My barber: the constant in a city defined by change

Whenever I relaxed sufficiently to pass out, he would simply go about his business

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - - -  July 22, 2015 --- During the heat of the day, a man taking a nap in a barber's chair is reflected in the window of a shop in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday, July 22, 2015.   ( DELORES JOHNSON / The National )  *** Reporter is not listed  *** *** Local Caption ***  DJ-220715-NA-Standalone-006.jpg
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From the over-chilled apartment hotel where the corridors were washed, daily, with a putrid-­smelling mop, to the 12th-floor apartment with windows that stood level with the minaret of a local mosque, I have called five places home since I first arrived in Abu Dhabi.

Early on, a new six-storey block in Al Nahyan Camp packed a surprise when I discovered that at least a dozen local security guards lived on the building's roof; next came a Stygian apartment in Al Mushrif that, thanks to its sudden and unforeseen contravention of municipal codes, required the demolition of a bathroom, immediately and overnight, just like that.

But rather than using this progression from one location to another as a way of marking my time in the capital, I prefer a different, altogether more satisfying chronology: the barbers I have frequented in the past nine years.

First there was Asif Khan, a proud purveyor of Yardley's lavender talcum powder whose saloon was decorated like the cab of a Pashtun jingle truck. One day, Mr Khan shaved his head, left for hajj and never came back, which is when I briefly frequented a young Keralite barber who swore by the efficacy of Ayurvedic hair oil for cooling away every sort of mental and physical stress.

Admittedly, as somebody who doesn't go to the gym or do yoga, a visit to the barber is as close as I get to meditation, the much-needed still point in an otherwise relentless, deadline-driven week, but no barber has ever understood this so well as the head man at Al Markaziyah's Green Crescent saloon, the resplendently named and coiffured Abu Bakar Siddique.

Shy, hesitant and with a barely controlled stutter, Mr Siddique has plied his trade in Abu Dhabi for more than 35 years, moving between one saloon and another as they are closed and demolished, perfecting a technique that is unassuming, diffident and never anything other than meticulous.

For a man who always has his hair cropped close, a visit to this maestro's chair almost feels gratuitous, but there are very few barbers I know who will happily cut your hair while you sleep.

I first started visiting Mr Siddique in 2011, while working as a freelance journalist, but mostly being a stay-at-home dad. Like my local pharmacy, laundry, hospital and 24-hour supermarket, all of which were vital to the manic parent of a 9-month-old child, the Green Crescent was visible from my living room window and became an indispensable part of my week.

Seeing a man walking around with a baby in a pram was always a source of amusement to Mr Siddique, but whenever I sat in his chair and relaxed sufficiently to pass out, something I did without fail during the years when I was juggling journalism with childcare, he would simply go about his business, mysteriously waking me somehow just before my haircut or shave was complete.

Mr Siddique never mentioned anything about these episodes, and unlike other customers and barbers in the saloon, he has never referenced the preternatural whiteness of my hair that gathers on hair-strewn linoleum like ash on a sea of iron filings. In the intervening years, Mr Siddique has seen me age and my children grow, but he has somehow remained the same.

Colleagues may move on, while too many friends have left, but bespectacled, white-overalled, dignified and kind, Mr Siddique has remained as one of the few consistent observers of my Abu Dhabi days. A true gentleman's gentleman, my Bangladeshi barber is a cut above the rest.


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