Miss Gamma, our teacher, said I needed a haircut, my mother said I needed a haircut, by brother Krikor said I needed a haircut: the whole world wanted me to get a haircut. My head was too big for the world. Too much black hair, the world said.
Everybody said, “When are you going to-get a haircut?”
There was a big business man in our town named Huntingdon who used to buy 1 an evening paper from me every day. He was a man who weighed two hundred and forty pounds, owned two Cadillacs, six hundred acres, and had over a million dollars in the Valley Bank, as well as a small head, without hair, right on top of him where everybody could see it. He used to make railroad men from out of town walk a long way to see my head. “There’s good weather and health. There’s hair on a head,” he used to say.
Miss Gamma did not like the size of my head.
“I’m not mentioning any names,” she said one day, “but unless a certain young man in this class visits a barber one of these days and has his hair cut, he will be sent to a worse place than this.”
She did not mention any names. All she did was look at me.
I was glad the world was angry with me, but one day a small bird tried to build a nest in my hair.
I was sleeping on the grass under the tree in our yard when a bird flew down from the tree to my head. I opened my eyes but did not move. I had no idea the bird was in my hair until it began to sing. Never before in my life had I heard the cry of a bird so clearly.
Then I realized such a thing was not proper. It was not proper for a small bird to be in anybody’s hair.
So I jumped up and hurried to town to have my hair cut, and the bird flew as far away as it could go in one breath.
There was an Armenian barber on Mariposa Street named Aram who was really a farmer, or maybe a philosopher. I didn’t know. I only knew he had a little shop on Mariposa Street and spent most of his time reading Armenian papers, rolling cigarettes, smoking them, and watching the people go by. I never saw him giving anybody a haircut, although I suppose one or two people went into his shop by mistake.
I went to Aram’s shop on Mariposa Street and woke him up. He was sitting at the little table with an Armenian book open before him, sleeping.
In Armenian I said, “Will you cut my hair? I have twenty-five cents.”
“Ah,” he said, “I am glad to see you. What is your name? Sit down. I will make coffee first. Ah, that is a fine head of hair you have.”
“Everybody wants me to get a haircut,” I said.
“That is the way with the world,” he said. “Always telling you what to do. What’s wrong with a little hair? Why do they do it? ‘Earn money 2,’ they say. ‘Buy a farm.’ This. That. Ah, they are against letting a man live a quiet life.”
“Can you do it?” I said. “Can you cut it all away so they will not talk about it again for a long time?”
“Coffee,” said the barber. “Let us drink a little coffee first.”
He brought me a cup of coffee, and I wondered how it was I had never before visited him, perhaps the most interesting man in the whole city. I knew he was an unusual man from the way he woke when I entered the store, from the way he talked and walked. He was about fifty and I was eleven. He was no taller than I was and no heavier, but his face was the face of a man who has found out the truth, who knows, who is wise, and yet loves all and is not unkind.
When he opened his eyes, his look seemed to say, “The world? I know all about the world. Evil and hatred and fear 3. But I love it all.”
I lifted the small cup to my lips and drank the hot black liquid. It tasted finer than anything I had ever before tasted.
“Sit down,” he said in Armenian, and he began to tell me about the world.
He told me about his Uncle Misak who was born in Moush.
We drank the coffee and then I got into the chair and he began to cut my hair. He gave me the worst of all haircuts, but he told me about his poor uncle Misak and the circus tiger. He wasn’t a real barber. He was just pretending to be a barber, so his wife wouldn’t worry him too much. He was just doing it to satisfy the world 4. All he wanted to do was to read and to talk to good people. He had five children, three boys and two girls, but they were all like his wife, and he couldn’t talk to them. All they wanted to know was how much money he was making.
“My poor uncle Misak,” he said to me, “was born a long time ago in Moush and he was a wild boy, although he was not a thief. He could fight any two boys in the whole city, and if necessary their fathers and mothers at the same time. Their grandfathers and grandmothers too,” he said.
“So everybody said to my poor Uncle Misak, ‘Misak, you are strong; why don’t you earn money by fighting?’ So he did. He broke the bones of eighteen strong men before he was twenty. And all he did with his money was eat and drink and give the rest to children. He didn’t want money.”
“Ah,” he said, “that was long ago. Now everybody wants money. They told him he would be sorry some day, and of course, they were right. They told him to take care of his money because some day he would no longer be strong and he would have no money. And the day came. My poor Uncle Misak was forty years old and no longer strong, and he had no money. They laughed at him and he went away. He went to Constantinople. Then he went to Vienna.”
“Vienna?” I said. “Your Uncle Misak went to Vienna?” “Yes, of course,” said the barber. “My poor Uncle Misak went to many places. In Vienna,” he said, “my poor uncle could not find work, and he nearly died of hunger, but did he steal so much as a loaf of bread? No, he stole nothing. Then he went to Berlin. There, too, my poor Uncle Misak nearly died of hunger.”
He was cutting my hair, left and right. I could see the black hair on the floor and feel my head becoming colder and colder. And smaller and smaller. “Ah, Berlin ” he said. “Cruel city of the world, streets and streets and houses and houses and people and people, but not one door for my poor Uncle Misak, not one room, not one table, not one friend.”
“Ah,” I said, “this loneliness of man in the world. This terrible loneliness of the living.”
“And,” said the barber, “it was the same in Paris, the same in London, the same in New York, the same in South America. It was the same everywhere, streets and streets, houses and houses, doors and doors, but no place in the world for my poor Uncle Misak.”
“Ah, God,” I prayed. “Protect him.”
“In China,” said the barber, “my poor Uncle Misak met an Arab who worked in a French circus. The Arab and my Uncle Misak talked together in Turkish. The Arab said, ‘Brother, are you a lover of men and animals?’ And my Uncle Misak said, ‘Brother, I love everything in God’s world. Men and animals and fish and birds and rock and fire and water and everything seen and unseen.’ And the Arab said, ‘Brother, can you love even a tiger?’ And my Uncle Misak said, ‘Brother, of course, I can.’ Ah, my Uncle Misak was a very unhappy man. The Arab was very glad to hear about my uncle’s love for tigers, for he too was a very brave man. ‘Brother,’ he said to my uncle, ‘could you love a tiger enough to place your head into its open mouth?’
“Protect him, God,” I prayed.
“And,” said Aram, the barber, “my Uncle Misak said, ‘Brother, I could.’ And the Arab said. ‘Will you join the circus? Yesterday the tiger carelessly closed its mouth around the head of poor Simon Perigord, and there is no longer anyone in the circus with such great love for the creatures of God.’ My poor Uncle Misak was tired of the world, and he said, ‘Brother, I will join the circus and place my head into the open mouth of God’s holy tiger a dozen times a day.’ ‘That is not necessary,’ said the Arab. ‘Twice a day will be enough.’ So my poor Uncle Misak joined the French circus in China and began placing his head into the open mouth of the tiger.”
“The circus”, said the barber, “travelled from China to India, from India to Afghanistan, from Afghanistan to Persia, and there, in Persia, it happened. The tiger and my poor Uncle Misak became very good friends. In Teheran, in the old city, the tiger grew fierce 5. It was a very hot day and everyone felt ugly 6.
“The tiger felt very angry and ran about all day. My poor Uncle placed his head into the open mouth of the tiger, in Teheran, that ugly city of Persia, and he was about to take his head out of the tiger’s mouth when the tiger closed his jaws.”
I got out of the chair and saw a strange person in the looking-glass — myself. I was frightened and all my hair was gone. I paid Aram, the barber, twenty-five cents and went home. Everybody laughed at me. My brother Krikor said he had never seen such a bad haircut before.
But it was all right.
All I could think about for weeks was the barber’s poor Uncle Misak whose head was bitten off 7 by the circus tiger, and I looked forward to the day when I would need a haircut again, so I could go to Aram’s shop and listen to his story of man, lost and lonely and always in danger, the sad story of his poor Uncle Misak. The sad story of every man alive.
- used to buy — бывало покупал
- earn money — зарабатывать деньги
- evil and hatred and fear — зло, ненависть и страх
- to satisfy the world — удовлетворить окружающих
- grew fierce — рассвирепел
- felt ugly — быть в плохом настроении
- whose head was bitten off — чью голову откусил