I had a dream that I grew a fantastic moustache that curled at its tips and tickled the bottoms of my cheeks when I smiled. It was a thick, large moustache that weighed heavily on my face. All the men and women from my office gathered in a circle around me when they noticed its growth and began chanting their approval and bowing in worship as they congratulated me on my new and glorious sportage. Their own beards and moustaches seemed small and patchy compared to my own and they knew it, but I wasn’t ungracious to their worship. A Polaroid the size of a large mirror was taken of me and handed to me to hold up for the crowd’s worship. I looked at the vast square photograph before holding it up. It was bigger than my body but as light as a feather. My head was ten times larger than in life in the Polaroid. The flash of the camera had highlighted streaks of grey running through the moustache that made me look distinguished and superior to my co-workers. When I finally held the photograph up, high above my head so the people at the back of the huge crowd that had gathered could see, there were screams of delight and several people fainted from excitement and jealousy. One man barged through the screaming crowd, knocking several people onto the floor where they writhed and carried on worshipping next to the fainted, and came up to me. My boss, Mr Grey. He wore a grey suit and sported a grey beard that hung past his grey shirt collar. He bobbed up and down as he spoke to me with the excitement of the crowd. Clear spit dangling from stray strands of his beard whirled around with the movement of his head.
"I say, Miss Ward what a fantastic moustache you've grown! And so soon after our meeting about your inability to grow facial hair as a hindrance to you getting promoted!"
I stroked my moustache mysteriously.
"Well, I'm an efficient worker, Mr Grey, you should know this. I've worked with you for several years now and my work is always done efficiently and quickly. Quicker than anyone else in my position. Of course, I always understood you favoured the others because of their facial hair, not anything silly like them being better workers, so I solved the problem because I'm ambitious, you see. I’m ambitious!”
Another college stepped forward. The young man who always seemed to be standing in front of the water fountain at work who I used to want to sleep with before I found out what he'd been saying about my lack of facial hair and how unattractive I was without it.
"Is that you, Lynda?" The young man asked, his own facial hair having been sheared by floating dream razors so roughly that his smooth quivering chin had bloody cuts, touched his now bare upper lip and ripped open his shirt before falling to his knees before me. "How wrong I was when I said you were unattractive! Look at that glorious moustache! Good God! God, come down here and look at this moustache. It’s glorious! It makes me want to kiss you on the mouth! Yes! You heard! It makes me want to kiss you right on that hairy upper lipped mouth!"
And that is what he did, but I pushed him away because my moustache, which I then realised was growing bigger every second, was getting too big to even feel him on my lips. Besides, he wasn’t very attractive without his beard. The young man stumbled from my push into the crowd and promptly disappeared with the rest of the men leaving only the woman from my office to continue in worship. The woman’s facial hair was more petite than in real life. They all had small goatees or soul patches or jaw lining stubble or sideburns or patchy handlebars or Van dykes, and none were as impressive as mine. Jealousy fountained from their mouths alongside their worship whenever they tried to speak, and it was a green liquid flecked with gold. It arced in the air as it left their mouths and fell into my open mouth. I drank their jealousy like a fine wine, swirling it around my mouth before spitting it into a bucket and getting bits caught in strands of my moustache.
“How did you do it, Lynda… tell us, Lynda… it’s not impressive… I’ve seen better… my grandma had a better moustache… I bet the whore gets all the men now… I bet the whore doesn’t want men, I bet she wants us… Jesus, that’s a fantastic moustache… that is an exceptional moustache… that is a one of a kind, bona fide, dignified, magnified moustache… I’ve never seen such a moustache… why wasn’t I given such a moustache… fuck her moustache… yeah! Fuck her moustache… I love her moustache.”
Just as their admiration and jealousy reached a fever pitch, I woke up.
My alarm went off, I woke up and my upper lip was bare. I knew before I even touched it. It was shivering in the cold morning air. I touched my face desperately in search of any hairs that might have escaped the dream with me, but there were none.
I got out of bed and got into the shower. I held my face directly under the stream and put the water on freezing cold and then abruptly switched it back to hot every few minutes because I’d read that it stimulated the pores and aided hair growth. I got out of the shower and dried myself. The towel stopped at my pubic hair like every morning and I stared at the drops of water caught there. It was as thick and bushy and glorious as any facial hair that I’d ever seen in the office. It was black with patches of brown and the hairs were so thick and wiry that small monkeys could have swung from individual strands like they were vines in the rainforest. I hated the hair for growing in a place where nobody ever saw it instead of on my face.
I dressed in a grey pantsuit, made some breakfast and ate it slowly. It was six in the morning and the sun hadn’t risen yet. I stared at the dark sky through a window and spooned milk and cereal into my mouth slowly until it turned seven. I left the house at seven and walked to the train station a mile away from my house. I waited for my delayed train on the crowded platform and got jostled back and forth by hairy-faced people who flinched away from my touch when they saw my bare face. Finally I noticed a free spot on a metal bench and sat down next to a young girl and boy who were sprawled out and holding each other tightly. The girl had a thick moustache that connected spectacularly with sideburns just as thick. The boy had a large beard that hung from the bottom half of his face. The girl, noticing me sitting down, pulled away from the boy and smiled until she saw my bare face. She edged away from me abruptly.
“If you think you can sit here and ask for tips on how to grow facial hair, you can stand right back up because I haven’t got any,” she said suddenly.
I looked down at the floor and shook my head.
“I wasn’t going to,” I whispered.
“Some people just can’t grow them. You’re one of them. I think it’s disgusting, but not everyone thinks that it’s so disgusting. Some people don’t mind. Fred has been with a girl without any, haven’t you Fred?”
Fred was avoiding even glancing in my direction.
“What?” He said.
“You’ve been with someone without facial hair, haven’t you? You told me that once.”
Fred still didn’t look at me.
“No, I haven’t. What are you talking about?”
He looked uncomfortable and shifted in his seat.
“You told me when we first met, remember? So, I wouldn’t hear it from someone else and get the wrong idea? You said you didn’t mind them.”
The boy flushed red.
“I was drunk when it happened, and I mind them. Christ, I mind them. I was just drunk. And I told you that in confidence,” he hissed angrily and turned his back on both of us.
The girl turned to him and tried to apologise. When the train came the boy leapt up and ran onto it a few doors away from where we were sitting before the girl could even stand. The girl stood up and walked to the train window his angry head was visible in.
“It’s not my fault you did something so disgusting!” She shouted before hurrying off the platform.
I waited until everyone had left the platform and got on the train with my head down just before it departed.
Getting off the train, I left the station and walked up the long street to my office building in Colmore Row. Arriving at the office, I avoided looking at the security officer and showed him my ID card.
“What happened to that moustache, love? Are you ill? Is it ever gonna grow back?” He laughed sarcastically as he did every morning he was working.
I’d been wearing a fake moustache for the first few weeks I’d been at the office, having worn it to the job interview to get the job in the first place, and the photograph on the ID card was of me with it on. It had been a very expensive moustache wig, very real looking, and no one had been able to tell it wasn’t real until an unfortunate incident in the canteen where the glue had come unstuck and the moustache fell off into my soup. I never dared buying another one after that incident.
I spent the first hour of the workday in my small square office with the blinds pulled down so no one could look in. I worked furiously copy-writing several ads that I’d been putting off doing for used car dealerships, and just before the bell for lunch went off I was done. I ignored the lunch bell as usual, ate alone in my office and spent the rest of the time researching hair growth stimulants and prices for facial hair transplants on the computer. I didn’t find any new stimulants and all the hair transplants were too expensive, just like every day I looked.
When I couldn’t hear any movement on the office floor, I peeked through my blinds to make sure it was empty. There was a new woman I’d never seen before sitting in the sales team section with a blonde beard braided in a Viking style, but no one else. With a sigh, I opened my door and quickly walked towards the elevator in the centre of the room, keeping my head turned away from the woman. The woman looked up at the sound of my footprints and twirled her braided beard around her hand in shock when she saw my face.
“I don’t like that. I don’t like that at all,” I heard her mutter.
I got onto the elevator and rode it to the top floor. There was only one office on the top floor and it belonged to the owner of the company, Mr Grey.
I knocked on his office door and pulled my shirt collar up so that covered the bottom half of my face as much as possible.
“COME IN!” Mr Grey shouted, and I opened the door to his office.
Mr Grey sat at his desk. He didn’t look up until I coughed.
“Yes?” He asked.
“Hello, Mr Grey,” I said quietly.
“How can I help?”
“I was just wondering if you’d thought any more about the promotion.”
Mr Grey stood up and walked over to his window and sighed dramatically.
“If you look on the system you’ll see I’ve finished all of my work for the day and logged it. No one else has finished,” I carried on.
Mr Grey looked at me from the window.
“Didn’t we speak about this last week? This week. Yesterday, in fact, Miss Ward?”
I looked down and didn’t answer.
Mr Grey hit his hand with a clenched fist.
“And didn’t I tell you that as far as I can say the promotion has, I repeat HAS to go to someone who has facial hair? It’s a matter of principle for the company. It’s an executive role. You would have to meet potential promotional sponsors and come face to face with existing clients. I just don’t think they’d be happy seeing that…”
Mr Grey gestured to my face.
“But my work is better than anyone else’s on the floor. Better than Sandra’s and Mickey’s and Paul’s. Better than everyone's. It’s done quicker too.”
“That’s true. You know it’s true. They know it’s true. I know it’s true. But what’s also true is that this company doesn’t thrive on good work, it thrives on public relations, sponsors, clients and appearance. And your appearance just doesn’t fit the appearance we want to appear to the public. I’m sorry.”
I nodded slowly.
“You’re the best worker we have, Miss Ward, and that isn’t a lie. But we employed you under the impression that you had a moustache, and we were good to you by not getting rid of you as soon as we found out you were lying. But if this facial hair situation doesn’t change, and change soon, it’s not just this promotion you’ll be losing. Do you understand?”
“I am trying, sir. I’m reading guides and following advice, but nothing works,” I stammered.
Mr Grey ran his fingers through his grey beard and tangled some hairs around.
“My advice would be to wish upon a star if that’s the case, Miss Ward. Wish hard. Miracles do come true sometimes.”
Walking over to me, he delicately touched my shoulder.
“Let me tell you something, Miss Ward. Something only my mother knows. I used to be barefaced,” he swallowed in disgust as he spat out the last word. “I used to be as bare as a baby’s bottom. I used to stare at my hairy chest and wonder why I’d been blessed elsewhere, but not where it was important. So, I wished, and I prayed. I got to my knees every night, as people do when they pray. I’d been given a lock of my sister’s beard when she died, and I tapped that lock across my upper lip as I prayed and I wished that I’d be granted a perfect beard. One that would bring shame and envy to my fellow men and women and let me have the courage to start the business I desired.”
Mr Grey stopped speaking for a moment as tears gathered in the corner of his eyes. He used the end of his long beard to mop them away.
“After a few days of wishing so fervently like that, I woke up, and I… I swear this is true, I had a full moustache. A full and thick moustache. I was so pleased that I sobbed and phoned my mother, who’d hadn’t spoken to me since she’d kicked me out after realising I couldn’t grow facial hair. The very next day, after another night of wishing, a beard had grown to match the moustache. A beard as long as the one I wear now. Such a beard that when I went into the bank for the fourth time after being rejected to ask for a business start-up loan they let me sign the papers on the spot and gave me double what I asked for with minimal interest. And that was the beginning of this company, Miss Ward.”
Shocked, I let my collar drop away from the bottom half of my face. Mr Grey, uncomfortable at being so close to my smooth upper lip, backed away. He ran his beard between his hands and sat back down behind his desk. Deeming that it was too dry, he pulled a bottle of beard oil from a drawer, squirted some in his hands and began combing and massaging it into his beard.
“So, Miss Ward. Pray and hope. Tape a lock of facial hair to your face and pray and wish and hope.”
“Why have you never told me you used to be like me, sir?” I asked.
“It isn’t a story I like to share. What if my normal employees found out? They’d lose all respect for me.”
His grey beard shimmered from the oil and he dabbed at it with a handkerchief while looking at himself in a small mirror on his desk.
“Now, I am very busy, Miss Ward. So…”
“I don’t have any locks of facial hair I can use.”
Mr Grey considered me for a moment before methodically taking a pair of gleaming scissors from his desk drawer and cutting a small lock of hair from his shiny beard. He kept the strands together by wrapping an elastic band around them and when I walked over he pressed the lock into the palm of my hand. It was greasy from the oil, but I squeezed it and put it in my pocket.
“Thank you, sir,” I whispered.
He’d already looked away and was pretending to fill in paperwork. He waved a hand at me and I left quietly.
At five o’clock the bell that told everyone that the workday was over rang. Peeking through my blinds again, I watched everyone stand up, leave their desks, and pile out of the building. I waited until everyone had left and then gathered my things, locked my office and left as well. You had to pass through the canteen on the way out of the building and in there I saw the young man who’d been shaved in my dream leaning up as usual against the water fountain. He still had his facial hair outside the dream, a shadow-like stubble, and he was speaking to Jessica Tidbury, a woman with an office a few doors from mine. Jessica had a delicate moustache, so thin and blonde it was almost translucent. She was playing with the ends of it with her tongue as she spoke to the man and he was watching transfixed. The ends of her moustache were curled and wet with spit.
They didn’t see me, and I tried unsuccessfully to not stare at them as I made my way through the canteen. I prayed they wouldn’t notice me. As I moved slowly towards the exit, the man leaned in and kissed Jessica. Her eyes flickered shut and her hands reached up and caressed the man's shadowed cheeks and chin. His hands went to her face and he curled the tips of her moustache between his fingers as they kissed. As they kissed, they made groaning noises and moved as if they were dancing until they blocked the only route to the exit. I was already in the aisle their bodies had shifted into and I had to quickly crouch a few meters away, so a small table hid me. I waited, hidden, for them to move again so I didn’t have to hear them say anything cruel.
The lock of beard hair Mr Grey had given me was in my hand, and I rubbed it between two fingers as I watched them. I realised I wasn’t as well hidden as I thought I was when Jessica pulled away from the man, opened her eyes and widened them when she saw me straight away. I pretended to have been bending to tie my shoelaces, even though I was wearing pumps without laces, before standing up.
“Is that you, Lynda? What the hell are you doing?” Jessica called.
“I was just tying my shoelaces.”
The man turned and looked me up and down.
“You haven’t got any shoelaces,” he said.
Acting surprised, I looked at my shoes.
“Were you staring at us? Watching us?” Jessica asked, her tongue playing with her facial hair again.
I turned my face away from them as much as possible.
“No,” I mumbled.
Jessica moved to get a better look at me, and I turned away so she couldn’t. The man moved with her and rubbed his face. I could hear the sandpaper noise of his hand on the hair.
“Still haven’t grown anything I see,” Jessica laughed.
“I can’t,” I said.
“Everyone can. If they want to.”
“I want to. But I can’t.”
Jessica jumped around the table before I could react and stared straight at me. I hunched my shoulders up as if I could pull my head down between my shoulder blades like a tortoise and moved backwards.
“You’re ugly without any,” Jessica said matter-of-factly.
The man, without my noticing, had slipped behind me so that I banged into his chest as I tried to move backwards. I turned quickly and faced him.
“You are,” he confirmed.
“Mr Grey says he wants me to grow one or I might get fired,” I looked down.
I was standing between them and they folded their arms as they looked at me.
“It’s bad for customer relations, I guess,” Jessica nodded. “I would have fired you a long time ago. I wouldn’t even have hired you.”
“I would have fired you when you wore that fake moustache and it fell off and landed in your soup,” the man laughed and shook his head.
“Mr Grey doesn’t want to fire me. He said I’m a good worker. Mr Grey’s helping me to grow something. He gave me something,” I said.
“What is it?”
“Just a tip. He said that it helped hi… a friend of his to grow some facial hair.”
“A tip? That’s it? I could give you a tip,” the man laughed again. “Though none of them would work.”
“Do you think it will work?” Jessica asked me.
“I don’t know.”
“I don’t think it will work,” Jessica said.
“I don’t think it will work either,” the man said.
I’d wriggled from between them so that I was closer to the exit door than they were, but before I could make a dash for the door, Jessica put her hand on my shoulder. Her fingers dug into the bone there and held me in place. I was desperate to get away.
“I can hope it will work anyway,” I said, trying to get out from underneath Jessica’s hand.
“I don’t think your hope will do much. You’ll be ugly like this for the rest of your life,” Jessica smiled and dug her fingers in harder.
“Yes! Yes! Ugly!” The man called jovially, chanting to back up Jessica’s words.
“You’ll be stuck all alone for the rest of your life,” Jessica carried on, digging her fingers into me harder with each word. “You’ll make an ugly corpse.”
“Ugly corpse! Yes! Yes!”
“Do your family like to see you looking like this? Or have they got the same disability?”
“Yes! Yes! Disability!”
“Please… stop… you’re hurting me!” I cried to Jessica.
I pushed on her bare arm with both hands.
Jessica did stop. With a cry of disgust, she moved away from my hands as if a touch from them would curse her to facial baldness as well. Her hands flew up to her face to make sure her moustache was still there. She coiled the tips between her fingers and sighed in relief.
“I really wish I could grow one. I really wish I could. I really wish and I really dream about it every night,” I stammered softly. “But I can’t. Maybe the tip will work. I don’t know. I don’t know why you want to hurt me when I’m already hurting. Please, just stop hurting me.”
Jessica let go of her moustache and shook her head. The man almost looked ashamed at my stammering. Jessica didn’t look ashamed. She grabbed the man’s arm and pulled him to her. They kissed again and Jessica rubbed her forehead on his bristles. When she pulled away there was a red rash-like mark there. Jessica looked at me, shook her head, pulled the man’s arm and left the canteen.
On the train home there was a delay while they removed a dead fox from the tracks. They announced it over the intercom and announced that the train would stay where it was, delayed, for an hour. The train was nearly empty and the only passengers there were sat as far away from me as possible, some even moving carriages. While waiting for the train to move, I looked out the window at the sky and the setting sun. The sunset made the sky orange and purple and beautiful, but I didn’t care. I was waiting impatiently for the sun to set fully so that the moon or stars could appear. It took half an hour, but when they finally did, I took Mr Grey’s beard hair from my pocket, held the lock of hair tightly to my upper lip, stared at my reflection and prayed.
My reflection looked back at me praying and I was struck at how beautiful I was with the beard hair held to my lip. Suddenly I was a rose with petals whereas before I’d been a rose without. The grey of the hair looked out of place with the black of my real hair, but I didn’t mind. I prayed that the hair would sink its way into my pores and become part of me. I prayed Jessica would develop a condition that didn’t just rid her of her moustache but got rid of every single piece of hair on her body. I prayed that my moustache, when I grew one, would be wiry and thick and would tickle my cheeks when I smiled. I prayed I would grow a moustache that meant that I didn’t lose my job. I prayed people would be jealous and that they would stop being unkind and hurting me. I prayed that my facial hair would grow as quickly as my pubic hair grew and that it would be luscious black, or streaked with grey, or white, or even rainbow coloured just so long as it grew. I prayed so hard that my cheeks trembled and my face and vision turned red from the effort. I pressed Mr Grey’s hair so hard against my face that it hurt, but I didn’t stop. As I prayed the train started moving and I prayed until it was time for me to get off.
At home, I got into the shower and did the same routine as the morning. The hard jet stream stung my face. I held it there for five minutes. I got out of the shower and got changed. I kept Mr Grey’s hair in my dressing gown pocket and touched it now and then. I felt hopeful. I went down to the kitchen and made dinner and ate it slowly while watching the T.V and exploring the new feeling of hope that was stretching like a cat in my chest. I felt so hopeful that I began thinking about the different styles of moustache I could sport if Mr Grey’s hair and the praying worked. There were many styles of moustache that I’d wished for over the years. I churned them through my mind and tried to decide which one would work best.
There was The Chevron, the Dali, the English, the Fu Manchu, the Handlebar, The Petit Handlebar, the Horseshoe, the Imperial, The Pyramidal Mustaches, the Lampshade, the Pencil, the Painter’s Brush, the Toothbrush, the Walrus, the Professor, the El Bandito, the Asterix, the Plumber, the Hungarian, the Gunslinger, the Villain and the Guy Fawkes. I liked them all. I began to mentally scratch off certain styles, just to narrow it down.
I knew many people in my office had the English and the Walrus moustache and I wanted something different, so I scratched them off the list. The Dali had been a favourite of mine since childhood but didn't seem like it would suit the shape of my face, so I scratched it off. The professor was becoming old-fashioned and I scratched it off until I remembered that it being old-fashioned just meant you didn’t see it as often and it would be very different if I grew one, so I re-added it to the list. The imperial was sure to impress, so it stayed. The El Bandito was a party moustache, so I scratched it off. As was the Gunslinger. The Guy Fawkes was a firm favourite because it always shocked people and stayed. The Hungarian was elegant, and I knew it would tickle my cheeks, so it stayed. The Pencil was too thin, the Toothbrush too small and too associated with Hitler, the Imperial too closely related to colonialism; they were gone. Eventually, after mentally scratching and re-adding moustache’s over and over again in the blue light of my T.V, I knew it would either have to be the Petit Handlebar, the normal Handlebar or the Painter’s Brush. Then after further consideration I removed the petit version of the Handlebar as well. The luxuriant bushiness of the Handlebar and Painter's Brush made up my mind for me as I imagined them sweeping across my upper lip and brushing away the oddness of my bare face.
When I decided on them, I flicked the T.V to the news and watched it until midnight. I drank a bottle of wine while I watched it and when I went up to bed at midnight, I stumbled slightly on the stairs. I brushed my teeth when I made it to the bathroom and did another quick prayer with Mr Grey’s hair before my open bedroom window before going to sleep.
I dreamt the same dream again, but it was different. The moustache I grew flickered between the two styles I had chosen before I fell to sleep. The rest of the dream played out in roughly the same way, but Jessica was in it. When Jessica appeared, my moustache grew until it was two metres long. Grasping it in both hands I used the thick hair like a whip and beat Jessica bloody while she cried and asked me to stop hurting her. When I tired of whipping her, I pulled the young man who’d been with her in the canteen and who’d been shaved in my first dream to me. He wasn’t shaved in the new dream and I rubbed my hands over his sandpaper beard while he coiled and tied my long moustache around his torso. We kissed gently as he tied himself to me and he said how beautiful I had become and that he must have been blind before. He even blinked and pretended to wipe his eyes as if his sudden sight amazed him. When he was firmly attached to me we made our way over to Jessica, limping because of our closeness, and, brandishing straight razors, shaved her face completely. I laughed at her bare face and when I woke up I was still laughing.
My alarm went off, I woke and my upper lip was bare. My hope died before I remembered Mr Grey had said that it had taken several days of furious praying for it to work for him and it came back to life. I jumped up and decided that the prayers could work even without the moon and the stars, perhaps work even better. I took off my pyjamas, grabbed the hair, held it to my face, and prayed loudly at the dusky morning. An owl hooted from somewhere and some pigeon’s sitting on telephone wires cooed and tilted their heads in confusion. I prayed for an hour and then had to hurry and skip breakfast and a shower. I dressed in a hurry and took a taxi to work instead of going to the train station. I took Mr Grey’s hair with me in my blazer pocket.
The prayer felt like it had done some good and I spent the taxi drive rubbing my face to see if I could feel any rough resistance. I couldn’t. The taxi driver had a black beard flecked with white that rested comfortably on his equally hairy chest and a thick moustache that rested on the beard. He didn’t look at me for the entire journey after seeing my face when I got into the taxi and blanching, but for once I didn’t let it upset me. I just smiled and pictured myself with his combination of beard and moustache.
At the office, I did my work for the day quickly as usual but decided not to bother Mr Grey with questions about the promotion considering what he had done for me. Instead, I locked my office door, kept my blinds drawn, opened my street view curtains and spent the rest of the workday watching people walk through the city and rubbing Mr Grey’s hair on my hands and face.
When the workday finished, I stayed where I was, crouched under my desk, even longer than usual to make sure I wouldn’t run into Jessica again. When I finally left the building, the sun had already gone down. I had never left the office that late before. The route I followed to the train station seemed completely different, and I saw several other people without beards and moustaches walking about, more than I’d ever seen before. There were at least thirty that I saw on the walk to the train station. In fact, when I looked around, I realised there was no one with facial hair on the street at all. Some of the facial hairless looked homeless and were dirty, but most, like me, had on suits and work clothes. We were all moving towards the train station. They all kept their heads down and walked with the same awkward shuffling steps that made little noise but draw attention because of how unnatural they looked. The walk seemed familiar, and it took several minutes to realise that it was because I was doing the same walk.
At the train station, the homeless settled down in sleeping bags under the glass balcony in front of the main entrance’s glass doors and the rest of us piled through them and spilt up to go to different platforms.
Only one man walked to the same platform as me. A man wearing a powder blue suit. I’d noticed him on the walk to the station. He had been wearing a black hat that shadowed his face on the walk to the station but, seeing it was just me with him on the empty platform, took it off with a sigh. I recoiled physically when he did and almost ran away. He was grotesque. The man had the most hairless face I’d ever seen. He had not just a hairless face, but a hairless head! He had no hair at all. Not even eyebrows. Where eyebrows should have been there were just pale patches of skin in the same general shape of eyebrows. The top of his shiny, dome-like head caught the bright lights of the platform and reflected them back out.
I stared at him. I couldn’t help myself. I found myself touching Mr Grey’s hair and praying as I stared at him. Not for anything in particular, just to dampen the horror of what I was seeing. I looked at the man’s suit and marvelled he was employed at all.
The man saw me staring and he blushed. I felt sick as I saw the blush spread from his cheeks all over his bald head. I knew I should have felt sympathetic or pleased that someone was in a worse position than myself, but I didn’t. I just felt sick. I looked away from his blush until I heard some movement and saw him leaning forward and peering at me.
“Wait!” He cried, “are you like me?”
I laughed and tried to move away from him.
“No, I’m not. You haven’t got any hair.”
“No, no, no, no, no, you know what I mean. You’re like me. You haven’t got any facial hair.”
“Neither did a lot of the people out in the street tonight.”
“I know, but they’re the usual crowd. I see them every night. You’re new! I don’t see many new people like us.”
“I’m not like you. You have no hair at all. What are you?”
The man blushed again.
“I have Alopecia. Severe Alopecia.”
“Oh,” I said. “Isn’t there anything you can do?”
“It’s too severe. Besides, is there anything any of us can do? We all have a condition of a kind and none of us can do anything.”
The train pulled into the station and I got on. The man got on the same carriage as me and sat on the seat opposite my own. The train was empty. The man nodded as the train pulled off and said again.
“None of us can do anything. You know I couldn’t grow facial hair even before I got the alopecia.”
The man changed the nodding of his head to shaking and looked sad.
“I can do something,” I said. “I’m doing it right now.”
“What do you mean?”
“My boss gave me a tip to help facial hair growth.”
“A tip? For facial hair growth?”
“That’s right. A tip,” I smiled as I strummed the strands of beard hair with my thumb.
“I got a tip once,” the man said and removed a disposable safety razor from an inside pocket of his blazer. It still had the plastic safeguard strip over the blade. “A woman told me once that if you carry a razor close to your heart you will sprout hair everywhere. I’ve had this razor for eight years and I haven’t sprouted anything yet. Tips don’t work.”
The man put his razor away and rubbed his smooth chin. I shivered at the lack of sound coming from the movement of his hand.
“What’s the tip anyway though?” He asked, trying to sound casual.
I looked at him and shook my head. I didn’t dare reveal Mr Grey’s secret to him. I didn’t want to share the magic with anyone else in case it rid me of any.
“I can’t tell anyone what it is. It’s a secret.”
“Well, how do you know it will work?”
“I have the utmost confidence in my source. I’ve heard their story. I’ve seen their beard.”
“Is it a good beard?” the man asked wistfully.
“It’s beautiful,” I replied.
I spoke with the man until I got off at my station. He waved to me as I got off the train. I didn’t wave back because there were young men and women on my platform with dyed and spiky facial hair. When they saw his hairless round face at the train window, waving, they jeered and laughed. I saw him blush and sink in his chair until he couldn’t be seen through the window as the train pulled away. I had to run away from the platform when the jeerers saw my own hairless face and turned their jeering on me. It made me cry, their jeering, and I ran all the way home, crying and cursing them and muttering the names of the moustaches I would grow, and the things people would say to me once I’d grown them.
“Handlebar- Glorious. Paint Brush- Amazing. Handlebar- Sexy. Paint Brush- professional. Handlebar- You have the promotion! Paint Brush- You have the promotion. Handlebar- I’m so jealous! I should never have mocked you. Can I kiss your feet? Paint Brush- You look amazing! I should never have mocked you. Can I sleep with you? Maybe that will let me grow hair as good as you…”
I muttered until I got to my front door and stopped only after letting myself in. The house was cold. I’d been running so thoughtlessly that I had run through a garden sprinkler and I dripped water on my doormat. The hope I’d felt since I’d been given the lock of hair mixed itself lazily with some sadness and despair living deep within my gut and gave me a stomach-ache. It made my stomach ache so much that I lifted the damp beard hairs from my pocket where I stood, fell to my knees and prayed in the hallway. I prayed harder than I ever had before and instead of placing the beard hairs on my upper lip; I put them in my mouth, resting on and tickling my tongue as I spoke around them. Through the small window next to my front door, I could see a flashing star that could have been an aeroplane and directed my prayer towards that.
“Dear star. You’re bright and pretty and I know you’re just a ball of flammable gas burning in space, or maybe not even that, maybe just a plane carrying hundreds of people, but if you have the power, have any power, grant me a wish. Maybe you have power. Maybe you don’t. Maybe you can help me like you helped Mr Grey. Maybe you can’t. You gave him a grey beard so it would match his name and you gave him a beard so impressive that it impressed even the bank loan managers. How many times have I, dear star, wanted something but not been given it because how my lack of facial hair? Like the promotion. I really want that promotion. It means more money and I like money. It means more respect and I’ve never had any. Mr Grey wants me to have the promotion. He wouldn’t have given me his hair otherwise. He wants me to succeed and you helped him succeed so please help me succeed. Please help me to not be different anymore. I’m tired of being different. Please help me, please, please, please, please star, please star, please star, please give me a moustache. Give me a moustache and I will do anything. If I can’t have the promotion, at least help me to not get fired. I don’t want to be one of those dirty hairless homeless sleeping in front of the train station. I want this house. I need this house. I want my job. I need my job. I don’t want to be like that disgusting man with his hairless head. It was disgusting. I don’t want to be disgusting. Please star, please star, please, please, please, please, please…”
The hairs on my tongue rode my tongue's movements like a stick in the ocean as I prayed; bobbing up and down in furious waves but refusing to sink. I choked on them a few times and had to cough them out of my throat. I swallowed a lot by accident. When my prayer was finished, my knees hurt and there wasn’t much left of Mr Grey’s hair left. Just two grey strands I coughed out into the palm of my hand.
I went to bed after my prayer was through. I slept fully clothed.
I dreamt about a man that I didn’t recognise at first. Their facial hair strands were like the strands of a mop, and they fell thickly over their mouth. There was so much of them you couldn’t even see their mouth, but their head was completely bald. It was only the complete absence of hair on his bald head that made me realise it was the man with alopecia from the train. He kept trying to kiss me, but his mouth was so hidden he just rubbed his beard all over my face. His facial hair tickled my face and made it tingle and wherever it touched a strand of hair would appear on my own features. The tingling feeling from his facial hair followed me out of the dream. When I woke up, I lay still, feeling the tingling around my chin and mouth, like pins and needles. My heart hammered in anticipation. The morning felt like a morning when something would happen. I felt so hopeful that I didn’t dare check my upper lip for fear of ruining the dream.
I’d woken up before my alarm had gone off and, instead of exploring my face, I watched the numbers on the clock tick upwards towards the time it would finally sound. When it did, I shut it off straight away and didn’t get up. The room was still very dark. I watched the sunrise and the room get slowly lighter.
I got up when it was completely light and walked into the bathroom. I didn’t look in the mirror. I got straight in the shower and let the water hit my face. I washed my body with soap and the bubbles floated down the drain. I washed my body for quite a while. When it came time to wash my face, I cried in fear. I didn’t think I could take it if the tingling meant nothing and I’d eaten all of Mr Grey’s hair for nothing. I tingled still and the heavy flow of water on my face washed my tears away as quickly as they appeared. My hands lay immobile by my sides for a long time, waiting for a command from base to rise to my features. When I finally stopped crying and the fear died a little, I knew I had to push onwards. I gave the order to myself. My hands saluted their general before grabbing the bar of soap again, rubbing it on my hands and washing my face.
There was a feeling on the palm of my hands when I did. When I felt it, I slipped and fell out of the shower. The hope rose in my throat and almost made me vomit. I hit the ceramic bathroom floor hard and scrambled up. My hands tingled as much as my face had done coming from the dream from being rubbed on a rough surface. I looked in the mirror. It was foggy from condensation, but I saw myself. I looked at my reflection and my reflection looked back and there was a quiet dignity in the short bristling moustache that had in the night snaked its way over our shared and curled upper lip. It wasn’t long enough to have a style like I’d planned for it, but it bristled and wiggled like a small, hungry caterpillar. I rubbed it with wonder and laughed at the feel of it. The floor beneath my feet was getting flooded from the shower which I’d knocked onto the floor and I let it flood. I reached down and touched my pubic hair and then the wiggling caterpillar on my upper lip and marvelled at their shared coarseness.
When I left the bathroom, I sat naked on my bed. I stared at the wall and thought about what people would say. I got excited and touched my caterpillar moustache and touched myself while thinking about what people would say. Then the excitement about what people would say distracted me from the excitement of touching myself, so much so that I stopped halfway through and instead flung myself up, dressed quickly and left the house. I ran to the train station but had to turn around and go back home because in my excitement I’d forgotten to turn off the shower or slip on any shoes.
Getting onto the train from the station, I felt the unfamiliar sensation of people not looking away from me. I smiled at someone sitting close by and my heart rang like a bell when they smiled back. An old woman with a snow-white goatee, instead of standing to avoid me, sat down next to me and read a newspaper. When she got off the train, a few stops before my own, she offered me the newspaper. I shook my head at the newspaper with a smile and rubbed my face happily. The old woman laughed at my happiness and tugged on her goatee in return as she got off the train.
When the train stopped at the station before mine and collected passengers, I saw a woman with no facial hair on the platform, hesitating at the open train door. She didn’t get on and the train doors slid shut leaving her on the platform alone. Someone nudged me gently with their knee as I stared at the retreating form on the platform and I turned to look at the person who’d done it, an old woman with a soul patch.
“You see that?” the old woman tutted, her gaze also on the retreating form of the hairless woman.
I nodded and tutted as well.
“Disgusting isn’t it. Ugly even,” I said.
“Exactly. Ugly. Disgusting.”
I saw a young man staring at me as I spoke from the other side of the train. An ugly man with freckles, long curly hair and a patchy bit of stubble clinging to his chin. He looked quickly away when he saw me looking back at him.
‘He wanted to fuck me,’ I thought to myself and giggled quietly. My happiness grew and I hummed under my breath until I got off the train.
At the office it disappointed me to see it wasn’t the security guard who asked about my fake moustache at the security point. It was a new security guard and he looked at my photo, then at me and nodded and waved me through without a word. My disappointment vanished when, after walking into the building, I saw Jessica standing by the coffee machine. The man who’d been with her in the canteen was with her again. I almost hid from her before remembering that I didn’t have to anymore. I walked over to her, smoothed the caterpillar on my upper lip with two fingers and cocked an eyebrow.
I coughed next to Jessica’s ear.
“Hello Jessica,” I said.
Jessica turned to me, choked on her coffee and coughed violently. Her pale face flushed purple and drops of coffee stained her shirt. The man’s shadowy mouth had fallen open, and he was half-heartedly patting Jessica’s back as he stared at me.
“The tip worked?” The man asked incredulously.
“The tip worked?” Jessica repeated, still coughing.
I nodded again.
“You look good,” the man said. “Really good.”
“I do?” I asked, feeling so happy I was faint.
Jessica nodded reluctantly.
“You do look good,” she said. “Not so ugly anymore. Even pretty.”
Jessica’s tongue was self-consciously lapping at the corners of her moustache. Her hands were nervously rubbing at the dark coffee stains on her shirt.
“Thank you,” I said.
“I can’t believe the tip worked,” Jessica said.
“Neither can I,” I said. “Maybe it was just luck.”
Jessica considered my moustache thoughtfully before clicking her fingers in excitement.
“Listen, I’m having a party this weekend and you should come,” Jessica said. “Everyone in the office is coming. I didn’t want to ask you before obviously, but you’ll fit in now. You should come. It will be fun. The party was for someone’s birthday. But we can make it about you. We can dedicate it to your facial hair. In celebration of it.”
“Of course. You can really show off then. No one will ever gave seen someone so barefaced start showing at your age. It’s a miracle. That’s what it is. A miracle. A miracle will be good for the party. Everyone will have a good time. It will be the talk of the office. Everyone will want to speak to you.”
“I hope it grows even more by the party,” I said worriedly. “I want to style it. I want to show it off, you know.”
Jessica waved my worry away with a flick of her hand.
“Oh, I know you want to show it off. I did too. We all worry that it won’t grow anymore when it first starts to grow. Don’t worry. It will come through. It will come through thickly. Don’t worry. Look how dark it is already. That’s going to be some moustache.”
“Some moustache,” the man echoed after her and rubbed his chin in wonder.
“Some moustache,” I echoed after both of them and smiled happily at their welcoming faces.
I did my work slower than usual that day; it took me nearly the entire day to finish because people kept popping their heads in to congratulate me. Jessica spread the word around the office about my facial hair and the word spread fast. Everyone in the office took time out to see me. I kept my blinds and my office door open and sometimes my office got quite full with all of them flooding in. At some points, there was a queue waiting just to see me. I tried to do my work, but I was too excited at the shifting expressions on the visitor's faces. There was a moment when they entered my office, a tiny moment of wariness as if they weren’t sure whether to believe the rumours. That moment always passed quicker than I wanted it to and their faces brightened when they saw my little black caterpillar.
Even when the stream of visitors died away, I couldn’t concentrate on my work. I kept touching my new moustache and wondering all day if the news would have reached Mr Grey and if he would come down to see that his tip had worked. When he didn’t appear, I wanted to go up and see him myself. I didn’t dare without my work being completed. I thought it could jeopardise the promotion even with the new moustache.
I worked as hard and as fast as I could with the distraction of my hungry, unstoppable fingers seeking the rough surface of my upper lip, but still there was only half an hour left before the alarm for the end of the day would go off by the time I was finished.
I locked my office when I finished and walked through the centre of the office floor to the elevator. There was a moment of silence as everyone stopped what they were doing and looked at me as I walked. I felt their silence wash over me. It felt as if they were waiting for something, but I didn’t know what. As they stared at me, one by one, hands drifted up to faces and began touching facial hair. A rough, grinding sound filled the air as numerous hands brushed over rough strands. I lifted my hand and touched my upper lip in return. There was a resounding cheer and paper was thrown high into the air and drifted down around our stroking hands.
I made my way into the elevator to the sound of their happy cheering.
“Is that you, Lynda!” Mr Grey shouted in astonishment when I walked into his office.
He jumped up from behind his desk and rushed closer to inspect my face. Saliva gathered in the corners of his mouth and fell into his beard in his excitement. I nodded at his reaction and smiled.
“It’s me, Mr Grey.”
“It can’t be you, Lynda.”
“It’s me, Mr Grey.”
“My God, Lynda. Look at that moustache. It's glorious! It’s marvellous! It’s beautiful! I can’t believe my eyes! And it happened so quickly as well! Even quicker than it happened for me!”
I fell to my knees in Mr Grey’s office and began to cry in happiness and gratitude as he studied my facial hair.
“It’s me, Mr Grey. It’s Lynda and this…” I gestured to the moustache, “it’s all thanks to you.”
Mr Grey touched his chest and shook his head.
“I tell you I’m shocked. I cannot believe I’m looking at you, Lynda. It’s made you beautiful! Before you were monstrously ugly. So monstrously ugly that I almost couldn’t look at you, but now! To think I was going to fire you.”
He hit his head as if trying to knock the stupidity of the thought of firing me out of his mind. I blushed furiously, not bothering to pull myself up from my knees. I shuffled to him and held onto the hem of his blazer.
“It’s all thanks to you and your beard hair, Mr Grey. I’m just so grateful.”
Mr Grey shook his head and waved his hands around before leaning down and going to touch my face. He stopped a few centimetres short of my upper lip, his hands trembling.
“It was nothing. Perhaps it wasn’t me at all. Perhaps it was just your desperation not to get fired, in which case it would be thanks to me since I was the one who was going to fire you, in which case, you’re welcome. If that is not the case, then it was nothing. Maybe it was just time. Maybe the gods actually listen. Maybe wishing on a star works. Listen, can I touch it?”
“There is no maybe. The gods listen. They do! I prayed hard every night, and nothing happened. So, I prayed harder. Hard enough to hurt myself and I grasped your hair onto my face hard enough to hurt myself and then I placed your hair in my mouth, and something happened. Something finally happened. So of course you can touch it. To me, this hair is half yours anyway.”
As Mr Grey touched my upper lip and I held onto the hem of his blazer, Mr Grey rested a hand on my shoulder.
“I’m very pleased for you. Very pleased for you indeed, but I don’t want to hear any more about this now. Miracles shouldn’t be discussed in detail. But I will say this. And after I say it, leave this office instantly, get yourself home and pray that moustache grows a little more. Not a lot, just until it’s at a styleable length,” he paused, smiled, pulled me to my feet, and pushed me towards the office door before saying it.
“Because you can have the promotion,” he said and waved me out of the office and on my way.
It was dark again by the time I set off for the train station. After saying goodbye to many of my co-workers on their way out of the building, speaking to Jessica about her party, discussing what I would wear to the party, how I would style my moustache if it had grown enough by the party, walking Jessica to her car and not getting an offer for a lift home, the sun had already set.
I smiled as I walked the dark streets and hugged my shoulders. I felt very warm inside from the hug Jessica had given me as we said goodbye. On the dark streets, I again saw the same hairless crowd walking towards the train station. Again, it was a mix of homeless and workers making their way to the station. Again, they walked in a constant stream with the hopeful air of simply disappearing. I blended into the stream of them with ease and felt a quiet superiority walking among them. Their faces seemed ugly and marked with frailness and as we walked together I couldn’t help thinking of them as the runts of a litter and thinking of a big hand scooping them up and leaving them in a forest to die. When I thought about that, I shook my head and tried to remind myself that I had been like them only the day before. I chuckled at how quickly the pain of being like them was passing from my mind.
When the crowds bowed heads saw me, their eyes widened to see that I was not like them but that I was still passing through the streets at a time that belonged to them. The crowd moved collectively away from me when they realised, giving me plenty of space and respect.
It dismayed me after walking with them for several minutes to find that I was still walking like them. I had the same hunched, lumbering gait and odd neck position as if I was trying to hide from any eyes that might be lurking in the night. My footsteps sounded off the street, and it was impossible to pick them out among the thousands of similar footfalls. I tried to fix my walk. I lifted my head high and unhunched my back, but I found it to be painful and uncomfortable, so I settled back into what felt natural. The similarity my walk created between me and the crowd diffused some of their fearful respect and removed some of the space they created between us. I put a furious air of disgust into my features to remind them of my superiority and my disgust drove the surrounding space between me and them until it got bigger and bigger and the crowd stepped almost behind me in respectful patronage. They fell back and soon it was me ahead of them all, leading the way for them; my hunched steps sounding a few seconds before theirs’s like the pied pipers flute dragging the rats from the towns and cities and on their merry way.
At the train station entrance, I paused before I went to my platform and got water from a kiosk I’d always been afraid to approach before. The woman who served me it winked as she handed it to me.
“A good day, Ma’am?” She asked.
“A wonderful day. Yours?” I replied.
“Very good,” she smiled.
I drank the water quickly, put it in the bin, left the kiosk and went down the escalator to my platform. Rushing wind blew from the circular entrance to the tunnel at the far end of the platform and blew my hair around my face. I searched in my pockets for a bobble to keep it up. While I searched, I looked through my hair at the platform. At first I thought it was empty but in fact the man with alopecia was there again. He was sitting on a metal chair at the far end of the platform, next to the entrance to the tunnel. His hat was off and placed next to him and his head was down. I kept quiet on my side of the platform in the hope he wouldn’t notice me, but he looked up after a few minutes and jumped up when recognising me.
“It’s you!” He shouted and waved.
He made his way across the platform towards me and smiled. The pale shapes on his skin where his eyebrows should have been scrunched together when he smiled, and it turned my stomach. But, deciding I should show off that my tip had worked, I nodded, faced him and angled my face towards the lightbulbs on the ceiling, so my features were as clear as possible to him.
It took several seconds, but I knew when he noticed because his depilated face crumpled, and he took two steps back from me. He paled and his eyes got very shrunken. His hands by his sides grasped at thin air and his mouth shut tightly and pulled in on itself so much that it almost vanished into his face. His neck similarly hunched into his shoulders until it wasn’t there anymore, and his hairless head looked like the body of a slime-less slug poking out of a cheap suit. My fingers delicately touched my moustache and he recoiled as if I was physically hurting him.
“The tip worked,” I smiled.
When I spoke, his hurt disappeared and was replaced by anger. His eyes turned cold and his mouth reappeared and got hard.
“You were like me. Like us. What happened!” he finally shouted.
“I was never like you, I told you that. And I told you I had a tip that might work. That might change me.”
The man shook his head.
“We all want to change,” he hissed.
He started taking angry steps towards me.
“Maybe you just don’t believe in yourself enough,” I said, taking steps backwards.
The man’s neck slowly emerged from the collar of his shirt as he got angrier.
“How did you do it?”
“I can’t tell you that.”
“What was the tip?”
“I can’t tell you that.”
The man’s head bobbed angrily in and out of his collar as he advanced towards me. His pale eyebrow patches were making me feel ill, and I kept taking little steps backwards to keep the distance between us. I felt an overwhelming disgust and an urge to not be near him. The companionship we’d had on the train only the night before had vanished. He seemed like a wild animal in a cage as he advanced. Watching me for signs of weakness that meant he could pounce.
“At least tell me who gave it to you. We all want to be better. Maybe they can help all of us.”
“They won’t. I promise. Maybe it wasn’t the tip that did it, anyway. Maybe it was just my time.”
“Your time!” The man scoffed. “What about the rest of our times? You think other people don’t deserve a time? And what about my time? Look at me! I have nothing!”
The man finally stopped advancing. He stood still and looked at me with an angry sort of desperation. I stopped backing away and tried to peer at the departure board behind his head. There were still ten minutes before the train arrived. The man carried on speaking.
“How can you be so selfish? Don’t you want to share? Help people who are like you? Help me? A man like you.”
“You aren’t like me,” I said.
“You used to be like me.”
“I never was. I never had alopecia. You have no hair at all.”
“And that makes me different from having a bald face as you did before? Does it!”
“Yes. It’s more disgusting,” I hissed.
The man laughed and pointed upward as if at the feet of anyone with facial hair.
“They say we’re all disgusting. They said you were disgusting.”
“Said, not say for me. Said, not say. Said, not say. No say for me, not today. Not now. Not anymore.”
The man shook his head furiously. Drops of sweat beaded on his milky skin and rolled off his dome-shaped head and down his face. Some flew off from his frantic shaking and landed on the platform before my feet. I distastefully shuffled back more to avoid getting any on my shoes.
I looked up at the departure board again. My heart sank when I saw the train was being delayed by a further five minutes. A voice came crackling from speakers all over the platform and told us blankly about the delay and added a further five minutes of delay to the delay already being shown on the board. The man, who wasn’t looking at the board, stopped shaking his head and listened to the voice. Then he looked around the platform. It was still empty. He took the razor he’d showed me on the train out of his pocket.
“The train’s delayed,” the man said almost thoughtfully.
I looked at the razor and nodded.
The man wiped some sweat off his bald head with one hand and then wiped his hand on his trousers. He looked flushed. His thin lips trembled as he breathed. His other hand lightly tossed the razor up and down, as if testing its weight.
“Have you ever tried praying and believing?” I asked the man. “Maybe that will help you.”
“Is that a tip?” He asked.
“I suppose. It worked for me. My tip could only do so much.”
The man stared at me silently. I kept my eye on his plastic-covered razor. There were cameras on the platform and I wasn’t afraid, but I wasn’t feeling safe either. The man was still sweating a lot, but he didn’t wipe anymore away. He let it trickle down his face and into the space between his collar and neck.
“I heard once about a tip. But I never tried it,” the man said suddenly. “The same person who gave me the tip about this razor gave me it.”
The man pointed at the razor to illustrate his point.
“Really?” I asked quietly.
There was a pause.
“Don’t you want to know what the tip I never tried is?” He asked.
I swallowed hard before asking.
“What is it?”
“They told me that if you eat someone’s facial hair it will pass on to you.”
“They said that’s the best tip there is for growing facial hair. I never wanted to try it before. Even though we aren’t as pretty as the people with facial hair, and they treat us so badly, I didn’t want to take anything away from them. It seemed selfish to make someone else like this. It seemed wrong. They wouldn’t know how to survive.”
I didn’t notice that the man had slipped the plastic covering off his razor, but suddenly the bare metal glimmered in the lights of the platform.
I backed up towards the escalators. The man backed up with me. I felt even more unsafe. My hand flickered to my face and caressed the thin hairs on my lip. I held the strand of one piece of hair between two fingers and rolled it back and forth as I backed away as if my fingers were a shield between the advancing man and his glittering safety razor.
“What are you doing?” I asked the man.
“I don’t know. What am I doing?”
My voice shook.
“What are you doing?”
The man shrugged and his angry face smiled grotesquely. The wetness of his sweat only made his resemblance to a slug grow larger. I could almost see him discarding his clothes, lying on his stomach, holding the razor in his mouth and undulating towards me. Leaving only a trail of sweat on the dirty platform in his wake.
Risking a look over my shoulder, I saw I was getting closer to the escalator. Just as I was considering running for it, the man slid across the platform in a blur and was suddenly between me and it. It happened so fast that I was still facing the opposite direction, and I almost backed up into his chest. I jumped, squealed and spun. The man was standing very close to me.
What are you doing!” I shouted loudly, hoping someone would hear. “There are cameras, you know!”
The man said nothing. He just tossed the razor up and down and stared.
“I’ll tell you what my tip was. I’ll tell you who gave it to me,” I began holding my upper lip between both hands.
“I don’t want your tip now. I have my own tip I’ve never tried.”
“But my tip works. You can see.”
“But I believe my tip will work. I believe! Isn’t that what you said? Maybe it was just ‘your time,’ and ‘you believed’. Well, maybe this is my time and I believe. I didn’t want to try it before. I didn’t think something like that would work. I didn’t believe it. I believe now. Don’t you worry. I believe now.”
“Why would you want to do it! You said you didn’t want to make someone like you! You said it was wrong! That they wouldn’t survive!”
The man pointed his razor at me.
“But you have already survived it. You have already survived.”
I screamed as he darted and grabbed me. I couldn’t fight him off because I kept my hands covering and caressing my new moustache. I started weeping at the loss of it before it was even gone. I screamed louder as he lowered me to the platform and louder still when he put his razor between his teeth and moved my hands from my mouth. He pinned them under his knees. I couldn’t move, but I jerked my head back and forth. From behind him, I could see the escalator. The man took the razor from his teeth and moved it towards my face. He slipped and cut my jerking cheek. I winced and screamed louder still. So loud it hurt my throat.
Hairless faces appeared at the top of the escalator. About ten of them peering down at the noise I was making. The voice from the intercom came again and said the train would be delayed for a further five minutes.
“Help!” I tried to cry over the noise of the intercom. “He’s trying to take my moustache. He wants to eat my moustache. Help! He wants to eat my moustache. He wants to eat my moustache! Help!”
The man got the corner of my upper lip and I felt a rough scrape and a light tickle as part of the moustache fell from my face onto the platform. The man’s hand darted out and picked the fallen hair from the floor and placed the strands in his mouth. He swallowed them dramatically and laughed. I writhed even more, but the man didn’t move. A drop of his sweat fell from his dome head and into my right eye. It stung and blurred my vision.
“Help!” I screamed again to the blurred faces at the top of the escalator.
Their hairless faces seemed blank as they stared at what was happening. Their usual hunched backs straightened as they stared until they stood straight. My superiority was being sheared away. The escalator moved constantly downwards with a quiet rumble, but none of them got onto it.
The man got more of my moustache quickly and I wept and wept until suddenly he’d gotten all of it. His hand darted to my face multiple times as he pulled the shaved hairs from my face and placed them in his mouth. I stopped writhing when I realised the moustache was gone. I lay shocked. The man peered like a doctor down at me with narrowed eyes to make sure he’d gotten all the hairs. When he was sure he had, he got off me and pocketed the razor. He smoothed his clothes afterwards and spoke.
“I think I’m going to get the bus home. It takes longer. I’ll have more time to think. I’m going to think about what style to have my facial hair. There are a lot of styles I could have. I wonder what kind of hair I’ll grow.” he said, smiling to himself. “I hope it grows curly. I’ve always wanted a curly beard. Like a sheep’s wool. I hope it grows curly. I believe it will grow. I believe now. I hope I grow a lot of hair soon.”
He finished smoothing his clothes and rubbed some sweat off his head again. He walked towards the escalator when he was settled. He waved when he saw the faces at the top. He got on the escalator parallel to the one going down and rose towards them and spoke as he got closer.
I lay on the platform and cried. Blood trickled from the cut on my cheek. I touched my upper lip and the smoothness of it made me heave. I turned and threw up. The man’s voice as he went up the long escalator was distant to me and I couldn’t make out what he was saying. I turned and looked at his retreating back. The faces had disappeared and when he got to the top, so did he.
I lay on the platform and the intercom announced a further delay. The train wasn’t coming for half an hour. I threw up now and then when my hand sought the hair that had lived on my upper lip for only a day and couldn’t find it. The blood from my cheek dripped onto the platform. I wiped at the cut with my sleeve. I thought about the two strands of hair I had left from Mr Grey’s beard and didn’t think they’d be enough to work the magic again. I wondered if the man would grow his curly sheep moustache. I thought about asking Mr Grey for more hair but didn’t know how he would react. I thought about the party I was supposed to go to. I thought about the promotion. I thought about my superiority. I thought about the friendliness everyone had shown me that day. I thought about the disgust that had harboured itself in my chest for the rest of the people like me without facial hair and how it harboured there still.
Mostly I thought about what I would do at work the next day and how I would get up in the morning.