I went to the barber’s last week for my fortnightly mottepups routine. It feels like a sin every time because my mom hates the bald look, which makes her baby boy look “too old”. The rest of the world tells me I look like Hitman. Anyways, I was bald again in no time, and he proceeded to shave my beard. It looked hot as it was, but there were few bald spots so I let it go. And then, as I inspected the trim around my teardrop goatee, the man said, “sir, face massage karoon?”
I remember in Bahrain where I grew up, the barber there would give me a thel-maalish. It’s a really good head and face massage with oil that feels warm while he’s vigorously applying it and cold and tingly when I walk out into the breeze after paying him one dinar—a small amount there, equal to around 168 bucks here. The memory is still fresh, for the first time I shaved was when I was there for vacation, just three months ago. And this was the second time I was shaved in India, and first time the barber offered a massage, so I happily assented. And then he began applying this pink cream on my face that he applied before shaving me. It was from a dabba labelled ‘aftershave’. I vaguely heard him say something like “mask lagaoon?”, but it struck me only later.
There was no thel and no maalish, and the bugger was applying a facepack. I just sat there, bound only by my helplessness. When I realised that this was going to cost 60 bucks more than my 100-buck shave, I tried protesting. But then he said, “Sir, already lagaa diya, waste ho jaayega”. I made duckface and allowed him to continue.
And then memories descended from the sky like cold cucumber slices, and landed on my mother’s eyes. I remembered her, chilling on the bed, her face caked in some Jovan facepack. (Aside, I always preferred cucumbers over those disgusting refrigerated teabags). Maybe the universe was on her side, it was getting back at me for shaving. The barber finished applying the soft cream. And then he applied a gritty mixed-fruit scrub. I saw the flavour when I walked back to the shop just to ask him what it was.
And he applied it on my cheeks and temples in a circular motion, going on and on and on. My masculinity was falling apart. And to add to that, It was a weird combination of sensory phenomena, the creamy gritty fruity texture. It was like falling face flat into some wet sand. And then, blowing a bubble of chewing gum and letting it explode on my face.
And my eyes were closed, I was trying to relax, when something suddenly started vibrating on my cheeks. I don’t know what was more terrifying, nearly peeing in my pants or nearly whacking the guy in the gut. Damn adrenalin. I opened my eyes against the grit, and saw him holding what resembled a white revolver, just that the barrel was replaced with a blue cylindrical knob. And he kept moving it over my cheeks and jaw, and then pressing it on the tip of my nose. Then he started holding it down on my forehead, and for a minute of my life, my whole body shivered, like I was Shakira on withdrawal.
When he stopped, I squinted at the mirror and saw him walk out and return holding a mug of water. I noticed the basin in front of me and wondered why he didn’t just open the tap and take from there. As he wiped that toothpaste off my face with a tissue that had been dipped in that water, I prayed and hoped that I wouldn’t get an infection. I thought of all possibilities. Getting an infection from an accidental facial would be like karma stepping on me by mistake. While leaving after paying him, I noticed a large bucket of water outside, under the green-lit signboard, on that dark, dark road. So when I got home, I soaped my face.
The walk home was consoling, because I felt my face and it was soft. You remember that Johnson’s baby ad where the mother strokes the infant’s cheek with one finger and it wobbles? I kept doing that to myself all the way home. Just picture it, an average built bald nineteen year old wearing khaki shorts and a goatee walking on the road making his cheek wobble with one finger. Also, the scent of bubblegum had not left me, and I summoned all positivity from the universe and counted the times I chewed gum in class like a boss, right under the teacher’s nose (that part in a mallu accent). And yes, men get facials too; the panic was just me thinking what my friends would say.
Facials normally treat your scars, but this one added to them, at least for a moment. I was everything. Scarred. Marred. Jarred. Flicking my cheeks like a retard. But what the heck! I was fascinated by the instant prospect of me replacing that kid in the ad, and became so happy, that I didn’t give a paulocoelho about the universe anymore. For I was Johnson’s Baby, and it was my Day Out.