“Alex! Allons y!”
“Papa, y'ont pas ouvert!”
“Oui, y sont. J’ai déjà téléphoné!”
Alex had been enjoying this lazy snow day, hanging out in his room. It was Friday, but he forgot it was a second Friday when he and his grandfather would be heading for their regular trip to the barber shop.
Alex and Papa Lou were best friends, spending much of their free time together. Both were mischievous and “full of the devil” Alex’s grandmother would always say. Alex was the only one in his family who studied French. This created a condition that had the rest of the family on edge when Alex and Papa Lou were in one of their impish moods. They loved to plot their next prank at the Sunday dinner table. “Right in front of us and we don’t even know it!” Alex’s mother would complain good naturedly.
These biweekly trips to the barber together were times Alex treasured. Papa Lou would pick Alex up from wherever he as — school, a friend’s house, home — and they’d drive to Cappy’s. They’d sit in the chairs kibitzing with each other, the barbers, and other waiting patrons until it was their turn to get trimmed up. Papa & Alex were always a show. When they were finished they’d leave the shop and Papa would stop on the sidewalk just outside the door, look over Alex’s head and no matter the style or what he thought about it, say with gusto, “Rasoir!” Like a razor, sharp. Then he’d tussle Alex’s new coif. Alex would then give his grandfather a once over. “Rasoir!” And when he was tall enough, he’d mess Papa Lou’s new cut as well. The day always ended with a walk up the street to the Belgian waffle joint for something to eat and drink.
But Alex just wasn’t feeling it today. It felt more like an obligation. Teenage ambivalence reared it’s head and all he wanted to do was sit in his warm room on this snowy day, playing video games.
“Alex, get down here. Your grandfather’s waiting!” his mother yelled up the stairs.
“Aaaaagh!” Alex yelled back as he grabbed his coat and stomped out of his room.
Alex stood in front of the door to Cappy’s bundled against the cold, gloved hands jammed in his pockets, wool ski cap pulled down over his mop of hair, and his collar hiked up around his neck. He looked in through the wooden blinds on the door to this classic old barber shop. He didn’t want to go in. But when he looked at himself in the mirror this morning, he knew he couldn’t put it off any longer. Of all the memories he had of he and Papa Lou, why was that one coming back now? It wasn’t a day he was particularly proud of. He’d been a surly teenager that day. He especially remembered responding in English anytime Papa spoke to him in French — their secret language that no one else in the family knew. Their bond. One of many. Papa was reaching out to him with affection and Alex rebuffed him each time. A ruthless adolescent. And this was the spot where…
Alex ducked so Papa Lou couldn’t muss his new ‘do. “Pa-paa! Non!” Papa stood for a beat looking at his grandson. “D’accord… Rentron.” Ok, let's go home. And home they went. Papa Lou never stopped talking the whole way. Some in French. Some in English. And his face always seemed to be smiling, even when he wasn’t. There was something about the glint in his eyes and the slight upturning of the corners of his mouth that never completely went away.
They pulled up in front of the house. Alex turned to get out of the car after deigning to give a mumbled “Thanks, Papa” when he felt a meaty hand close around his forearm.
“Aaah, Papa Louuu…!” Alex whined.
“I know. But traditions are important,” Papa Lou said smiling, immune to Alex’s mood.
Alex leaned sideways towards his grandfather. Papa Lou turned sideways, took Alex’s head between his two hands, and gently turned Alex's head until they were face to face. He then proceeded to land six rapid-fire kisses roughly on the boy’s forehead. No matter how hard he tried not to, Alex grinned despite his surly self. Papa Lou released his head from his iron grip. Alex half snorted and shook his head as he pulled the door handle.
“J’t’aime, mon fils.”
“I love you too, Papa.” Alex begrudged, disappearing in a curtain of snow as he made his way to the front door.