“Baldwin” by Andrew Aidoo
Stanley, called otherwise by others, was standing before his mirror. ‘This one?’ he raised the mauve tie, ‘or this one?’ he picked the black tie from his bed. Alternately pinning them with his index finger on his neck to see if they fit his pale blue shirt, he wound the black tie under the collar, because it had always been the black. The dance with the mauve tie was just a running joke which only his unconscious mind enjoyed.
He brushed his hair and leaned to the mirror, observing his retreating hairline vertices and almost hairless crown.
‘More Kuza here and a little bit there.’
He spread a thick gob on the almost shiny scalp, feeling the seeds of Indian Hemp in his fingertips. The grains assured him with the thought that they were the hair-seeds and his scalp was their fertile bed. The comb teeth run snapping through his thick beard, arraying his curls of glory. He passed his fingertips through, admiring its texture, while hoping the scalp studied the beard’s life-affirming abundance and rejected its own depression that was pushing this mass follicular suicide. He moaned their death, the shame that had hastened upon him in his youth, and encouraged himself with Kuza.
He gained the stairs into the morning class, dapper but balding. His mates were typically helpful when he entered. ‘Elisha Baldwin!’ came from one student. The half-filled class laughed. Now they have a sense of humour. Bald-win, because baldness had won over him, Elisha because he was bald. The name and its interpretation came by a mischievous inspiration just that morning and it had to be said.
While the laughter died amidst scattered fits and bursts, Stanley cringed and grew conscious of his hair. Three weeks ago, his hope in a miracle oil that promised him youth was mercilessly dashed by another student, who said that Stanley’s baldness was a genetic curse and the money required for a hair transplant—which was indubitably his only hope—was more than what anyone would be willing to purchase his whole body for.
They all burst into laughing. He laughed, painfully, with them but they mocked him. Boys no be family! These were cruel, but hilarious. Still cruel. Funny though. But still…
Each lecture came with a clever joke, sharper jab and surrender to his fate. The class ended. The students shuffling out, he leaned back, loosened his tie and scrolled through his Instagram. Candy-coloured photos of infants, toddlers and children, pleased him. Something about their innocent, trusting eyes made him want to protect them. Their hairiness, especially, the ones whose curled hair terminated into the widow’s peak, the V-shaped point at the centre of their hairline, struck a familiar chord in him and linked to his childhood, a distant period of beauty.
In primary school, his silken black and wavy foliage had gathered him much relished attention from girl seniors. They’d wished to possess children like him. It offended the boy seniors. The girls, due to this, protected him more.
High school was a time of cosmetic experiments. Following the sporting wave fad for inter-high school games, he’d permed his hair, starting with milder creams then progressing as he grew more daring to harsher ones. His hair straightened and, within days, coiled regularly into waves. They shone, styled brittle in gel.
It was in the middle of this adventure that the decline of his hair’s glory began. The consequence of the experiment must have poisoned the scalp to its roots, dusting away its covering, leaving it shiny and squat. Tragic, cosmetically tragic!
He had worked himself into a daze with his fantastic memories. His fingers presently caressed his barren scalp. When styled, he had combed it backwards, thickly, running it behind his ears. The smooth texture of it concentrated on his fingertips as he kept imagining. But fantasy failed and so he felt the threadbare reality and was soon checked. The Kuza had taken its time to produce the effect he’d bought it for, longer than his patience and optimism could accommodate. Had the barber lied?
The hair at his temples and occiput were growing, sharpening the visibility of his ever-retreating hairline vertices. Whenever he bent a little in front of the mirror, he saw his entire hairline form the capital letter M, whose two converging strokes were narrowing over time: as if the M were to spell the genetic source of his condition, his asymptomatically bald MOTHER. It occurred to him too that when turned upside down, the M was W, as if to spell the question of his soul, WHY?––
The hairless desolation went from an overgrazed football field to a savannah land pitilessly trodden by hoofed giants. The only patches of hair valiantly holding their own against the wave of death saddened the entire affair. These bundles, frail as his will to shave them all off and end their lonely existence, stood far from one another. It was drearily alopecic by the time he was observing the expected progress of Kuza in the mirror one evening.
It was obvious. Go bald! The thought did not compel him, nor did it seek to persuade. It must have risen as that clear wisdom against which he could not argue. He lamented quietly: I am too young for this. Gone too soon, my youth!
To his barber he heavily went. He slid the door to his right and entered the shop. Cooled dry, within it sat a queue of students all engrossed in their phones. He sat and nodded up to his barber. And he, an ally for the balding, who had taken care of his situation since first-year, in turn winked at Stanley.
It was Stanley’s turn after two hours. He arose with a gravity of soul, carried himself to the seat, sunk into it and himself, saw his face as the barber wound a white neck tape around Stanley’s neck, then covered him with a black cape, rolled the neck tape over the cape’s collar, turned on the hair clipper and swivelled Stanley around and asked:
Stanley, watching his face, agreeing with his reflection that this was it, his heart pounding to the decision that it was time to let his hair go like the Pharaoh let the Hebrews go, gravely, almost blinking a tear, said:
A protest rose in the barber’s black oily face: his thick eyebrows arched in surprise.
While Stanley contemplated the weight of his future, the barber vacillated against Stanley’s decision. The barber felt his skills and sympathy for the follicularly unfortunate amounted to nothing if it comprised of untalented strokes of the clipper. He was better than that! He had secured some importance, one might even argue, a calling, in babysitting the delicate, inescapably doomed situation on Stanley’s scalp. He had felt chosen, anointed as the sculptor of the invisible, to help Stanley walk head high. He had made it happen, the unsung hero behind many a balding heads in the university. But now Stanley wanted to remove the few raw materials, which already severely limited haircut options? Ungrateful.
Behind them were boys who did not understand the weight of Stanley and the barber’s sadness, the grief of parting with the last strands of hair, both the shaved and shaver, sighing inwardly.
The clipper buzzed zzzz in tactless, long strokes along Stanley’s scalp. It was rough, fast, intentional.
The barber was disquieted by Stanley’s impatience for Kuza, which was, at least, improving the temples. The clipper went zzzz, peeling off some hair into thinly rolled tufts falling off. The barber looked away, overcome with his disappointment. Stanley’s eyes were shut, holding in his tears, as he shed his ephebic foliar legacy. All that remained was skin.
Stanley opened his eyes. Drubbed by his overwhelmingly bald look, he did not even agree or disagree.
The barber was sorry for Stanley’s hairless unhappiness. Then on his clipper went carving sharp lines along the edges of his beard, overcompensating with surgical precision and a boy’s enthusiasm for his toy.
After his creative labours, a short-boxed beard was produced. Stanley’s face appeared slimmer as his temples were shaved cleanly. His moustache was trimmed into visibility on top of his upper lip and the beard was outlined crisply as an Edenic topiary cut with flaming swords by the Lord’s own cherubim. It looked a bit like the staple haircut printed on barbering shops, you know, Ludacris’s ludicrous sideburns extended all the way to his chin, where it terminated into a slight goatee.
The barber, relishing his handiwork, asked him:
He shifted away from the mirror for Stanley to see his new look fully.
Next day after his shaving, while preparing for class, he attempted to convince himself that he looked handsome, but timidity overpowered confidence. His head was a shimmering orb, as if he could rub or divine with it, or something. He felt ashamed of his decision but was determined to live with this. Must go to class.
He had no use of Kuza anymore. Its job, which it did not even do, was over. He was at the door out of his room when he decided that Kuza had to be fired. It was nothing personal. Just the only rational decision. Cold, arguably, but reasonable. Stepping out, fresh wind whelmed his head. Cool balmy air.
The sun appeared quickly as the clouds drifted. He walked towards his class under the menacing tropic heat. Self-conscious, he sweated on his scalp, wiped it with his handkerchief and wondered how he had come to this point of his life. When he used to dye his hair due to the browning effect of excessive perming in high school, he could not have touched his scalp unless in the bathroom, as his fingertips would have been soiled black.
Stares laid a siege on him as he walked like the bright morning star among the faculty. He avoided them all with stiffly quick gaits and shifting eyes. The lecturer, a man of irregular punctuality, had entered the class before him, and as a rule, taunted students that came afterwards before allowing them entry, even if the students were not late.
‘Young man,’ called the lecturer, ‘where do you think you are going?’
Stanley began answering in his broad voice. The whole class turned to listen and, upon seeing him, broke immediately into snickering, laughter and heckling.
‘Elisha Baldwin reloaded!’ one shouted and they laughed more.
They laughed at him heartily and for long. But Stanley was not bothered. During his walk to the class, at some point, he had come to a resolve that its was inevitable. The voice that inspired him to shave his hair must have filled him with another obvious wisdom that it was less pathetic, even nobler, to willingly go fully bald than to desperately sustain hairs where they had, in their own hirsute wisdom, abandoned. Consoled by this clear thought, he might have regained repose.
However, after the class, he had to fend off the overly disdainful among the boys. They wanted to mockingly touch his head. Some of the ladies looked at him more than once. But through the miasma of admiration and mockery from both sexes, Grace—the class’s socialite, radiantly lightsome chocolate in complexion, a shy-looking avant-garde model, with her hair cut short, black and minimally styled, whose nose wings flared in a smile and whose septum was bedecked with a studded silver horseshoe, while her lips swelled and glistened and her manicured fingers daintily summoned worshipful kisses—set her gaze on him, from the front of the class, fluttered her matte, golden eyelids, smiled coquettishly, nose flared and all and turned back until he had seen her—had gotten the message.
It was the international signal for ‘Come and talk to me’ or something similar, who knows? But Stanley must have been too bald to understand. He left abruptly without speaking to her.
On his way to his hostel, after an afternoon class, five filthy children in the Ayeduase slum saw him and hollered ‘King Promise!’ They tailed him with the call, gathering in number. He could not deflect them.
Two days after, in a group meeting, he heard a student who did not know his name call him ‘King Promise.’ He asked what that meant and was looked at in shock.
Grace who was coming near swept up his right arm amidst the conversation, pulled him to herself. He turned to her and was suddenly overcome with her proximity, how hauntingly desirable she was to him. He gasped and tried to laugh it off. But before he could tear himself away, she also whispered ‘King Promise,’ close to his left ear and laughed mintily at him.
The joke run like a significant invisible thread through the fabric of his two days, hearing King Promise in and out of earshot. Then finally, his ever procrastinating bald self googled and found that King Promise also had a skinhead with a narrower strip of an ear-to-ear beard.
Another coincidence added to the growing acceptance of his new look. The witchcraft of Facebook’s espionage flooded his Instagram ‘search’ with photos, GIFs, video clips and reels of splendid varieties of baldness. It seemed, in an almost religious realisation, that he had tapped into some trend hitherto unbeknownst to his parochial fashion sense, an elite gang, not the beard gang, but something like a bald gang: BBMIW—Bald Boys Making It Work.
He scrolled through another more inclusive page, the men and women of all races, the Indian and Arab girls modelling elegantly with skinheads. Something about a bald and semi-nude Arab girl struck Stanley with the miscible combination of arousal and respect, a sensation on which he dwelt, regardless of his strenuous wish to have not. It was a thing, apparently. The baldness. Not the strange arousal. True story.
Onward, his gaits on campus became straightened with native confidence. He was getting positive feedback from a variety of people who had several motives.
Some felt they had to be supportive. He appreciated their courtesy. Others admired his courageous cosmetic decision. While two boys, ironic to the bone, splashed loud praises about the clean shine of his scalp. And there were the enterprising lot who, desirous to sell their hair-growth enhancement oils, praised his decision only to say he did not have to live like this too soon. But he cheerfully rejected these snaky oil sellers. The inspiration had made him firm against the temptations of this hair-craving world.
Apart from all these, his most inspiring feedback streamed cumulatively from the sudden recognition he received among the baldizens. The bald casual staff, bald administrators, bald post-graduate students, bald police men, balding female professors and the bald ribald security men slightly nodded upwards in his direction when they saw him, as if to say:
‘We see you stuntin’, representin’. Much respect.’
The breath of appreciation breezed over the mildly harrowing yet innocent mistakes made by the freshman and others within the first four days of going fully bald. Stanley began to enjoy how he seemed almost instantly credible, eloquent and even respectable enough to be mistaken for a lecturer or a post-graduate student for four times only because he had no hair on top of his scalp and had a winsome beard.
The style brought, in its package, confidence and fluency.
It had even hit him, like some glabrous epiphany sent from celestial realms, while fully naked under the cool shower washing down his naked head, that consummate masculinity was a bald head and full beard—an inversion of boyhood, when the head was fully haired while the cheeks and chin were as hairless as the pubic part. This was, without a doubt, given by bald-spiration. Baldy genius!
He had nursed a mortal crush for Grace since first-year. Three years later, the crush lost its ache but didn’t die. It rather tuned him to her movements, so that he could tell she was acting weirdly around him, with all her pilfered glances and demure smiles, touching his elbows in class. When he visited her dimmed room following her incessant invitations within the past four days, the asthma-inducing Grace faintly grazed her considerably full hips on his crotch, always unintentionally or accidentally . . . ‘oops, sorry’ . . . ‘ha-ha, clumsy me again, sorry’ . . . ‘okay, that was intentional, I wanted to sit on you.’ He laughed it off but the old immortal fire had been rekindled. It made him nervous.
Meanwhile in class, her sudden association with him had silenced all the hecklers of ‘Elisha Baldwin.’
She sat beside him in class for the first time seven days after he had gone fully bald. After several awkward flirtations, she revealed to him, whispering, ‘Skin is my kink,’ with a left-eye wink.
Andrew Aidoo is a fiction writer based in Ghana. He is intrigued by the potential of fiction (and essays) to capture and recreate the African spiritual experience and postcolonial anxieties of creativity, wound intricately by the threads of imagination and learning. When Andrew is not writing, he is probably reading his favourite poets and authors, listening to Alternative Rock music, or whining about his perennial lack of inspiration. He can be reached on Facebook @Andrew Aidoo
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