When David steps out of the front door he is blinded for a moment by the white, fizzing sunlight and reaches instinctively for his dad’s hand.
It’s the first really warm day of the year, an unexpected heat that bridges the cusp between spring and summer. Father and son are on their way to the barbershop, something they have always done together.
Always, the routine is the same. “It’s about time we got that mop of yours cut,” David’s dad will say, pointing at him with two fingers, a cigarette wedged between them. “Perhaps I should do it. Where are those shears Janet?”
Sometimes his dad chases him round the living room, pretending to cut off his ears. When he was young David used to get too excited and start crying, scared that maybe he really would lose his ears, but he has long since grown out of that.
Mr Samuels’ barbershop is in a long room above the chip shop, reached by a steep flight of stairs. There is a groove worn in each step by the men who climb and descend in a regular stream. David follows his father, annoyed that he cannot make each step creak like his old man can.
David loves the barbershop – it’s like nowhere else he goes. It smells of cigarettes and men and hair oil. Sometimes the smell of chips will climb the stairs along with a customer and when the door opens the waiting men lift their noses together.
Black and white photographs of men with various out-of-fashion hairstyles hang above a picture rail at the end of the room, where two barber’s chairs are bolted to the floor. They are heavy, old-fashioned chairs with foot pumps that hiss and chatter as Mr Samuels, the rolls of his plump neck squashing slightly, adjusts the height of the seat.
In front of the chairs are deep sinks with a showerhead and long metal hose attached to the taps, not that anyone seems to use them. Behind the sinks are mirrors and on either side of these, shelves overflowing with an mixture of plastic combs (some plunged into a glass bowl containing a blue liquid), shaving mugs, scissors, cut throat razors, hair brushes and, stacked neatly in a pyramid, 10 bright red tubs of Brylcreem.
At the back of the room sit the customers, silent for most of the time, except when Mr Samuels breaks off from cutting and takes a drag on his cigarette, sending a wisp of grey-blue smoke like the tail of kite twisting into the air.
When it is David’s turn for a cut, Mr Samuels places a wooden board covered with a piece of oxblood red leather across the arms of the chair, so that the barber doesn’t have to stoop to cut the boy’s hair. David scrambles up onto the bench.
“The rate you’re shooting up, you won’t need this soon, you’ll be sat in the chair,” the barber says.
“Wow,” says David, squirming round to look at his dad, forgetting that he can see him through the mirror. “Dad, Mr Samuels said I could be sitting in the chair soon, not just on the board!”
“So I hear,” his father replies, not looking up from the paper. “I expect Mr Samuels will start charging me more for your hair then.”
“At least double the price,” said Mr Samuels, winking at David.
Finally David’s dad looks up from his newspaper and glances into the mirror, seeing his son looking back at him. He smiles.
“Wasn’t so long ago when I had to lift you onto that board because you couldn’t climb up there yourself,” he says.
“They don’t stay young for long do they, kids,” Mr Samuels declares. All the men in the shop nod in agreement. David nods too.
In the mirror he sees a little head sticking out of a long nylon cape that Mr Samuels has swirled around him and folded into his collar with a wedge of cotton wool. Occasionally he steals glances at the barber as he works. He smells a mixture of stale sweat and aftershave as the barber’s moves around him, combing and snipping, combing and snipping.
David feels like he is in another world, noiseless except for the scuffing of the barber’s shoes on the lino and the snap of his scissors. In the reflection from the window he could see through the window, a few small clouds moved slowly through the frame, moving to the sound of the scissors’ click.
Sleepily, his eyes dropping to the front of the cape where his hair falls with the same softness as snow and he imagines sitting in the chair just like the men and older boys, the special bench left leaning against the wall in the corner.
He thinks about the picture book of bible stories his aunt gave him for Christmas, the one of Samson having his hair cut by Delilah. David wonders if his strength will go like Samson’s.
When Mr Samuels has finished, David hops down from the seat, rubbing the itchy hair from his face. Looking down he sees his own thick, blonde hair scattered among the browns, greys and blacks of the men who have sat in the chair before him. For a moment he wants to reach down and gather up the broken blonde locks, to separate them from the others, but he does not have time.
The sun is still strong when they reach the pavement outside the shop, but it is less fiery now, already beginning to drop from its zenith.
“I tell you what, lad, let’s get some fish and chips to take home, save your mum from cooking tea,” says David’s dad and turns up the street.
The youngster is excited and grabs his dad’s hand. The thick-skinned fingers close gently around his and David is surprised to find, warming in his father’s palm, a lock of his own hair.