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Thursday, November 16, 2023

In a lock of hair - a short story written by Hiro

Unfortunately, I wasn't selected for "Yarn 23 The Best Australian Short Stories Competition" organised by The West Australian and Navitas. However, it was a great experience creating and writing this story. 

Original inspirations came from "How to cut it" podcast by renowned hairstylists Trevor Sorbie and Gianni Scumaci, also my own experience as a hairstylist. 

Thank you Mark, Mary and Ann for helping me edit and reshape the story. 

I dedicate it to my fellow hairstylists and colourists working in salons all over the world. 
You deserve far much more respect and recognition in society. 


In a lock of hair
 A fiction

Hiroshi Yoshino 


Cherry trees in full bloom 

Joyful canopy caressed by April sun

Now all gone,
 resting in peace on the ground 

Was it a dream ?


“It’s come back, Hiro.”
When Lisa sat on a cutting chair, before I said anything, she gave me this inauspicious news. 
As someone who has been cutting her hair for over half of her lifetime, since her uni days, I know exactly what these words mean. 
It's come back.”
There is such cruelty in these words. 

Cutting hair in a salon is such a unique and fascinating form of art. You end up establishing a very strong relationship with some clients. Lisa is one of them. 

Just minutes before when I was washing her hair at the basin, I noticed quite a bit of her hair coming out.
I don’t talk while shampooing my clients’ hair. I consider it a sacred ritual. “The best part of coming to the salon. So relaxing”, many clients would say. 
She was lying on the basin seat, her eyes closed. 
The trouble was, she knew I saw what was happening. 


“Hi Hiro. I have something to tell you…”
Five years ago,  I had a text message from Lisa. She said she hadn’t been feeling well for a couple of months. She apologised for not coming to see me in the salon for a while.
“I have breast cancer.”

Coming from Japan, I’m always amazed how these words are exchanged between doctors and patients here in Australia. 
These brutal words.
In Japan, people in general don’t want to know, don’t want to hear these words. And doctors often respect their unspoken wish. Only family members are informed. It’s all hush-hush. 
I always wondered which way I’d prefer if I were in that situation.

“I need to ask you to shave all my hair. It’s going to fall out anyway.”
Shave all my hair.”
I have a client who is an oncologist at Austin Hospital. Many years ago, she told me this story. When women are diagnosed that they have cancer, there are always two things they desperately want to know.

Am I going to die?
Will I lose my hair?

My definition of cutting hair is to create a three-dimensional design using hair as a material. It’s a form of art. However, it’s not just that. The oncologist kindly reminded me of what I’m actually doing in the salon. That is, I take care of the second most valuable thing in their life.
If you zoom in and magnify their hair, what do you see? Just a collection of mindless molecules? Or, you may discover a whole universe of their existence. Inseparable companions.

I asked Lisa if she could come to the salon on Sundays. I couldn’t bear the thought that I would be shaving her long hair in front of other clients and staff. Think about how she would feel!
I would have to perform a terrifying act of cruelty.
An executioner.

“Thanks for doing this, Hiro.”
As she entered the salon on the following Sunday, she gave me a big hug. I was the one crying, not her. She was, for want of a better word, smiling.
“I’ve brought this with me. My grandma’s makeup box. Would you mind if I collect my hair in it afterwards?”
Then I saw tears starting to roll down on her cheek. I couldn’t say a word. I just nodded. 

“Please take your time, Lisa, and let me know when you’re ready. I’ll wash your hair.”
“Are you going to wash my hair?!”
“Yes, it might sound odd, but, I’m not going to shave your hair with clippers. I’ll cut your hair with my scissors using my own hands, just like I’ve always done for you.”
I just wanted to maintain my own integrity as a hairstylist and her dignity as a human being. I thought shaving her long hair with clippers would be too brutal, too mechanical. 
I just wanted to be her friend. Not an executioner. 

After the wash, she sat in the cutting chair. 
“Now, Lisa, would you mind if I ask you to close your eyes and we’ll remain silent?”
She nodded.
No words. No human voice. 
Just the sound of my scissors snipping her hair. 
Bach’s Chaconne filling in the air….


“Yes, but I have too much hair, Hiro. I can’t fit my hair in a peruke.” With a big, cheeky smile, Charlotte answered my question about whether she still wears a wig in court as a barrister. 

I spent five years working in London in the 90s before permanently moving to Melbourne, Australia. 

Recently divorced, she was such a gregarious young woman, ‘kissing sweet’, and we got on very well from the day I first met her in a salon. Oh, her hair! I had never seen such thick, curly hair. Botticelli’s Venus. Beautiful natural red colour. She had a great skill of arranging her hair high up on her head with many different style variations. It always looked great. 
“That’s the only way I can manage my hair, Hiro”, she often quipped. 

As time went by, our relationship went through different stages. She kissed me for the first time at Alexandra Palace on New Year's Eve under rainbow colour fireworks. She was my soul mate and life partner and we started to talk about getting married. She painted my life with delightful colours. 

It’s very difficult talking about her now. Time is the greatest healer of our sufferings, they say, but, some pains are so deep, they are still etched in our heart after many, many years. 
A stab wound that never heals. Bleeding that never ceases. 

In March 1998, she was hit by a truck in the City while trying to run across a busy street. I was just standing in front of a travel agency, waiting for her. I saw it happen. A big thump. Her head landed on a wet pavement. I was crying and shouting for help. She was just lying there unconscious, as if in sleep except for her long red hair spreading all over her face like massive blood stain.
Then a couple of days later, she was gone. She was only 33.


Her parents asked me to cut her hair before cremation. They wanted to keep something physical, something tangible. Not just photos, paintings, clothes, certificates, books, guitars, or a wig.
Something beyond her belongings. They wanted to keep remains of her existence. 

Her funeral reception was held on a bright cold day in April.
“I’m sorry but I don’t have the strength to make a speech today.” 

Instead, I asked Susie, Charlotte’s grandmother, to play Intermezzo, Op 118, No 2 by Brahms. Charlotte used to play this beautiful piece of music, saying ‘This Brahms is the perfect expression of my feeling for you, Hiro.  Just like his love for Clara.”

I did many pencil sketches of her playing the piano. I still keep them all. Precious memories.

After the reception, we all walked along a tree-lined avenue leading towards a tube station. Many cherry trees were in full bloom under a crisp blue sky. 

I remember very well. Only a year ago, Charlotte and I were walking arm in arm on this same path. 
“Cherry blossoms! Aren’t they beautiful? Do they remind you of Japan?” She touched my cheek, smiling.
“Yes, they are beautiful. But they’re very sad.”
“Sad? What do you mean, Hiro?”
“They’re beautiful in full bloom, but, they don’t last long. Only a week or so. In Japan, there are many poems featuring cherry blossoms as a metaphor for our ephemeral existence. Beautiful but gone too soon. Just like us.”
“That’s very Japanese, I think. You guys are too serious.” She chuckled and said, “I think blossoms are beautiful precisely because they don’t last long and soon disappear. Yes, just like our existence in this world. I love your sensitivity, aesthetic and honesty. I always wanted to go to Japan.”
“Why not? I’ll take you there.”
“How about next spring?”
“Are you serious?”
“Well, you just said Japanese are serious.” I smiled.
“Haha! Point taken. So, do you promise me that you’ll take me to Japan to see cherry blossoms next year?”

I couldn’t keep my promise. 


After Charlotte’s death, I kept in touch with her family. Actually, her grandmother Susie was one of my clients. Charlotte was the spitting image of her. A big smile, luminous eyes and a bubbly personality. Except her hair!
Susie’s was a fine blonde, cut to a chin level bob. It suited her very well. Unlike other women of her generation, she was able to blow dry her hair herself. “It’s my morning ritual”, she used to say. Having a good hairstyle was her way of expressing her identity as a ‘still young’ woman. 

One day, I was invited to a dinner at her house. It was very unusual, the first time since Charlotte’s passing. She had lost her husband many years ago, so it was just me and Susie.
“I had this terrible phone call from my doctor two weeks ago” she said.
I felt a bit confused because there was a mismatch between what she just said and the way she looked. She didn’t seem to be troubled at all. 
“Excuse me?” I tried to figure out what was going on. 
“I saw her yesterday. She told me I have lung cancer.”
“What? But you don’t smoke, Susie.”
“Absurd, isn’t it? Stage four.”
I was struck by her composure. How is she so calm?
“Would you excuse me for a second?” I couldn’t bear any more. I ran outside to get fresh air.

“I’m sorry if I upset you. But I wanted to tell you this in person, not only because you were Charlotte’s fiancĂ©, but you are my beloved hairstylist.
The oncologist said it’s very aggressive. I’ve got three months left. But chemo would give me another year.”
“You mean…”
“I’ve decided not to do it. I’m 78 now. I’ve had a great life. Not always rosy, of course, sometimes unbearable, you know that. 
I don’t want to go through this dreadful chemo. Not because I’m scared. I’d rather let nature take its course. 
I just don’t want to lose my hair, Hiro. It’s cruel and painful. You know how important it is to me.
My husband and I met at a dance ball when I was 16. He started chatting to me by saying how beautiful my hair was. I was flattered. That was the beginning of our life together. He always loved my hair. Every time I touch my hair, I feel as if he’s still with me.
 So, I want you to promise me that you’ll take care of my hair until the day I die. No one else will cut my hair.”

This time, I kept my promise. 


Five years on, I put a cutting cape around Lisa’s neck and carefully started to comb her hair.
“My oncologist told me that he detected a small lump in my breast. It’s been five years now. I started new chemo a week ago. That’s why it’s falling out.”
I was vey uncomfortable that she had to tell me this with all other noise, music and people laughing in the salon. 
“Would you like to reschedule this appointment to, say, Sunday, when nobody else is in the salon?”
“Oh, it’s alright. You don’t need to shave my hair today.” She gave me a wink. 
“He doesn’t know for sure what will happen to my hair this time. He suspects I’m not going to lose all of it. I’ve been wearing this short bob for two years now since it grew back. I think it’s a great time to have a pixie cut today. What do you think?”
I was just speechless. She sounded as if she was looking forward to this style change. As if this is a wonderful opportunity. 
“Let’s move on, Hiro. Change is as good as a holiday. You’re in Australia, not Japan.” She giggled. She once told me about her sister who’s been wearing her bob since she was five. I smiled.

“Would you mind if I ask you something, Lisa?”
“Of course, Hiro. You can ask me anything and I’ll tell you everything. You are my hairstylist.” She chuckled. 
I had a hard time holding back my tears. But I didn’t want to show it. I saw her face in the mirror. She was watching me cutting her hair. 
We’re together in this spacetime.

“I think you are remarkable, Lisa. I’m wondering where your courage comes from?”
“Well, I don’t think I’m a strong person. But I know what you mean. As you know, I was very sick five years ago with no hair. I thought I was dying. Well, actually I was living my death.
However, I survived. I don’t believe it’s a miracle or something. That would be too easy. I was just lucky. 
And I started to think. If I hadn’t had cancer, I wouldn’t have had the fortune of getting to know all those doctors and nurses in the hospital. They are the ones who are remarkable, not me. They gave me a second chance. The whole experience was an invitation to a deep conversation with myself. 
I’ve started to live my life again. I’m not afraid of anything any more. I don’t just exist, I live. Every single moment. 
There are many flowers in full bloom in my garden right now. 
They are all different colours, shapes and characters. From small seeds, they start to grow, become adults, grow old and die. Just like us.
Imagine all those flowers living forever?
What makes a garden so beautiful and exciting is the coming and going of flowers in different seasons, year after year. You’re a painter, Hiro. You know what I’m talking about. You painted there at different times of the year.
There is beauty out there. And inside all of us. Once you have seen it, you can’t unsee it. I’ve finally got to know who I really am.”

I showed her my work by holding a hand mirror. Suddenly I realised that she and I were reflected in it and that image itself was repeatedly reflected in the ‘infinity mirror’ that goes on and on. She was smiling and I was standing right behind her. 
Eternal recurrence.

She had a look at my work and said,
“Looks great, Hiro. Thank you so much. My sister will be very jealous.” She burst into laughter.
That’s very Lisa, I thought. But I didn’t fail to notice that she briefly had a look at her hair on the floor.
A lock of hair that once was part of her being.

At the door, she turned around, gave me a big hug and said, 
“I want you to cut my hair for the rest of my life.”
“… I, ….”, I couldn’t find a word. 
“I know you will”, she kissed me on the cheek and said,
“I’ll come back, Hiro.”


About the author 

Hiroshi Yoshino is a Japanese artist in Melbourne, Australia.
Originally from Yamaguchi prefecture, he majored in Electronics at a university in Tokyo. 
As a hairstylist, he worked in Japan for 2 years and in London for 5 years before permanently moving to Melbourne, Australia in 2000.

His other form of art was always in photography and drawing.
Then he found his mentor Gregory Smith and studied tonal realism oil painting for 8 years until 2022.
He’s found his calling.


1st prize 
HBIA Australian Hairdressing Championship
Ladies haircut

People’s Choice Award
Kodak Salon
"Afternoon affair 2010" Photographic print 
Centre for Contemporary Photography 

2nd prize
Hugh Ramsay Award
"Westgate Bridge 2019" Oil painting 
Gregory Smith School of Painting 

People’s Choice Award
Banyule Art Salon
"Still life in a kitchen during COVID-19 home isolation" Oil painting 
Ivanhoe Library and Cultural Hub

All rights reserved. 

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