The Charming Man

The Charming Man’s room is upstairs on a backstreet in East Jerusalem

I climb up the metal stairs to see the Charming Man. This is my second attempt today. On the first attempt, the wait was so long that the shebab were sitting on the stairs. I picked my way through them so I could look into the narrow room. The two chairs were full and still more shebab were lined up on the couches. I am twice the age of every stripling there. The Charming Man spotted me and waved me in. I declined, pressing my hand to my heart.

Detail of the Charming Man’s sign.

“Come back. Two hours” he insisted over the top of the thumping base. A pop-Arabic singer was crooning something about Ya habibi on the television positioned between the chairs.

Now, two hours later, the Charming Man’s room is still jammed, the music is still thumping, but since I had made an appearance previously, I am ushered to the front of the line. I wedge between two shebab on the couch. A fellow with white cream on his face gets up from the chair and goes to another station. He looks like a ghost. I am motioned to take his place.

The Charming Man, whose real name is Mosab, appears delighted. Last year, when I sat in his chair, he invited me to his wedding. I was unable to attend. Now, he tells me about a new baby.

“Qusay is his name.” Like every proud father, Mosab pulls out his cell phone. He flips through photographs of an infant. I respond with various man-grunts that are universally used at the sight of such cubs.

A photo opportunity before the Charming Man begins.

“Short?” he asks.

“Yes,” I respond. “Like before.”

The process is more involved than any haircut experience I ever receive at home. First, Mosab lights a cigarette. Then, with it dangling from his lips, he uses electric clippers to mow down the sides of my head. He starts to shape the top with scissors, but is interrupted when an adolescent arrives with a plastic bottle of cold orange drink. Both chairs of the Charming Man stop. Drinks are poured in plastic cups all around the working area.

When the cups are empty, Mosab continues scissoring.

I ask him how his leg is doing.

He says fine, although when he is on his feet for ten hours or more it begins to hurt. I can only imagine.

A couple of years ago he showed me the scar where an Israeli bullet had entered his calf and shattered the bone. His fellow protesters had dragged him away from the firing. He is lucky. The leg could be mended, but would be forever contorted and scarred. Mosab limps awkwardly to this day.

He finishes the top. Then he carefully loads a fresh blade in his razor. He perfumes the instrument with spray. I close my eyes and draw a deep breath. There is nothing quite as exhilarating as baring your neck to a Palestinian with a straight razor. Carefully he works all the edges around my ear and on the back of my neck. The blade scrapes as he pulls it in a series of quick, short strokes.

Next comes the hot wax. He reaches for a stickful and globs it in various places about my cheeks and nose. While it cools, he trims and thins my eyebrows. Then he lights another cigarette and takes a call on his cell.

Satisfied that the wax has done its job, he slowly lifts a corner and then . . .  RIP! . . . pulls the rest of the mass off my face like a ninja snatching an internal organ.

“Owww!” I protest. The spectators on the couch laugh.

“Almost done,” he grins. He pours a handful of some kind of perfumed water and rubs the offended skin around my eyes, nose and forehead. He presses hard and goes round and round. It is an odd, but relaxing, feeling.

The Charming Man and the Orange Drink Boy.

“Now, go to shower.” He points to the sink in the corner where the Orange Drink Boy waits. I sit down in this chair, lean backwards. The shebab washes my hair and dabs it with a towel.

“To Mosab,” he orders.

I return for a final round of jelling and primping.

“Perfect!” the Charming Man says at last. “Na’eeman!” “May you always be so fresh!”

Two Charming Guys