Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Barber's Tale

"This is ridiculous!" I said, peering down at the mess in front of me.

"I'd help it if I could - I'm very sorry."

"It's no matter - it's why I'm here. Just a bit overwhelmed."

I thought about my early days. I didn't lead an exciting life generally. My village took care of me and I took care of the village. Like most artisans, I had a small garden and a few chickens and goats, but for the most part I plied my skill for food. My scissors were always sharp, my knives at the ready. I usually had a couple leeches on hand for good measure.

As with any story, this all changed.

He was a young boy - one of dozens, he let me know - and he had a summons in his hand. Not that that did much good - neither of us could read it - but I knew the seal well enough. My services were needed by the King.

Was he sick? Why would he summon every barber in the kingdom? My mind filled with questions and possible scenarios - perhaps it was a new tax, perhaps a great tragedy had befallen the guild leaders, maybe there is a new technique we are all to learn, maybe we will have secret instructions to carry out that our fellow townspeople must be unaware of.

The week-long journey passed fairly quickly - no bandits, no surprises. I met up with a few merchants and some other similarly confused barbers along the way - our group numbered about twenty as we got to the castle. Well, the village around the castle anyway. We were all welcomed and the dozen or so merchants went to ply their wares. The eight barbers went to the castle, where we were informed that we could either find lodgings in the town or camp on the castle grounds for free as we waited for a competition of sorts to start that Monday.  I chose to camp.

Monday rolled around and the courtyard filled with barber, sheep, and courtiers. Our task was to cut the hair off the sheep, keeping it intact and keeping the sheep looking okay - this wasn't a sheering contest, it was a hair cutting exercise. We all got to work - scores of barbers with dozens of judges circulating to keep us under constant evaluation. Our sheep were labeled and led away, and we were brought new sheep as soon as we finished. It was a miserable ten hours of work, but we got through it, having been promised a banquet with all the mutton we could eat.

I had finished, taken a nap, and went to the banquet. We were all well fed and lubricated when the fanfare began. It was certainly a regal affair - definitely the most pomp that I'd ever seen up to that point. The king came to address us all and informed us that he was sorry to have put us through all those troubles. He wanted to pick the best among us to serve as the royal barbers - a contingent of three to five of us to serve officially. I didn't question why he needed so many, but I should have.

He read the list and some came forward. Others felt that they could not accept due to their commitments in their home villages. My name was called and I thought for quite a bit about my choice. As you have guessed, I stayed.

Over the intervening years I've become embittered. While the benefits are good and the lifestyle quite amenable, the work is hard. I had to cut the Queen's hair every other day, her children came in twice a week. If they didn't it would be an unmanageable mess.

I am Sisyphus and they are my stone.

I snapped back to the the task at hand.

"Alright, my lady, you're all set," I said, fanning out her bib.

"Thank you - you're back on Tuesday, correct?"

"Yes - I'll see you then. Be well my queen."

"For the millionth time, I'm still a farmer's daughter. Call me Rapunzel."

[written on Jan/Feb 2015]

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