This is going to seems like an awfully long story about getting a haircut, but stick with me, ok? There’s a payoff. Usually, my wife Heather does my hair; it’s not difficult, really. A shaver, Gary sitting, ten minutes, done. Thing is, right now I’m in Curacao, some 2,500 miles from Heather and I’ve never done it myself, which means I needed to find someone with the apparatus and skills to get the job done.
Last Sunday, I got exposed to some pretty hefty sneezing that I’m pretty sure was responsible for my developing a brutal cold this week. Stuffed nose, uvula swollen to balloonish proportions and feeling like a dagger every time I swallowed. Those were the majority of my symptoms, and just enough to start really costing me some sleep. I’m at the point in my life where a full night without a trip to the bathroom is a rare thing, and when a trip would inevitably happen, I’d swallow at some point (unrelated to the bathroom visit), get stabbed by the resulting pain and would be awake. This gave me a total of about 15-16 hours sleep for three nights. Easy to say I wasn’t in the best shape when I woke up Wednesday morning. The throat was at epically bad proportions and I had a weekend day owed to me, so knowing that I had a meeting scheduled for 11AM on the office communication system, I hauled myself out of bed, dressed, quickly decided to leave my backpack for the first time all trip and made the 20-minute drive to work.
I got in to the office and let my colleague Ryan know I couldn’t do the meeting (I literally couldn’t speak without gargling on said uvula), accepted offered empathy, wheeled and headed out. On my way home, I made a stop to get some cell phone issues taken care of, and then as I was nearing my apartment, I realized a) I wasn’t going to want to leave the apartment for the rest of the day and b) I had literally no protein in the house. This lead to my breaking a rule I’d set for myself when making the decision to come to Curacao, driving into the parking lot at McDonalds.
I parked out back, noticing there was a small guy wearing a collared shirt and a pink and black cap, sitting on the steps behind the lot. I got out of the car, headed in, got into line and in my daze, started wondering if I’d locked my door. Everyone here will tell you at first meeting that you don’t leave your car unlocked and don’t leave anything of value inside regardless. Just as I started to ponder, I was asked for my order. I got my food, headed outside, saw he was still sitting there, climbed in the car and drove off. It took about 15 seconds after I’d left the lot to recall that I’d been wondering about my locking the door. I surveyed the landscape and was suddenly hit by a white wave of numbness, pain and deflation. I’ve never taken a real shot to the nose, but I’m told it’s a similar sensation. My bag wasn’t there.
Still driving, though suddenly without direction, I phoned long time friend/colleague Elijah, who’s acted as an unofficial guide to island acclimation. I told him what happened while I was turning back towards McDonalds and he mentioned he’d have someone from human resources call me to give me instruction. I pulled back into the lot, made my way to the back and I shit you not, the dude in the pink and black hat was still there. I couldn’t believe the fucking gall. I got a call from Ursula in HR, but I didn’t answer it. I was too busy getting out of the car, a mountain of bald, Jewish fury looking to salvage the situation.
I approached the guy, solidly build but certainly smaller than me. Under the hat was a light-skinned face (for the island…everyone here is a shade of brown of some sort, myself now included) with brown freckles. He was probably in his early 30s. He looked up as I approached, caught my gaze and maintained it. This was the guy.
“Where is my bag?”
He just looked at me.
“Where. Is. My. Bag!!”
He gave me the no hablo inglais routine, all the while holding my stare with a wry smile on his face.
“Give me my bag!”
I tried bartering with him. I told him that he could have the (plentiful) money in the bag, just give me back my laptop and my passport (did I mention how serious this bag was?). No recognition. It started to dawn on me that he really didn’t speak English.
“No hablo Inglais? OK. Come” and I waved a hand. He got up and followed me back into the waiting room of the small business behind the McDonalds that he may or may not have been patronizing.
We made our way to the reception area where I approached the woman behind it, still simmering. I asked if she spoke English and, a little startled, she replied that she indeed did. I started by asking her to translate for me that the bag in question was very important, that he had no use for the passport and (locked) laptop, my stream of consciousness gathering steam and her eyes reflecting that she was getting lost. Meanwhile, old No Hablo had started gibbering in Spanish, also to her, and the poor woman started to drown in multi-lingual sensory overload. Finally, he walked away and I turned to her and said through her confusion. “Is he a client?”
“Do you have his contact information?”
“OK, I need you to keep it available. I may be back with the police.”
I walked back outside and he was standing by his stair-stoop, talking with an older gentleman, casting me disparaging looks as the old guy waved a hand dismissing me, with an annoyed look on his face. I circled the lot, looking in the backs seats of the assembled parked cars to make sure the bag wasn’t in any of them. Finally, I climbed back in the car and started driving back towards my apartment. I called Ursula back and told her what happened. She told me to stay at McDonalds and that someone would be by to pick me up and take me to the police station. I started weaving my way through the mostly-disorganized streets in the area, trying to figure out the long way back to the lot (everything here is one way). As I did, I called Heather, told her I was freaking out, that I needed her to help me collect myself and to brace herself. Then, I told her what had happened.
After a momentary shock, Heather went into diffuse mode. She empathized, told me we’d be ok, that there are worse things in the world and then asked are you sure you had the bag?
It hit me lightly first, then like a ton of bricks. In all of my emotional, sleep deprived confusion, there was a momentary glimpse of the morning, of the decision to not take my bag with me. Holy shit, was it back at the apartment? I told Heather, yelling, that it may well be. I hung up, called Ursula and told her to hold off on sending someone for five minutes, sped home, dashed from the car up the steps to my apartment, screwed up the unlocking mechanism about eight times in my jangling frenzy and finally stormed into the apartment to see the backpack, open on my bed, the laptop where I left it. The passport was there too. The money was there too.
After shaking in relief for about 15 seconds, I called Ursula, Heather and Elijah and let them know all was well. Then, in an act that I’ve been told since is truly Canadian, I drove back to McDonalds to apologize to the man in the pink and black hat, but he was gone. Gone too was the receptionist and most of the patrons (a not unusual occurrence here), with the only one left the old, dismissive man. He spoke a little English and when I told him what had happened and that I wanted to apologize, he empathized but told me there was nothing he could do. He didn’t know the man in the hat well enough to have his contact info. I asked that, if this man were still here when the receptionist returned, that he ask her to reach out with the apology on my behalf. I went home, climbed into bed and ate my now-cold burger and my gone-clammy fries. I didn’t sleep much, but I didn’t leave the bed much either.
The next morning, still wielding my throat dagger, I had another meeting, so I figured I’d head into work for a few hours, try to get what I could done, take the meeting and then resume double fisting vitamin C and tea. When I arrived, I bumped into Sandra, the woman who’d met me at the airport when I arrived in country and who’d shown me around the island. While talking, I realized I still needed to find a hairdresser and asked about it, but I put her off when she suggested she could take me then and there.
I set to working, responded to departmental emails, did my meeting and felt like I’d actually managed to get something accomplished. I was starting to fade just as Sandra came back and asked if now would be a good time to go. I consented, we hopped in our cars and headed on a five-minute drive through an area I hadn’t been through before. We finally pulled up at a pretty obvious hair place for men, parked, and got out of our cars. I lead her through the tightly packed mini-lot to the front doors and walked inside and there, leaning against the counter, was the pink and black hat.
Our reactions were instantaneous and diametrically opposed. He froze in place while I exploded with effusive apology, none of which he understood of course. He quickly looked behind me, seeing Sandra wasn’t a cop, let down his guard and immediately started speaking to a colleague while I rushed him, a huge smile on my face, grateful for the opportunity to apologize. I hurriedly explained the story to Sandra, who speaks about eleventy-billion languages and promptly brokered an apology through her translation. He told me back how afraid he’d been of this frantic, oversized jackass who kept yelling at him in indecipherable English. We marveled. We laughed. We shook hands. After introducing himself as Leo, he shaved my head.
I won’t lie and say I didn’t have flashes of mob-style barbershop whack jobs as I sat there at his mercy, but the man did a hell of a good job, almost earning the ludicrous tip I gave him in part as reparations. As we left, he told me I had a friend in Curacao, and that if I ever needed my haircut, he was the guy to see. I don’t plan on seeing anyone else.
As Sandra and I left, still laughing, I marveled at the chances of the encounter. “It’s a small island” she reasoned, but I mean, it’s 150,000 people. What are the chances that I, more or less shuttling between home and office exclusively while sick, would find him that quickly and get my chance to make some small amends? I have next-door neighbors back in Bradford I don’t see for weeks at a time. I don’t explain it as anything more than fortuitous chance. The best kind.
So anyways, yeah. I finally got my haircut.