ZULULAND LETTER: A square cut that’s not so square anymore

I still remember my first haircut like yesterday.

Perhaps because I cut my hair at that very same place for another 15 years afterwards.

My barber was Koos and his shop was a men’s only establishment, which was most evident by the selection of magazines available to read while waiting your turn;

MAN Magnum and Lanbouweekblad, and for the youngsters a stack of well-used DC Comics.

Nearest to Koos’ barber stool was a stack of Scopes for his more mature clientele who preferred their reading material slightly bolder and a bit more graphic.

But any guy under 30 got a half-smoked Gunston Plain expertly flicked against his outstretched hand if he dared to reach for a Scope.

Koos was also very knowledgeable about the politics of the day.

The end of Koos

Koos’ trademark haircut was the ‘square cut’.

In fact it was the only style he ever did and I doubt he could do anything else.

Older men always sat down in the antique-looking chair and said, ‘Square cut please Koos’, whereupon he would reply, ‘As usual Jimmy’.

Young men wanting to look a bit trendy would always ask for a ‘short-back-and-sides’.

Koos would then say, ‘One short-back-and-sides coming up’, but when the guy stood up he sported what looked like just another square cut.

After 35 years of square cuts, Koos developed varicose veins from all the standing and eventually deep vein thrombosis, which in turn led to a stroke that killed him.

Well, that was what we were told one day when we were standing in front of his deserted shop.

We panicked, because Koos’ was the only shop in town whose signboard didn’t say ‘Unisex’ in bold black letters.

In those days in the Free State, ‘unisex’ was believed to be just another word for ‘homosexual’, and you’d rather take your chances with your mom or wife wielding the kitchen scissors than being seen coming out of one of those places.

Meet Abdulla

Thus followed years of dodgy home haircuts and endless searches for an establishment less ‘unisex’ then the rest, up until last year when a friend told me about Abdulla.

This man, for some reason, has travelled all the way from Pakistan to set up a barber shop in Empangeni.

Having your hair cut at Abdulla’s is like visiting Islamabad for 5 minutes – the guy is really fast.

While he expertly wields his scissors around my head, I like reading the labels of the strange concoctions he keeps on the shelves on either side of the mirror, and also out of fear that he might have an off day and amputate an ear by accident.

Navratna oil, for instance, apparently makes your skin soft and smooth after Abdulla has given you a shave, but I might be wrong because his English vocabulary basically consists of; ‘Siet dowhn’, and,

‘You’re fery velcome sir’ – the latter being his reply on thanking him for executing another speedy square cut.

I haven’t gone for a shave yet, because after seeing how reckless he is with scissors, I’m not sure if I want him near my jugular with a razor.

Scarlet’s left breast

When Abdulla’s done cutting your hair – whether you like it or not – he gives you a complimentary head massage.

Again, super speedy and shaking your noggin so vigorously that you remember what you had for breakfast when you were five years old.

His coup de grace, however, is resetting your neck vertebrae.

In a Steven Seagal-like Aikido move, he first twists you neck left, and then right.

The cracking noises emanating from what is certainly the most vulnerable part of your body, sounds like someone stepping on broken glass, but somehow your head doesn’t break off, and instead you feel like you’ve had a 30 minute nap while holding onto Scarlet Johansen’s left breast for comfort.

Times change

I miss old Koos and the smoke from his Gunston plain constantly in your face and how he always insisted on PW Botha being a softy compared to John Voster.

But I like Abdulla more.

I never leave his shop with a splitting headache because I was tearing my optic nerves apart by trying to see the knockers on Miss July 1982, while pretending to read comics.

If things always stayed exactly the same I would never have known what a head massage feels like, or that Navratna oil even exists, or that, if you almost break someone’s neck, it makes them feel better.

While I still prefer an old fashioned square cut on my head, I like that our country is not so square cut anymore.

Val van der Walt

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