Putting up a story on Sunday because Prayag is one of my favourite writers. away and also share. Over to Prayag.
“Beards are cool. I’ve thought so since before there were articles on the internet about them. Even when I couldn’t grow one I knew that I would when I finally could.
My father, and most of his friends, most of whom had either attended film school or abused drugs or gone to rehab together, all wore beards. I thought they were a cool fucking crowd. For a part of my life, I believed these were the kind of men I should aspire to be like because they were the only kind I had to look up to.
They’d meet every Sunday – these cool, bearded ex-junkies – at whichever church or Catholic school was hosting their Narcotics Anonymous support group that week. Afterward, they’d hang around and smoke cigarettes and discuss Austrian jazz or Polish arthouse cinema, and whine about how things just weren’t getting any better for them.
The conversations were all fixated around vague dissatisfactions with their wives and parents and children, which were never fully (or at least reasonably) articulated, and only got worse with time. These men were tortured artists, crazed intellectuals, eccentric freethinkers, or at least that’s how they fancied themselves. They’d squandered their brains and bodies on addiction, and were now weaning themselves off dope only to adopt a more damaging habit: delusional self-pity. They’d enable and supply each other.
When I was five years old my parents decided not to live together any more. Life rearranged itself into a new routine before I had any time to feel properly sad about it. Weekdays were spent with Ma, who made me finish my schoolwork and paid for my vaccinations and took me to the movies and eventually also bought me my first shaving kit. Weekends I’d visit my dad in his new apartment, where I usually watched him watching whatever cricket match was on that day. In the evenings he’d play jazz and stroke his beard, telling me what a bitch my mother was.
A few months after he moved out my father got rid of his beard. He took to shaving every Sunday morning, and I was fascinated by this ritual. I’d hoist myself onto a stepstool to brush my teeth, otherwise I couldn’t see myself in the mirror above the sink, and I’d observe my dad’s reflection as he stood behind me, repeating the same sequence of actions week after week. He was a slow, careful shaver; did a fucking neat job of it every time. He cut himself only once and there wasn’t a lot of blood but I cried because even a little blood is a lot of scary when you’re that young. When I asked my dad how long I’d have to wait before I could shave myself, he went out and bought a new razor, unfastened the blade, handed it over and said, “Start practicing”. I used toothpaste for shaving cream.
The first time I shaved for real, I was fifteen years old. The smell of my father’s aftershave came back to me that day with a clarity that refuses to now obviate itself from memory. I’d ask him what aftershave that was, except we haven’t spoken in years. I don’t remember his favorite jazz records or the names of his friends. They were a transient crowd anyway, always finding newer people to commiserate with.
The last time I met my father was in a courtroom, which is where most relationships go to die. On our first day in court he came up to me and said “Wow, son, I didn’t recognize you with that beard”.
Motherfucker wouldn’t have recognized me without it.”