Friday, August 15, 2014

A Brief Encounter

Sometimes it’s the small moments that open our hearts and connect us as humans. Yesterday I went to Lynnwood to get a haircut. I walked into a hair salon for the first time. I don’t have a lot of hair anymore, so cutting it is not that difficult. The shop had four chairs, all empty and no one seemed to be in the place. She must have heard the door open and close, for out of the back walked a tall Asian woman who asked if she could help me. I told her I needed a haircut and she directed me to one of the chairs. She was all business, efficiently putting the tissue around my neck and covering me with the cloth before proceeding to cut my hair.

               She had a light, gentle touch. After shaving the back of my neck, she brushed her hand across it several times, like a cabinet maker brushing the sawdust off recently sanded wood. I stole glances at her in the mirror as she worked. Probably in her fifties, I could tell she once had been beautiful, but her dress and makeup revealed a desperate battle with age.  Around her neck was a silver necklace with large green stones and on her wrist a matching bracelet. Her hair was jet black and long, pulled up on top of her head with a bit trailing down her back.  Her dress was cinched at the midriff accentuating her still slim body, and her breasts jutted out, riding a little too high for her age. We didn’t talk as she cut my hair.

At the cash register I asked her if she was Vietnamese even though she was too tall and something was strange about her face. Her nose reminded me of Michael Jackson’s, too thin for an Asian. I assume she had work done. But her accent gave her away. She answered, “Yes, I am Vietnamese.” I told her I had been in her country once a long time ago. Her eyes lit up and she asked, “When?” I said it was in the sixties during the war. Her face softened and sadness entered her eyes. I could tell she had been there too at that time.

In that moment, I remembered the beautiful young Vietnamese girls on their way to school dressed in immaculate silk Ao Dais, black pajama pants and stark white tops with slits up the sides. They passed right in front of me in single file, walking softly in sandals across the dirt road. Their clean straight black hair bounced lightly on their backs.  I was a twenty year old soldier, in Quang Ngai city for the day. They looked so young and innocent in the midst of the brutal, dirty war. I said a prayer for them to a God I wasn’t sure I believed in, asking that he protect them from the cruelty and destruction all around.

  I said to the woman who had just cut my hair, “You come from a beautiful country.” She said, “Thank you” and our eyes briefly met sharing an understanding that could not be put into words.  Two survivors from a terrible time long ago. I'm thankful she survived,  and she gave me a really good haircut.


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