When I lived in the Caribbean, there was a woman named Ursula who cut my hair in Saint Martin. She was a petite, attractive woman who came from a small, cozy village on the outskirts of Paris. Her personality was warm, kind and tender and she spoke only a few words of English. Being that I spoke virtually no French, we had a nearly flawless relationship.
Every five or six weeks, I would take the ferryboat from Anguilla to Marigot Bay, in Saint Martin, and go to the salon where Ursula worked. I would sit in the lobby and sip on the espresso the receptionist served to me, as I patiently waited for the woman, who was possibly going to be my future wife if my current wife ever tossed me to the curb, to call me into her workspace so she could cut my hair.
The first thing she always did was give me a lovely greeting in French. The greeting may have been a warm welcome or she could have been insulting me and calling me ugly and stupid. Either way, I didn’t care. The words flowed from her mouth like warm honey and I knew what was coming next. The shampoo and massage! To state it in plain English, Ursula was a goddess who massaged my head so softly and sensually that my spirit soared to never experienced places.
After the massage she spent the next thirty minutes clipping and trimming my typically already short hair, to near perfection. All the while she told me about her life, where she was from, what her hopes and dreams were, or she recited the local sandwich shop menu to me. I couldn’t really tell you which it was. I just listened to her musical voice speak in a magical language. Since the other women in the salon also spoke French, I could only presume she was not telling me how she longed for me or that she was madly in love with me, but you never know.
But alas, all good things must eventually come to an end. I was paying a kings ransom to get very little hair cut from my head and I was well aware the dream haircut sessions were going to end sooner or later. But the truth is that it’s always easier when you’re the person who is saying farewell as opposed to being the one who is being cut loose and tossed to the curb. One Saturday afternoon I climbed off the ferryboat and walked to the salon to have what was likely going to be another lovely session with Ursula. I stood in front of the shop and I was shocked when I read the sign on the window that said, “Out of Business.” I quickly went into the shop next door, and then to another. They all said the same thing. The salon was closed and Ursula was nowhere to be found. The dream had ended. My future wife who spoke a magical language and gave goddess like massages had disappeared somewhere in the Caribbean.
Less than a week later I wandered into a little barbershop in Anguilla where a small Spanish man was cutting hair. He also did not speak English, or not very much, but he was nothing like Ursula.
“Do you cut white guys hair?” I asked, needing to make sure that he knew how to cut my soft blond hair.
“Si, si. Come. Come,” he answered and motioned to the chair.
There was no hair washing and no sensual massage. There was no sweet smell of perfume or magical imaginary conversation about distant lands or a dreamlike future. There was just the little Spanish man jabbering away to his friends in a language I did not understand while he very meticulously snipped and snipped my hair until it got shorter and shorter and shorter. He worked with the focus and intensity of a man disarming a bomb as he cut my hair for a full thirty minutes. He’d take three snips and then step back and stare at my head, as if he were putting the final touches on a Picasso painting. Then he would lean back in and snip a quarter inch off from four or five hairs and step back again. When he was finally finished, he stepped back one more time, and looked at my perfectly cut hair, and I do mean perfectly cut, then he said, “Bueno?” I nodded in approval.
My wife had been sitting in a chair watching the whole process and by now she was ginning from ear to ear. My hair was less than a half-inch long and if I wanted it to be any shorter he would have had to shave my head. The little Spanish guy was no Ursula, but he was proud of a job well done and my haircut was perfect. Short, but perfect.
“Yes. Yes,” I answered to his question as he waited for my approval.
“Un momento,” he responded as he pulled out the talc brush that had way too much talc on it. With two or three whacks to the back of my head, a mighty cloud appeared and the room disappeared. Or I suppose if you were sitting in my wife’s seat, my head disappeared into the white blizzard like cloud of talc. When the cloud began to dissipate and I could once again breath, I stood up and faced my grinning wife and then turned and paid the barber.
As I walked out of the shop, rubbing my almost non-existent hair and listening to the barber jibber away in Spanish, I wondered where Ursula was and what she was doing right at that moment. I wondered if she missed me as much as I missed her.
Au revoir, Ursula. Au revoir.