Lucio makes a sudden decision: he walks into a hairdresser’s – it’s half six in the afternoon – and he will get his hair cropped close. First, with a pair of scissors, they cut out the bulk of his hair. Then, with a hair-clipper, they shave his head.
Back at home his sister pats his head and half-smiling tells him: “You look beautiful.” There’s a friend of his mum who doesn’t recognise him, and when he passes by quickly goes back to reading her paper. Lucio goes to the toilet, takes his clothes off, and shakes them. He gets in the shower and lets the water run over his body.
He decides, once more out of the blue, that he will steal a motorbike. He wants to go on holidays, he has been fired from his job and has no money, and he had his own motorbike stolen two months ago.
Every time that Lucio is out and about and sees a parked motorbike, he examines the type of chain and padlock, and he checks if it needs a key to start. He goes to bike dealers and acts like a potential buyer; he asks to be shown how the bikes work and pretends to be worried about their security.
Until one day, under the strong sun of two in the afternoon, on a deserted street in Floresta, Lucio sees a guy about twentyfive years old smashing the lock of a Honda 500 with a strong and sharp hammer blow, just at the same time that he raises his head to stare back at him. He gets on the motorbike, starts it, and drives around the corner.
Lucio approaches the tree to which the bike was chained. There are still dust particles and white smoke in the air. He kneels and picks up a piece of the padlock. He searches for the missing part and joins the two. When he stands up he breathes in the smoke, and feels how the dust particles rest on his body and shaven head.
He turns the corner. Halfway down the street he sees the motorbike, frozen, by the curb. He looks around and sees no one. He goes closer. Gets on the bike. Tries to fire it up. It doesn’t work. “It must be stalled,” he thinks. “Must wait.”
He looks around, feels observed and thinks that there wouldn’t be anything more ridiculous than taking the blame for someone else’s theft. He jumps off and with his handkerchief wipes his fingerprints from the motorbike.
His hair grows, stings, turns into a doormat and Lucio has to get it shaved again. This time, a friend cuts his hair with his father’s Philips. Now, more than a sudden decision about changing looks, thinks Lucio, it is a matter of keeping things as they are.
With a saw he tries to cut a chain. The motorbike’s owner comes out of a house just across the road. It’s late, half three in the morning. Lucio runs until he is out of breath. He sits in a doorway. He is in Devoto. He hears rushed footsteps that get closer and closer. He sees the motorbike owner. They are the same age. Both have shaven heads. He stands before Lucio. Both try to catch their breath. Lucio is still holding the saw. They stare at each other for a while. They look elsewhere. The motorbike owner takes out a pack of cigarettes. Lights one. Lucio stares at him. The other guy smokes. Loads and spits on Lucio’s face. Lucio cleans his face with his sleeve and the other guy walks away.
The same night, by another bike, Lucio realises that it is badly locked up, with the padlock stuck through a single shackle; the motorbike is unsecured. He hops on and gets it started. It’s a moped, a Zanella. He rides around the empty city. He doesn’t have a way of locking the bike and he doesn’t know what to do with it. When dawn is near he takes it to his house, gets it in the elevator, and then to the sixth floor. He parks it in his room, which is very narrow.
For days he doesn’t take the motorbike on to the streets in case he bumps into the owner. Slowly he starts stripping away the paint (it was dark green) but he can’t get it all off. So he covers some parts with other colours until it begins to look camouflaged, like a military motorbike. During those days, Lucio hardly ever leaves the house. Locked in his room with the bike, he paints and strips, listens to music, and searches for money in the pockets of the trousers, jackets and shirts that hang in the closet. He finds one or two crumpled and laundered notes (now also faded) and a padlock split in two.
He leaves the room only to get his meals. His parents haven’t asked anything for quite some time. They don’t tell him anymore that he should study or look for a job. Every now and then Lucio gets money from his mother’s purse. He knows that she knows and that father knows too, and that they know that he knows, but they all pretend not to know.
Approximately a year and a half ago, Lucio’s father traveled to the provinces for three days, sent by the bank. When he came back his hair was completely white. Because of that he was depressed for several months, they granted him leave and he would stay all day in his room, sleeping with his mouth half open. Lucio, then, used to spend little time at home. He would try to delay his returns for fear of finding his father dead. But apparently his father never had the slightest intention of killing himself. He didn’t even drink alcohol.
A psychiatrist sent by the bank started to give his father intensive treatment and three months later he went back to work – part time. Afterwards, everything was normal.
Now, during the meals that the family spend together, everything is like it used to be. His mother is also going grey, but she decided to dye her hair her natural colour. Every other Thursday she goes to the hairdresser’s with Lucio’s sister; she gets her hair dyed, the sister gets hers tidied up.
Enough time passes by, and the motorbike, Lucio thinks, is unrecognisable. With the new paint-job it is completely changed, it would pass unnoticed in a forest. He even placed an Angelo Paolo sticker on the gas tank. So he decides to take it out for a ride. He fills it with petrol, mixes it with oil and takes a route that leads south. Sixty kilometres into the trip he runs out of fuel. He leaves the bike locked to a fence and hitches a ride to the nearest gas station. He gets on a truck. The driver is about thirty-five years old and so skinny that Lucio thinks it impossible that he will manage to drive such big a truck.
He finishes filling the tank and throws the petrol can in the air, as far away as he is able, into a neighbouring field, aiming for a cow. He doesn’t hit it but manages to scare it.
The bike stalls again after less than ten minutes. He is close to a garage. He pushes it, they make him wait two or three hours. A woman in work-clothes comes out and tells him that it is beyond repair. It’s dark and hot, Lucio is tired. Once more he pushes the bike away. He tries and manages to get it started, rides for one hundred metres and the bike stops again. So he just leaves it in the middle of the road, hoping that a truck will run over it, making it explode.
In Mar del Plata, at dawn, Lucio waits by a hairdresser’s. His hair has grown, it stings, it looks almost like a doormat.
When the shutters open an old man makes him sit on a hydraulic seat facing a mirror, puts an apron across his chest, and tells him, “Your hair is very dirty.”
When he finishes cutting, Lucio remains seated, staring at the mirror. After a long pause the man says: “It’s fifty Australes.”
Lucio stands up and shaking his clothes says that he doesn’t have any money on him. “You will have to accept this watch.”
The hairdresser picks up the phone: “I’m calling the police.”
Lucio stares at him, standing still. The man grabs the cut-throat razor that he used to cut Lucio’s hair and threatens him, as if he were trying to deflect a possible attack. They don’t move. He dials again, with the same hand that he is holding the receiver, but can’t get through. Slowly Lucio moves closer and towards the door. He walks past the old man and leaves the shop walking backwards. He stumbles on one of the steps but doesn’t fall, and stops on the sidewalk, watching the old man dialling the same number once more.
Translated by Fernando Sdrigotti
Martín Rejtman is an Argentine writer and filmmaker. He was born in 1963 and lives and works in Buenos Aires. He has published the collection of short stories Rapado, Literatura y otros cuentos, Velcro y yo, and Tres cuentos. His work as a filmmaker has been pivotal to Argentine cinema, authoring classics such as Rapado, Silvia Prieto and Los guantes mágicos. He is currently finishing a new feature film, Dos disparos.
Image, still from Rapado – © Martín Rejtman