Connection

(English translation of the original text Verbinding)

For years I have been coming to this hairdresser’s saloon. This is where I discovered I had curly hair, but that’s a story for another time. I love all the things that have not changed in here, in those twenty-seven years. Back then our office was located here, the beating heart of our international voluntary work. This place was my window to the world. 

Whenever I visit the hairdresser, I hope to be seated at the sink on the left. There with the lukewarm water I can drift away in pure indulgence and nostalgia, shifting between the joy of the here-and-now or submerging in memories. Head backwards, chin up, eyes on the moulding on the ceiling. I close my eyes and let those fingers firmly massage my scalp.

Exactly on this spot next to the marble fireplace was the fax, the device that connected me with the rest of the world. Here where nowadays water flows, glossy paper used to roll exasperating slow out of the machine. It was the pre-digital age. The fax was then the fastest way to transmit written messages from one far away place to the other.

Here where nowadays water flows, glossy paper used to roll exasperating slow out of the machine.

I see my younger self standing, staring full of expectation at the first readable characters rolling out of the fax. I sigh. A report of a meeting in Minsk, capital of a country that has just been declared independent. This document requires a lot of patience of me, I need to get through five pages or one and a half meters of paper if you will. The first words lead me back to the other side of the iron curtain, the Berlin wall had only recently come down. We were so eager to learn from each other, to build a better planet together. Was it naive and idealistic to think we could have the best of both worlds? As a young girl, I didn’t ask these questions and just wanted to get things done. I lived on hope.

The luxury scent of shampoo pulls me back to the here-and-now. Every root of my hair gets attention, my skull is tingling and the soft foam tickles my ears. The hairdresser is looking for the most comfortable temperature, before she holds the shower above my head again.

The moment the water runs down my hair, the fax starts rattling again in my mind. A new message flows out, the paper shiny and the ink still wet: an image of a tough cowboy inviting me to Marlboro land. How dare he, that cool fellow, advertising cigarettes by fax?

I look at the clock and see both its hands pointing east, we are already fifteen minutes late for our appointment. The fax beeps before the end of the message. A red light flashes, a warning that the ink is almost finished.

‘We’re done here. You can take a seat in the opposite chair,’ the hairdresser says, draping a black cape around my shoulders. ‘What would you like to drink?’ I stand up, take three steps and sit down in the barber chair she pointed out: ‘A coffee please.’

I look into the mirror at the empty sink and I get into my younger self again.

I look into the mirror at the empty sink and I get into my younger self again. Ready to beat the other volunteers in case a private message comes out of the machine. Then I will know that he is there, in Berlin thinking of me. The fax rings for the third time. Finally, I recognize the nicely shaped handwriting of my cowboy. I absorb his words as they roll out of the machine and I hear his choky voice say them even before the ink has dried. A warm cloud grows in my stomach when I think of his dark curls. I want to run my fingers through his hair. The only thing I can really do is cut off the piece of paper, carefully fold it in two and then once again. When the other volunteers arrive, I quickly slide the sheet into my shirt and cherish it on my skin.

‘So what will it be?’ The hairdresser puts down an elegant glass of coffee in front of me. ‘Cut it up nice and curly as usual?’ I nod. She picks up the scissors and snaps them a few times in the air before she takes a first lock. ‘Yes,’ I say smiling, ‘Curl it up.’

Draakstraat 37 in Antwerp. Nowadays a hairdressers.
Back then the International Office of SCI (Service Civil International)

Een gedachte over “Connection

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