Setting the table for dinner, Harry noticed the salt shaker had pepper mixed in with it. Harry was a curious sort, and, strange as it may seem to others, it got Harry thinking, is that what I’d look like if I grew facial hair? And so he set himself a task to grow a beard in a week, maybe two. See, Harry wore a nine o’clock shadow even on days when he did shave, so a beard couldn’t be that hard a task, surely.
Day One – Sat 19th Sept, 2015
It was Saturday morning. A whole weekend was at his disposal to do with as he wanted. After all, what did Harry have to lose? He’d recently broken up with his girlfriend, so now was the perfect time. Otherwise he’d have had to take into account the not indecent request to shave twice daily to ensure facial hair was at a minimum for those intimate moments.
Harry awoke startled. His hands went immediately to his face. It was a reaction that served to wipe away the ‘sleepy men’ from the night’s sleep. They then shifted to the cheeks and the chin, quite a routine exercise he was barely aware of. Until this morning. Was there something growing on his cheeks, his chin? It felt like a forest on his face. He’d forgotten about ‘the growth.’ Looking in the mirror upon getting out of bed, he noticed silvery whiskers glistening back at him. The salt seemed to be mixed in with the pepper. ‘Just as I thought,’ he said out loud, but quietly, to the face glaring back at him from his own reflection in the glass.
Dressing for work that morning, Harry was convinced he was not going through some mid-life crisis. Oh no! If that were the case, he would have bought himself a Harley-Davidson, a black leather jacket with skull and crossbones on the back, and joined a bikie’s club like the Hell’s Angels. The smile that looked back at him from the mirror told him he had nothing to worry about in that regard. Besides, he still thought of himself as youthful, with a spring in his step. The only thing old about him was his name.
It was business as usual throughout the morning and the afternoon. Later he was told by one of his colleagues that they had discussed ‘it’ among themselves, making personal assessments about his facial appearance, giving his beard a score from one to ten. The average score was an eight. But it could well have been his colleague was just ‘pulling his chain,’ so to speak. Harry was one to always doubt compliments such as these.
Tamila came into Harry’s office with a big smile on her face. Finally a comment from a colleague. “You should wear pink, blue or grey shirt,” were her exact words. “Those colours go well with grey beard.” Harry had a wardrobe full of coloured shirts. Tamila had told him what he wanted to hear. After all, almost every day, Harry would wear a pink, blue or grey shirt to work, never white. He had a rule against white shirts. Too business-like. Didn’t go well without a tie.
Harry checked himself for a moment. He knew the story of Narcissus, who’d leaned too far over the river in order to see his own reflection that he’d fallen in and drowned. Harry wasn’t going to let this happen to him. He was a good swimmer, so he wouldn’t drown, but the analogy was not lost on him.
Day Eight – Sat 26th Sept, 2015
It was Saturday again. Harry had survived a week. His ‘forest’ had been upgraded to a Category 2 national park. But unlike his beard, which had begun to take on a life of it’s own, his patience was wearing thin. He’d been reminded of the times many years ago when, riding in the back seat of the family car, on his way to his family’s summer holiday at a caravan park on the north coast, he’d said to his Dad;
Are we there yet?
Not yet son, but not far to go now.
Half an hour later he’d ask again, this time in haste;
Are we there yet?
Close to it son. Sit tight and we’ll be there before you know it. Trust me.
That summer, Harry was bitten by a blue bottle. He lost all his energy and slept for days to recover from the bite.
Today it wasn’t a blue bottle but a beard that was affecting his mood, his manner with his staff, and his home-life too. He didn’t like being morose, it wasn’t in his nature. He was by all accounts, a positive thinking person, full of hope for the future. But the beard made him feel like an ageing professor when most days he felt more like a youthful, if mature-age, student.
Could facial ‘fungus’ really have that kind of effect on someone? Or did Harry have more in common with Narcissus than he’d like to believe? Either way, he knew a return to the ‘old Harry,’ the young, vibrant, energetic Harry, was just days away.
Harry drove up the driveway only to see his friend, Grace, waiting by the front door.
Where have you been?
Harry thought for a moment before answering. He’d shaven his beard off that morning so was back to being clean-shaven again. He was feeling free, alive. His answer replicated his emotion;
I was lost, but now I’m found
Grace was puzzled by this, but Harry knew full well what he meant.
The title photo to this piece is of Harry, before, during and after.
You be the judge. For better? Or for worse?
…and btw, Harry never did return to that caravan park, just as he’s never likely to return to the bearded version of his true self.