a tennis court. Hot. Steady hum of hairdressers. Mirrors all over the walls to give the illusion it’s bigger. Black and white tiled floor. Flattering lighting, spotlights popping up from all angles. Local radio station blaring out Top 40 pop and dance music.
No sign of Princess Jasmine but there’s a woman dressed the exact same as her at the reception, just a shorter, plumper and paler skinned version. How dare she copy Jasmine’s style! Nametag says Mary. Seems this lady is one of the owners along with Sheila, who’s also dressed like Jasmine but looks more like Mary (as in Irish) just that Sheila’s tall, skinny as a bony twig, has blond hair and a crooked nose. At least their hair looks stylish-ish. For some reason Sheila and Mary remind me of characters from Roald Dahl’s The Witches. Convince them both that I am genuinely interested in becoming a hairdresser when I grow up. Let them touch my fabulous woman-like hair. Seals the deal. Even though they’ve only ever taken on girls before they’ll make an exception. Sorted. I’m in. It’s on. Hairdresser Hayes all the way!
Week later Marcus arrives. Kind of excited to see him purely as I could now start work at the hair salon. Not just hang around outside kicking empty coke cans against the wall as I had been doing all week. Saw Jasmine a few times and she gave me a few polite smiles. Never really replied when I asked her what the best part of being a hairdresser was, but I put that down to her being shy. Nothing to do with that the fact it was raining and she didn’t want to get wet or anything. I was the only wet one. Dummy just standing in the rain.
The minute Marcus arrived I knew it was going be a tough two weeks. He was perfectly fine and polite. I was the awkward one. Yay, great, so happy you’re here. The drive home from the airport confirmed my wish that he didn’t come. Nice, friendly guy but I can see he’s going to be clingy. Listing out his passive-aggressive demands of tourist places he wanted me to bring him. Kept asking if he could watch TV with me, if I wanted to show him around to my friends, could he listen to music in my room with me? Come on Marcus buddy, give me some space man, you’ve just arrived. I think the fact I had to go solo in Germany and fend for myself without a host made me expect him to go do the same. I was now the Dirk to his Mirkus.
Not sure if he was best pleased when I told him he’d be working in an Indian restaurant for two weeks. Thought it was a joke but come Monday morning I made sure he was wearing his worst clothes as I guessed they’d be putting him in the kitchen to work. I myself wore my best black turtleneck and white jean combo along with my New Rocks Goth heels. Perfect hairdresser outfit if I say so myself. The stylish Frankenstein of the hairdressing world.
Arrive at the salon around nine. Introduced to all the other employees in the small break room kitchen area out the back. Jacintha. Sharon. Noreen. Helen. Mary. Sheila. Some small. Some tall. All bubbly. All dressed in black. All potential witches. Made sure I left Jasmine until last when I was being introduced. Sweating with delight when I went to shake her hand, waiting to her what exotic accent she had,
“Are youse hawth? Why are youse swetting?”
That doesn’t sound too exotic? Is she from Northern Ireland?
“Are you from Belfast?”
“Aye, I’m from up north. Were ye not expecting that, were ye not?”
“Ehm. No. Nice to meet you though.”
“I’m a bit hung over so I am but very nice to meet you too.”
“Yes. So it is.”
Not what I was expecting but at least it was still technically foreign. Ish. Plus, everything Jasmine said sounded like she was on a hotline or something. Sounded older, as if she was naughty. I liked it. Didn’t appreciate her telling me I reminded her of her younger brother though.
“Well you remind me of my mother,” I blurted back.
“Cheeky one, so you are? Must keep my eye on youse.”
“Oh I’ll be keeping my eye on youse too, don’t you worry.”
Wink. Start sweating a bit more. Is it hot in here? Am I flirting? Or is this being creeping? One and the same?
After Sheila gave me a rundown of what it takes to be a hairdresser, she soon realised I had no interest in being a one. Study the hair. Study the styles. Hours of practice (spoof). Yawned and nodded along as she listed out what it would take for me to really make a career for myself. The heat in the salon was ridiculous, almost had me nodding off standing up. In the end Sheila told me my duties would be sweeping the floors and reading the magazines to see which ones were good. Maybe make coffee too.
“Can you handle that?”
“I can try.”
As it happens, Jasmine was the soundest girl in there. Whenever she wasn’t cutting someone’s hair she would come out to the back office and hang out with me. Tell me about her night out in town the night before. Recall the drinks she had. Show me the new diet supplements she bought. Big bag of brown pills with the word PLACEBO printed on them. I don’t think she knew what a placebo was so I said nothing. Just told her she didn’t need to diet, she looked good to me. This went down well.
Jasmine asked if I had a girlfriend. Well, I had become friendly with two American girls who lived up the road from me, Jenny and Jill. Their Mum was friends with my friend Daire’s Mum so I met them through him, you see. Even though Jenny and Jill were born in Ireland they lived most of their life in America so had the accent and the healthy glow about them. Both blond, tanned and good looking. Hadn’t actually hooked up with either of them though. Kind of friendlier with Jenny because she was my age, sixteen too, but more pent up sexual chemistry with Jill who was a year younger. Alas, they had just moved back to America so I missed the boat there.
Obviously I didn’t mention any of this to Jasmine. I just told her no, I didn’t have a girlfriend. Might have also told her I was eighteen instead of sixteen when she asked me my age. Should have gone higher though, apparently that was still very young. She was almost twenty-five. Told her age was just a number. She laughed and went back to cut more hair. Did mention that she could set me up with her sister who was twenty.
“Does she look like you?”
Oh Jesus. She must be unreal!
Once I heard this I was able to relax around Jasmine for some reason. Not sweat so much. Not as many awkward high-pitched voice moments. Her sister was now the target. Ended up having a good laugh with Jasmine over the next few days. Towards the end of my stint she even asked me if I wanted to help cut someone’s hair. Seeing how badly hairdressers had messed my head up before I told her I wasn’t qualified.
“Nah, if I can do it you can do it so you can.”
“Better not. Maybe something easier.”
“Fine. Old Mrs. Harris out there has got rollers in, go take them out for me while I have a cigarette.”
Mrs. Harris was a small, old, frail granny about eighty-years-old. She came in to get her thin, scraggy, gossamer strands rolled every two weeks, I was told. Popped my head out of the break room and saw her tiny little body in one of the chairs with a big hair dryer over her head. Looked like a baby with a motorbike helmet on. Time for me to go be a hairdresser. Never even spoken to a client before but I had heard the rest of them do it. Bluff on.
“Mrs. Harris, how are you today? Looking wonderful I see! OK, I’m just going to remove the hairdryer and take out the rolls before Jasmine comes back and cuts your lovely hair. Would you like some tea, coffee, a magazine?”
“Who are you? Do you work here?”
“I do Mrs. Harris, I do.”
Spotted Sheila and Mary in the mirror looking over at me concerned. Don’t let the witches get angry. Keep them happy. Gave them two thumbs up. Mouthed over,
“It’s OK, I got this.”
Shrugged their shoulders, went back to cutting hair. I went back to carefully removing the hairdryer helmet. While Mrs. Harris flicked through a magazine, half reading half dozing, I sized up the rollers in her hair. She kind of looked bald with them in, lots of freckled scalp showing. Looked so delicate, just like most grannies really. Half afraid to touch her in case her head fell off. Never actually took out a roller before but how hard could it be? Just pull it and it should come out, right?
Tried to pull one roll out but it kind of got stuck straightaway. Panicked and yanked at it, jerking Mrs. Harris’ head backwards. She didn’t really notice. Roll of thin hair got all tangled so I left it flop and dangle down from her head, looking like a sticky fly catcher. I’ll come back to it.
Moved on to another roll, trying to more careful this time. Somehow made it worse. Even more tangled than the first. Tried to rip it out in a quick clean motion, like a plaster, that’s how to do it, isn’t it? Oh Jesus. No. Almost pulled a turf of Mrs. Harris’ hair right out of her head. Did I leave a bald patch? No but I did make her bleed. Start looking around panicked, thinking, Blood coming out of the scalp, there is blood coming out of the scalp.
Tried to hide this by rolling the roll back in, make it look like I did nothing. Didn’t help. Kept flopping down. Is her hair going to just fall to the floor? Oh God. Tried to rip it out again. More blood. Sweet Jesus. Abort. Get out. Dodge. Patted Mrs. Harris’ head,
“I’ll be right back.”
Scuttled off to the back room.
“Jasmine. Quick. Come. I did something.”
“You never told me there would be blood.”
“Oh my God.”
Almost choked on her coffee and cigarette. Calmly followed me back to Mrs. Harris. Looked at where I was pointing, blood trails down Mrs. Harris’ head. While Jasmine delicately unrolled the roll, I shielded Sheila and Mary’s view through the mirror. Mrs. Harris just kept on reading her magazine. Took five minutes of delicate prodding for Jasmine to undo my tremendous work but eventually we got the rolls out. The minute the last one was out Jasmine tells Mrs. Harris she’ll be back in a minute. Drags me off to the back room where she breaks into laughter.
“That was so funny so it was. Are you mad in the head? Hahaha.”
I’m nervous and sweating thinking I’m in trouble so I break out laughing along too,
“Ha ha, heh, yeah, I know. Will she be OK?”
By now Jasmine is almost hugging me to keep herself from falling over. I’m hugging and pretend-laughing back.
“Never laughed so much, mental Mark, you are hi-larious.”
At this point I feel my ponder pipe is alive and alert in my pants. Oh Jesus. These random pop ups had been happening a lot lately. The night before I had to go to a funeral for a relation of my grandparents. For some reason I kept feeling my ponder come alive then too. Not sure if it was the tight suit pants I had to wear or the fact being in a church was the worst place ever to get turned on. Maybe my mind was drifting to Jasmine being naked in my head. Couldn’t tell. All I know is that I had an awkward mourning wood, as I called it. Now it’s back again. Jasmine’s touch triggered it off.
“Oh my God, we should go for drinks soon, I need to laugh like this some more.”
My ponder is full on piping now. Do a twirl on the spot, subtly tucking it up and hiding the bulge in my pants. Don’t want to look like a creep.
“Drinks? Sounds like a plan!”
For a split moment we touch and I thought we were going to kiss. I think Jasmine had the same idea, or at least saw what I was thinking. Abruptly stops laughing. Goes back out to finish Mrs. Harris’ hair. I stay in the kitchen and fix my pants. Down boy, tame the beast.
For the rest of the week I daydreamed about us going for drinks, laughing and all that other stuff. Who cares if I was only sixteen, I could make this work somehow. I wonder if we would go for drinks this weekend? When would I go to Belfast too, I wonder? Too much, too soon? Let’s just start with drinks. Her sister wouldn’t be an issue between us so that was OK. She had wanted to know how much money I made a year before she would go out with me so that was dead in the water. This Mrs. Harris incident had rekindled the fire with Jasmine.
Of course, these drinks never materialised. Always something else on when I asked Jasmine what the plan was going to be. I wouldn’t have been able to get into the pubs anyway. I held no grudges against Jasmine or anything like that, unlike say, the grudge Marcus held towards me. At the end of his two-week stay he told me he did not enjoy himself. He also no longer liked me. And. He was disgraced I made him work in an Indian restaurant’s kitchen. In summary, he would never forgive me. So that was a shame.
On the upside, I did get a free haircut as my payment for working in the hair salon. Ended up getting highlights, as suggested by everyone in there. Now I was kind of blonde and dark brown. I thought it looked good, my Mum didn’t. I kept up this look for a good few months, mostly as it gave me a chance to go hang out with Jasmine. Things were going well until just after Christmas. Went down in my new Christmas clothes to try and impress her – New blue jeans and classy looking cream turtleneck I had just bought in Next, the new, mod English clothing store that had opened up in Douglas Court. Great spot for turtlenecks. Time to sweep Jasmine off her feet!
Started well. Told me she had a new boyfriend. Well, that’s nice. Nodded along and smiled as I sat down in the chair. What am I doing? Why am I bleaching my head again? WHO IS THIS OTHER MAN?!
As Jasmine went to apply the bleach to my hair I noticed she was also busy texting on her phone. Probably her new man. Bleach missed my head. Poured down my back. Burnt my neck. Turned my cream turtleneck orange. Apologies ensued but I never forgave her after that incident. No more hair bleaching either. Learnt my lesson the hard way. How could she? How dare she? I hate her! I joke.
Few years later I bumped into Jasmine out in a nightclub one night. As it happens, it would be her turn to try me at the bar that night. However, by then I was no longer blinded by the lights. Now I could see she was kind of just a bleary eyed, sloppy drunk who slurred her words. Those placebo diet pills had failed her too. And so it was my turn to turn her down.
Still though, we’ll always have Mrs. Harris.