Susanne Schnitzler: Der Friseur, der niemals sprach

The Silent Hairdresser

When I was four my mother took me to this hairdresser’s named Gruber for the first time. „The small one shall only have a look today“, she told the kind young lady behind the desk who smiled and lead us to the dressing tables where I got a colouring book and some pencils. „Mr. Gruber will be here in a flash“, she said and went back to the reception.

I was just clambering the wobbly swivel-chair, which was still way too high for me, when Mr. Gruber appeared behind my mother’s back. I noticed how she caught his glance and smiled. Then she nodded lightly. He swung the cape around her shoulders and gently pulled her down until her neck touched the wash-bowl. Then he started to dance a wordless duet with my mother and I sat, my mouth wide open, completely absorbed in watching the performance. Mr. Gruber moved as light-fooded as the best ballet dancer. He did the washing and rinsing; he added the finest shade of lightbrown you could imagine; he carefully snipped and clipped and put the strands in big pink curlers. Every now and then he would look into the mirror to catch my mother’s eye as if to anticipate her every wish.

At last he switched the hairdryer on, turned around and waved to someone I could not see. He smiled, bowed to my mother, pushed my fringe back from my face and without saying a word he went over to a new customer to dance his silent dance for her.

I was still staring at Mr. Gruber, when suddenly the young receptionist appeared between us and broke the spell. She put a cup of hot coffee on a small table between our chairs. „Would you like some milk or sugar?“, she asked gently.

„Neither, thank you“, replied my mother and looked at the magazines the young woman had slipped in her hand.

I climbed down and snuggled up to my mother. „Mom?“
„Yes, darling?“
„The man did not speak. Why?“
My mother seemed to be taken by surprise. „Why, I don’t know.“ Thoughtfully she swirled my curls around her finger. „And I don’t know whether the reason is important. I like people to be taciturn. Silence is golden.“
„That woman there is no gold, is she?“ The other customer had been talking in a very loud voice ever since she had entered the room and it doesn’t look as if she would stop now sitting under the dryer and struggling to be heard over its humming.
My mother laughed out loud and gently put her hand over my mouth. „Hush. Sit down now. It won’t take long.“

During the following years while I grew up I often went with my mother and I always admired this perfect dance and the wordless understanding between Mr. Gruber and his customers. There were always lots of them in his salon and the people loved „their“ hairdresser madly. But nobody ever knew anything about him – where he had come from, where he lived, whether he was married or why – above all – he never ever spoke a word with his customers.

Later I went to Mr. Gruber to get my hair cut – and indeed: It was pleasure to simply sit down and hear nothing but the low sound of snipping scissors and the humming of the dryer. You could definitely hear yourself think. And as time went by the interieur changed but never did Mr. Gruber. But even for him the flow of time could not stop.

One afternoon I went over to Mr. Gruber’s with my own four year old little daughter at my side. Just as I many years ago she should now make her first visit to „our“ hairdresser’s.

And it was just on that special day that the sign appeared in the window. I dare not say that I would have never expected a thing like that to happen – but now? Of all days? It was kind of a shock to read the announcement so unexpectedly.

I opened the door and pushed my daughter gently over the threshold. Mr. Gruber stood at the reception – small and a bit worn. His marvelous dance had seemed to become more and more difficult for him and even now he hold tight to the desk. He slipped a glass of champagne into my hand and smiled. Then he looked at my daughter and pushed her fringe back from her face. And it was the first time ever since anyone here knew him that he talked.

„Y-you were one of my m-most faithful c-customers. Th-th-thank y-you.“ He blushed, but he managed not to blink. „M-my wife is in the back r-room. P-please m-meet her.“

For a moment I could only stare at him. Then I took his hand and said: „Thank you, Mr. Gruber. Thank you for everything.“

(translated under the name of Michael Mollroney 2006, 2006)