THE LAST THOUGHTS OF A BARBER
Pak Dimin sat on an old wooden chair in the simple bamboo hut he used as his shop. He looked cut watching people and vehicles pass by and hoping that somebody would come to have his hair cut. But no one had come that morning. He produced his tobacco-pouch rolled a cigarette, lit it with trembling hands and smoke. But he soon threw it away as he was racked with a bad cough. Though he was just over fifty, he looked much older. His wife often told him to stop smoking, but he would not give it up. Now, struggling for breath, he stared at the cigarette stub on the ground, his mind starting to return to the time when he had begun his trade about thirty-three years before.
One morning in 1943, he left his house carrying a barber’s case, a folded stool and a large nail in his pocket. He walked slowly along the trees looking for a place where he could open up his trade. After some time he came to a street with tall tamarind trees a long it. He stopped for a moment and looked around. This was a good place, he thought. From where he stood, he could see the Japanese army barracks, a market place and a couple of small shops.
Having made up his mind he stepped towards one of the shady tamarind trees, and put down his case and stood on the ground. Then he searched around for a stone. When he found one the size of his fist, he returned to his tree, took out the nail from his pocket and using the stone as a hammer, began to drive the nail into the trunk of the tree. Ha hung on it the broken mirror he had taken out his case. Then he sat down on his stool. He did not have to wait long before his customer came.
The man sit down on the stool. Murmuring a prayer, pak Dimin started his work. He first put a piece of cloth on the man’s chest and tied one side around his neck. He took his scissors and trimmed the man’s hair with them, then clipped it with the clippers. When he had finished the hair, he took the razor and began to shave the beard and moustache. Finally the barber brushed the hair that stuck to the man`s neck and forehead, and it was all over. He thanked the man when he got his money.
The day he had eight customers, and six of them wanted to be shaved bald. Yes, pak Dimin remembered that the young people in those days to be bald-headed, like the Japanese soldiers. In that time business was really good. The job was much easier ad the payment was not bad. He could also ger some regular customers.
Sometime in the last months of 1945 he had to leave his job and joint fight against the Japanese and later against the Nica soldiers. Pak Dimin took part when a large number of young freedom fighters attacked the Japanese barracks near his working place.
In 1947 he followed his followed his parents who moved to a village near Bogor, where he continued his job as barber. But business in the village was poor and when his parents died in 1950 he returned to Jakarta.
Fortunately, his place under the old tamarind tree was still available, and so he had no difficulty in getting into business again. In lasted for some years and then he had to give up. Times had changed and very few people liked to have a haircut under a tree on sidewalk. Now people wanted to go to a better place for hair-cut, and more fashionable barbers shops were opened up everywhere. Pak Dimin was not able to compete with them; he could not afford to rent a room for his own shop.
After some hard thinking, Pak Dimin decided to work for somebody else who owned a barber`s shop. After a couple of days he was hired by barber`s; he received forty per sent of what he got from his customers. Business was not so good, but he felt better. His customers now ranged from school-boys to businessmen and government official.
Having such people as customers, Pak Dimin could hear all the big news without having to read newspapers or to listen to the radio. He could hear from them about the terrible wars in Korea, the Congo, Vietnam and the Middle-East , and about a coup d`etat in some far-way country in Latin America or Africa. He also heard about the difficulties in Parliament when the law against corruption and the marriage law were passed and he shed tears when one of his customers told him of the death of Sutan Syahrir, whom he knew as one of the best Indonesian diplomats and politicians.
Pak Dimin was a good man, who knew when to talk and when to listen. Depending on the situation, he could either be a good source of information or an attentive listener. He had learned by experience what topic to bring forward to a particular customer. When he talked with a young man, he would talk about music, with a member of the Armed Forces about war and weapons, and with a religious man about morals and religion. When he was with the father of many children, he talked about schools and school-fees and the difficulty of getting the children into high school or university.
Time passed, and Pak Dimin grew older and older. Troubles began to occur. He often got headaches, and he also felt that he had rheumatism. His eyes were no longer as good as before, and his hands sometimes trembled when he was shaving a customer.
One day his boss noticed that Pak Dimin could no longer work well, and so he dismissed the old man. Afterwards he stayed at home for a couple of days, before he looked for another barber`s shop that would hire him. He was lucky to get a job in a small one, but he didn`t work there for long. His master thought he was too old to be a good barber. Pak Dimin began to look for someone who had an unused hut for rent: he got one from a man who demanded fifty per cent of what the barber got from customers. That was where he was now.
It was true that the charge for a hair-cut had now been raised, but the most he could get was two customers a day. It seem that people now hated barbers. They usually let their hair grow long. Those who had a lot of money went to a hair dresser`s. If fashion went on like this, Pak Dimin thought, he wood soon be out business, Then real trouble would come. He could not change his trade. The only thing he could do was hair-cutting. He had no capital to be a merchant and he was too old to become a laborer.
He sat on the old wooden chair, watching people pass by, hoping that one of them would come to have his hair cut. With his trembling hands he tried to roll another cigarette, but he failed. He very tired now.
Suddenly his mind was troubled again. It was not because he felt he was going to die soon. The very thing that troubled him was how he could afford to pay for his funeral when he died. A customer once said that a funeral in Jakarta would cost at least thirty thousand rupiah, that is, if he wanted his body to be buried in a proper place-in a grave in cemetery. Who would pay for his funeral? Such an amount of money he certainly did not possess. His aged wife has not been able to save anything from what he earned and they had no children. What would become of his wife when he died? Oh how tired he was and weak. He closed hid eyes and took a deep breath.
A man walked slowly into the hut. He wanted to have a hair-cut. The old barber was fast asleep, he thought. He said something to the sleeping man. But there was no answer. He then put his hand on the barber’s shoulder and tried to wake up. But the barber`s body moved forwards and dropped down onto the ground. Pak Dimin no longer had to think of his troubles.