Twenty years since I last came here. When the cost of a haircut was in the single digits. The salon had been uprooted from its original corner and made it’s way across to the other end, with 2 stops in between. After this, there would be nowhere left to go. The capacity of the salon had since grown from one to two. I wondered if the staff count had doubled as well.
I was without a means of transport for the day and had to go somewhere close for a trim. What I considered a decent saloon all those years ago, now appeared shady and rundown. I entered with a little trepidation. I was the only customer and as soon as I entered the barber smiled with recognition. He was the same barber from two decades ago. His signature limp left me with no doubt as to his identity. How could he possibly have recognized me from all that time ago? He must have served thousands of different customers since I last went there.
“How have you been sir? It’s been a while hasn’t it,” he said. Luckily the conversation did not proceed into uncomfortable territory like where had I been cutting my hair all these years. I sat down to get my hair cut. He sprayed my hair with water and I began to settle in when a burly gentleman sat down in the vacant chair next to me. He was bald but possessed a substantial beard. The kind of beard I would never achieve even if I went two decades without shaving.
“The other guy isn’t in yet, so I’ll be right with you after I’m done with him.” the barber said to him. He replied with a grunt in acknowledgement. He pulled out a bulky phone, the kind you only saw two decades ago and began to talk.
“Hey,” he said. “I just called to confirm if you took care of yesterday’s thing”. “Our clients are getting desperate as the date is getting closer. You and I both know that this whole thing has just been blown out of proportion. But our window of opportunity is closing and we need to make as much as we can from these suckers before they realize the truth.” This conversation caught my attention. While it didn’t sound like an illegal enterprise I sensed there was something shady going on. He also didn’t seem to care about strangers overhearing his conversation.
He continued “Remember, we only have a month left. We need at least five more clients to be able to hit our targets. Make up something if you need to.”
I wasn’t exactly focusing on what the barber was doing and he had cut my hair much shorter than I had wanted. It was better to wrap this up before things got worse. I looked at myself in the mirror. I said to the barber “I think I will get a shave as well” The other guy glanced towards me, but he was still in the middle of his conversation and started talking once more.
“Yeah I’m at the barber.” he said. “The other guy isn’t in yet so I’m waiting till he finishes with another customer. I don’t mind waiting. We found so many of our clients right here anyway.”
My curiosity began to get the better of me. Directly asking him what this business was that he was engaged in was out of the question.
“Hold on” he said to his partner. “Let me step outside for a minute. This was my chance to get some info on him from the barber.
“Hey, who is that guy? And what kind of work is he involved in, that lets him find clients in a hair salon.” I said
The barber replied “Oh, that guy. He and his buddy run a software business.”
“OK” I said. “But how does he find his clients in your salon?” The barber said “People, often come here not to just get some styling done. They also share life’s joys and worries with me. These days, as the end of the decade approaches all these businesses that depend on computers are worried about this thing called Y2K”
“What?” I said. I was well aware of that problem from the year 2000. Because of the way computer systems had been coded there were major problems anticipated to occur when the clock hit January 1st 2000. Ultimately very few major issues ended up happening.
I snapped back to the present and said to the barber “That was a problem from 20 years ago. I never heard of anything like this anticipated for this year.”
“What do you mean sir?” he said. “Isn’t it supposed to be an urgent matter before the year 2000 arrives.” I looked at him with a quizzical expression. I had never known him to be the kind of guy who would fool around with a customer. He continued “These guys who are worried about their systems failing, I connect them with the guy you just saw step outside. If they end up making a deal I get a nice commission. Works out well for both of us.”
“But its the year 2019” I said. “The Y2K problem was blown out proportion.” He looked at me now with a strange expression. He pulled out a newspaper and handed it to me. It was dated Dec 2nd 1999. Was somebody pulling an elaborate prank on me? The bald guy came back in. I peered closely at his phone. It looked like a classic Nokia phone with a monochrome display. I whipped out my phone to check the date. The same date as the newspaper 2nd Dec 1999. A sense of panic began to rise within me. I asked the barber to finish up. I paid him and stepped outside.
Everything looked just like it always did. I pulled out my cellphone and looked at the date again. 2nd Dec 2019. I ran back into the salon. The bald guy had settled in for his shave. The barber asked me “Did you leave anything behind sir?”
“No” I said. “Can you show me the newspaper again?” He handed it over and it was the same date as before. I checked my cellphone again. 2nd December 1999. I looked at the other guy and said to him “That’s a nice looking phone. Which model is that?” He said “It’s a Nokia 5110. It just launched earlier this year. Super compact” I searched for it on my phone browser. It had indeed launched in 1999. This could no longer be a prank.
I exited and looked up at the board showing the Salon’s name. The paint had almost fallen away. It was covered with grime and dust but I managed to make out its name “A Cut in Time”