– Merivale Lane, Christchurch, New Zealand

The haircut

Christchurch 1:58pm December 23rd 2011

The floor to ceiling window panes of the hairdresser’s shook rapidly. My chair, which had wheels, rolled back and forward across the floor. My hairdresser grabbed it, and I grabbed the shelf that was attached to the floor in front of my and held on. One of the hairdressers screamed then ran out through the door, down the tiled corridor and out to the rear carpark.

We could hear yells, screams and glass smashing in the Fresh Choice supermarket in the Merivale Mall across the road. People staggered out into the middle of Papanui Road. One man paced up and down the footpath outside the hairdressers. He looked at his phone, above his head, then ducked and held his head with both hands as the next, smaller quake struck. He ran into the middle of the road, and paced around in circles. Other people staggered out from the main mall onto the street. The panic subsided into a nervous murmur.

“Wow” someone said.
“Power is still on” said someone else.
“I’ll check the water” said my hairdresser. “Who wants to go outside?”
Everyone who wanted to go already had. The cell phone lines were already overloaded.

My first thought was “Where is Matt?”, my 14 year old son. He had gone with friends to the Riccarton Mall. I didn’t like the idea of him being surrounded by panicked people in a big open space. I asked to use the salon phone and called home. Both Matt and Terry were there.

“What would you like to do?” the hairdresser asked.
“Well, if the water is on, I would like the dye in my hair rinsed out” I said. “We probably have enough time before the next large aftershock”.
One client had a photo sent to her on her phone which showed the cliffs at Sumner as a cloud of dust. Another client checked GeoNet.
“Magnitude 5.8.” she said “Just offshore”.
“It was a very rolly quake” said my hairdresser.
“There’ll be another large shock too” I said “but let’s hope it’s smaller”.
“Would you like to go outside?” she asked again.
“I don’t like the thought of walking down that tiled corridor with floor to ceiling glass the entire way during the next quake” I said. “I don’t want to risk falling down, and I can’t see that anything can fall on me here”.
“That glass has survived bigger quakes than that” she nodded.
“I feel safer sitting down inside than I would standing around outside. Besides, my family is safe. Do you still want to cut my hair?”
“If you are happy sitting here, I will check on my staff, and we can go from there” she said.

The girl who had run outside had been in the City during the February quake, and had her building collapse around her. Understandably, she was nowhere to be found.

A woman came in from the supermarket to sit with her daughter who was also waiting for a haircut. She sat down in a chair next to me. It was clear from her eyes that was in shock. Chocolates were passed around.
“I was in the supermarket” she eventually announced. “I leaned against the wall and watched all of the glass falling off the shelves. I was worried that the shelves might fall down, but they didn’t. People were screaming and trying to get out of the supermarket all at once”.
“Strange isn’t it?” I said “That weird lull between quakes, like everything holding its breath”.
The little girl had her hair cut.

After she re-stacked the shampoo displays that had fallen on the floor, my hairdresser returned.
“Right” she said. “Let’s see how we go”.
Half way through the cut, a more violent quake struck. This time, the hairdresser gripped my shoulders, and I held on to the shelf again as my chair and the earth rolled back and forth. The sound was enormous. The ground shook up and down very rapidly and went on for longer than the prior quake.
A detached part of my mind watched the panes of glass move about 5cm back and forth. I looked up. The ceiling panels did not seem to be moving. That didn’t make sense. It took me a while to figure out that I was moving and the ceiling was too.
“I am sweating” I told the hairdresser “That was a big quake!”
“I’m glad I’m sitting down” I said. “I thought we would get smaller quakes, not bigger ones!”
Aftershocks were always smaller than the original quake, so this was a new fault being created.

“I’m just about finished your cut” my hairdresser announced, “but I just need to check where my staff are. Do you want to stay or to go?”
“Crikey” I said, “are you sure you want to finish? Look at my hands – they are shaking!”
“If you are happy to stay, I will finish the haircut, as it won’t be long” she said. I am pretty sure that we will have no more clients today, and I have to stay to close up the shop”.
“Sure, no problem” I said.
She soon came back and finished cutting. She began to blow dry my hair.
“You don’t need to do that” I said.
“Well, I need to see how it sits, and it looks like there is still a bit of weight to come out on this side” she quickly thinned my hair. “But I won’t straighten it”.
“Well, what kind of service is that?” I joked, and we laughed.
The power and water remained on, so I was able to pay by EFTPOS.

“That is the last haircut from me” my hairdresser announced “as I start my new job in Auckland in three weeks. “I can recommend another hairdresser in this salon” she said.
This woman was going to get top marks for professionalism. I wish I could write her a reference.
“That’s very nice, but I won’t make the appointment now, though, if you don’t mind” I said.
I gave her a hug goodbye. She had been trying to tame my hair for years.

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