I regret seeing him through the eyes of the shop staff, who were clearly not impressed with this customer. The girl who did the sweeping up of the hair kept staring at this man with a miserable look on her face - not empathy, but disgust. Perhaps not everyone who comes into the Barber's shop is going to leave with a "style". Perhaps some people don't listen to the awful R n B music that appeared to be on a loop in the shop (one song over and over and it was crap - either that, or they all sound the same). Perhaps some people are not young, beautiful and in fashion. However, perhaps this guy was not quite all himself.
I watched as our friend picked up a mobile phone and started pressing buttons on it. He seemed not to be able to use it. I saw the numbers he was typing. 88379#141 send. Huh? Unless he's a spy with a special code on his phone, this was nonsense. I suddenly had a flash. Perhaps this guy is actually not sound of mind. Perhaps they give him a phone to play with, that doesn't work, and he can pretend to use it. It did seem like he was going through the motions of using the phone. He pressed a sequence of buttons, seemingly not making a sensible number, then pressed the green key to have a call, then put the phone to his ear. Nothing. Then he pressed the red key and did it some more. He looked serious, but he didn't look with it.
I felt sorry for someone who was so far down the line that they were just going through the pretence of using a phone... then I watched some more. He suddenly successfully entered the local area code. It occurred to me that maybe his fingers, aged and wide, might not be obeying his mind. Perhaps he was trying to make a call, knowing how to use the phone, but just failing, in a frustrating way that he couldn't do anything about. Perhaps I could help.
I asked him how he was doing. He said he was ok and would I mind dialling a number for him on his phone. With pleasure I did just that, I initiated the call and he had a perfectly articulate chat with someone over the phone. He had been transformed from a doddering nutter into a real person with a life and needs, all by a simple sentence and an act of assistance.
I felt terrible. How frustrating it must be not to be able to use your phone. However, I was also pleased that it had been possible for him to ask for help. It filled some time while I was waiting for my head to be done.
After his call, we chatted some more. This man then changed from being someone who was a bit cack-handed to someone who had a past and a good reason not to be able to use his phone. He had recently suffered a number of eye problems, including the removal of a cataract. He had been a potential benefitee of the new drug available for blindness, but the risk of totally losing his vision was too great. He had been a pilot in the second world war, and the sole survivor of a plan crash on the 1st February 1943. This 86 and a half year old man was a pleasure to talk with, a radio listener and a cricket fan. In short, he was a whole person.
I went to get my hair cut. Part way through my hair cut, one of the chairs became free and, seeing it was free, the man went to sit in it - he could tell that the chair had become free, though I doubt he could have read the facial expression of the person who looks after the chair to see if he was allowed to go there, so he just used his common sense and took a free seat. I paid as the staff were joking between themselves that he'd just helped himself to a seat, thus forcing one of them to do another head before her lunch.
He was chatting to the girl doing his hair as I left, asking her about her boyfriend or some such. I could tell there was a stifled amusement around him... but to the people in the barber's he was just some doddering old man, where I knew the truth. The ex-pilot war hero is just waiting to be discovered with the right attitude.