When Your Barber Mistakes You for a Pedophile

One of those days when you wish you never left the house.

An illustration showing Sayed Kashua with a comb and a pair of scissors hovering above his head.
Amos Biderman

I rarely leave the house. In the summer, when I don’t have to take the kids to school, a whole week can go by without my having to go outside. It’s hot in the summer, and sometimes there are brief but heavy rainfalls, or a strong wind begins to blow without any warning, bringing with it hail the size of ping-pong balls, as they like to say here on the news. The summer storms always calm me, provided that everyone in the family is home and safe. There are few things I like more than a lightning storm to accompany me to bed.

“You have to get a haircut,” my wife declared this week. Somehow, of all my bad qualities, she’s most disgusted with me when my hair gets too long.

“But it’s summer, and I don’t go out,” I said in self-defense.

“You also have to get out of the house,” she added. “Just look at you.”

So I took my middle child and we went to the barbershop. I don’t have a regular barber here; I’ve despaired of the attempt to find one. I get my hair cut in all kinds of chain barbershops. Sometimes my wife makes me do it in the midst of shopping, so I often end up getting my hair cut at Walmart. It’s got one of those big barbershops with lots of chairs. And all the barbers there are women. Each one who finishes a haircut goes to the reception counter, where there’s a computer with a list of names of the new clients, and they call out the name of the next person in line, who proceeds to the newly vacated chair.

“So, who wants to go first?” the barber at the counter asked us on this particular day. I patted my son’s head: “He’ll go first,” I said, and the barber told my son to follow her. A few minutes later, another barber finished a haircut, punched something into the computer and called out my name – well, she called out something that reminded me of my name, but to be on the safe side I checked whether any of the other clients responded before I got up from the waiting area, in case there was another long-haired guy whose name also has an “S” and a “D.”

I followed the young barber; her hair was too yellow, her arms too tattooed. The locals here have a tattoo fetish. I sat in the chair and gazed at the serious look on my son’s face – he was staring hard into the mirror in front of him, two chairs away from me. “How would like your hair done?” the barber asked. For some reason I tried to be clever. I pointed at my son, who didn’t notice me, and said, with a big smile of paternal pride, “I want to look like him.” The barber cast her glance at the 11-year-old boy sitting to my left and made a face that worried me. For sure she thought I was a pedophile – both a Muslim and a pedophile.

“What’s that supposed to be?” my wife asked when we got home. She complimented my son on his haircut but took fright when she saw what the barber had done to me.

“I tell you, she thought I’m a pedophile,” I said. “But it really makes no difference to me – a little gel and no one will notice.”

“So why didn’t you say he’s your son?” a young Israeli physicist asked me, as we talked over a beer that evening at my usual bar. He laughed really hard and said I was a nut case. He didn’t notice any problems with my hair, but what he did notice was that a woman who was with a large group of local tattooed types was occasionally staring at me. “‘Bro, I tell you, there’s a blonde over there who keeps looking at you.”

“Walla,” I replied in surprise, because without the semi-celeb status that once symbolized the illusion of success that I had harbored, I didn’t think anyone would forgive me for my appearance.

“No,” the physicist said in reply to my question, “not admiring looks. No, I wouldn’t say that.” Only then did I look at the table the physicist was talking about: It was the barber.

“What a charmer you are,” he added. “Let’s just hope her friends don’t come over and beat us up.”

We called an Uber to go home, despite our criticism of the corporation. Our town doesn't have taxis that cruise the streets, so Uber is the most convenient way to get home after an evening of drinking. The app showed that the driver was a minute away from us, and revealed his Arab name.

“You keep quiet,” I told the Israeli physicist. “Let me do all the talking.”

"What talking?” he laughed. “What are you prattling about?”

“Does Israel have Uber already?” I asked him, thinking that drivers with Arab names would undoubtedly deter some Israeli passengers. I wondered how Uber would go about determining destinations considered legitimate and those that aren’t, mark the boundaries of what’s permissible and what’s not, and suit passengers to the driver’s origins. Uber works according to how far the passenger is from the driver, but in Israel that distance would probably be calculated according to religious, national, ethnic and economic disparities.

We sat in the back seat. The driver, who had a stylized beard, immediately asked where we were from – my name appeared on his screen. Palestine, I told him. Thrilled, he turned toward us and said in Arabic that he was originally from Hebron, that is, a village near Hebron; he had then spent 20 years in Jordan before moving here 12 years ago. “Are you also from Palestine?” he asked the physicist, who did not have a Middle Eastern appearance. Even though I gave him a look to keep his mouth shut, my friend replied immediately, in Arabic he’d learned in high school, “Ana min Israil.” I hoped the driver would think he was speaking Dothraki. But his smile vanished and the congenial Palestinian “ahlan wasahlan” approach turned serious.

“And are you a Muslim?” he asked me, his tone of voice expecting that the answer would be negative. But I was too drunk to lie. “Alhamdulillah,” praise be to God, I responded, in order to demonstrate my integrity, fighting the feeling of national betrayal that will forever accompany me.

The driver did not reply, only opened a window while muttering “Astaghfirullah” (a request of forgiveness from mighty God), which I took to reflect his disgust at my alcohol-drenched inanities. Why did I ever leave the house, I thought, and somehow my uptightness only made the physicist laugh. He tried to hold in his fits of laughter, occasionally mumbling, “Sorry, ‘bro.”

“Did you hear about that guy from Orlando?” the driver suddenly asked me. “That murderer from Orlando?”

“Yes, sure. Of course I did. Terrible,” I said to the driver, and thought that maybe there would be a storm tonight, after all.