“Damn!” I hissed.
I wiped the face wash I had been applying out of my eye as best as I could with a damp towel. Unfortunately, that didn’t stop it from burning. I splashed a little water into my quickly reddening eye, but it only made it worse.
The second time the insistent rapping sounded from the door, I wasn’t scared but rather annoyed. Who would be knocking on my door at this hour? Whoever it was, they were due to receive a colorfully worded thanks for scaring the crap out of me and making me injure my eye as a result.
I squinted out the peep hole and barely recognized who I saw standing there. I opened the door to find Hiromu standing with his shoulders hunched and a shaky smile on his face.
However, the thing that kept grabbing my attention was his unevenly shaved head, exposed to the nippy night air. The absence of the long black strands he usually had, dyed fiery red at the ends, silenced any expletives I had been planning to spew at him.
He cleared his throat and my eyes met his. I waited for him to stride into my apartment like he always did. Usually, he would probably smirk at my homely appearance, swipe a finger across my semi-white face and crack a joke as he rubbed the cleanser between his fingers. But he did none of that. In fact, he almost looked timid.
“Hey, Hiromu.” I rubbed at my eye in one last attempt to alleviate the dull ache emanating from it. “What are you doing here so late?”
His smile had dropped and he was now scratching his head a little harder than necessary. “You said to tell you how my match went as soon as it was over.” he said in thickly-accented Spanish. He gestured to his newly-shaven head. “I lost.”
“Oh.” I replied, wishing I could think of something more reassuring. Or at least more than one syllable.
“Come in.” Well, that was two syllables.
I stepped to the side so he could enter.
He trudged into my home, ducking his head a bit as he passed me.
Hiromu had told me that there was a stipulation to the match he had that night, but I had no idea he had put his hair on the line. I was vaguely familiar with luchas de apuestas, but mostly of the mask versus mask persuasion.
“Sit down.” I gestured to my dingy yellow couch, which was rather unnecessary seeing as it was the only piece of furniture designed to be sat on in my living room.
He nodded and obeyed. My brow furrowed.
For most people, that might have been a normal, courteous response, but for Hiromu it just made the entire situation even more alarming.
Since the moment I had met him, Hiromu was a rather…eccentric personality. I remember the first time he came strutting into the salon I worked at. I had been drowning in a sea of middle-aged housewives, all requesting blond highlights as if it was the most unique hairstyle ever created. While I did glean some joy from their happy expressions once their hair was satisfyingly streaked in gold, I wanted something different. And Hiromu was definitely that. The only other reprieve I had from the usual visits was, coincidentally, another wrestler who went by the name of Maximo Sexy. Not even Hiromu could top a bright pink Mohawk. But fire-engine red was a close second.
With his penchant for weird taunts and my steady supply of awkward sarcasm, it didn’t take long for our client/hairdresser relationship to blossom into a friendship.
“I have to go take this off.” It seemed like there was a serious conversation brewing and I couldn’t very well have one with him looking like una payasa.
I walked briskly to my bathroom, then proceeded to carefully (but quickly) scrub the now-dry wash from my dark brown skin. I felt around the bathroom sink for my lime green face towel. It wasn’t until I heard a sniffle as I dabbed at the water around my eyes that I realized I wasn’t alone. Hiromu managed to scare me for the second time that night when I saw him slumped against the doorframe leading into my bathroom.
“Shit! Hiromu you’ve got to stop doing that…” I trailed off as soon as I saw the tear tracks winding their way down his face. “Hiromu? You okay?”
The only response he gave was falling into me, wrapping his arms around my frame and digging the pads of his fingers into my lower back.
The last phrase I would use to describe Hiromu was ‘afraid of physical contact’. He liked to teasingly poke me in the ribs, swat at my afro and nudge my arm on a fairly regular basis. However, while he wasn’t afraid of invading my personal space, he wasn’t particularly affectionate. Things like hugs never really seemed to be his speed. Needless to say, I nearly fell over with him when he hugged me. Also, he was pretty heavy.
As he squeezed me, I had a million questions running through my mind and a demand for an explanation on the tip of my tongue, but the words wouldn’t come. Partially, because these types of situations sparked an extreme awkwardness in me. Also, because he seemed like he just needed to break down. To let it all out. And me standing there, letting him soak the shoulder of my pajamas, seemed like the best thing I could do to help him.
After what seemed like hours, his shaking and sniffles subsided and he raised his head to look at me with faintly puffy eyes that would surely be puffier in a matter of hours.
He wiped at his face with his wrist, bits of the tape he used to wrap it still clinging to his skin. He didn’t meet my as eyes he muttered something to himself in Japanese.
“So…” He began once he had appeared to have calmed himself down. “What was with the war paint earlier?” He chuckled.
I blinked. It wasn’t unusual for Hiromu’s mood to change with the wind, but the man had gone from literal sobbing to chuckling in a matter of minutes. I had to try to keep up.
I stared at him for a few seconds, then frowned when I realized he was poking fun at me.
“You’re one to talk, baldy.” I said, swiping a hand over his bristly head. I could tell by the way his smile dimmed that maybe it was too soon to be making jokes.
I backtracked. “I like it though. It’s…different.” I placed a finger on my chin and pretended to study him. “It’s just missing one thing.”
“It’s missing a lot of things.” He cracked, staring indignantly into my somewhat smudged mirror.
“True, but whoever cut your hair did a horrible job.” I grabbed a stool from my kitchen and had him sit on it as I slathered shaving cream on his head and grabbed a clean razor from one of my cabinets.
“Wait.” He yelped once the razor was approximately one-one-hundredth of a centimeter from his scalp. “Can’t we just leave it?” He asked, referring to the patches of hair still on his head.
“It’s already gone, Hiromu.” I paused, thinking of a different approach. “Kamaitachi needs a new start.”
That seemed to strike a chord with him, and he said nothing as the razor scraped across his skull several dozen times. Once I was finished, I wiped his head clean with my green towel.
“Will you dye it for me when it starts to grow back?”
“Let me guess…bright red?”
“Sure.” Then in a move that shocked even me, I planted a quick peck on his newly-shaven dome. My throat constricted in panic at the uncharacteristically intimate gesture. In contrast, Hiromu rose from the stool as if nothing had happened.
Just as I was breathing a sigh of relief, he grabbed my face and brought my eyes level with his. Painstakingly slowly, he placed his lips on my forehead, my nose and finally my lips.
When he pulled away, his dark brown eyes locked with my own.
“Thank you,” was all he said before letting go of my face.
“You’re welcome.” I responded, looking meaningfully back at him. Then, a realization dawned on me. “But if you ever come beating on my door this late again, I’m going to beat your ass.”
His laughter echoed into the night.