A Shave in Natal

Living in Natal, Brazil, was time travel. Evenings, we strolled and conversed lazily, danced at the social clubs, visited the dying in front rooms, surrounded by friends, and went to the barber for a shave — hot towels, straight razor, funny jokes and a rubdown, all for a dime, like an old movie.

Once, I was having a haircut. A man with no legs came in, selling lottery tickets. He maneuvered on a roller board, head about knee high. Everyone knew him. A few bought tickets, and he moved past the line of chairs where he waited. Why was he still there?

The barber to my right finished a guest and turned to the lottery agent. “Same as ever, José?”, who nodded. In a fluid motion the barber lifted him from board to chair. Question answered — a customer, like everyone else, and a frequent one.

A sheet billowed out and was pinned behind his neck, steaming cloth applied, and the conversation continued without break. A few minutes later, towels removed and face skillfully shaved smooth and clean, followed by a brisk massage. Second puzzle — the barber was in no hurry and the next patron seemed happy where he was. Gossip, sports, politics, weather flowed as ever in that global mens’ club. José smiled and chatted, a member in full standing.

I was done. My barber spun me about to face the grand mirror on the wall of every barbershop. “What do you think?”, “Looks great!”, universal query and response. My eyes strayed to the salesman’s reflection, head level with mine, great sheet before him down to floor. Puzzle solved. José sold them lottery tickets and a chance at riches. They sold him a shave — and added legs for a few minutes every day.

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