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If you are imagining that we are on our way to the temple for some ritual induction ceremony with priests, incense and chanting, you’d be wrong. There is no religion in Aberdabubajerstan to speak of. We do have gods, of course. All men have them like camels have fleas. They need us more than we need them. Mainly, though, we don’t bother, preferring wisdom and wit to awe and anger. Hence the popularity of Zen Masters. There is not much true Zen left in the mix, these days. No one likes meditating or is interested in reincarnation, suffering and sublimation but we do prefer direct experience over creed and the dubious revelations of scripture. So these days, Zen Masters in Aberdabubajerstan are simply smart arses. We also like good story telling and the neat lifestyle choices offered by shaven headed men in need of a bath and a good nag by a woman.

So, no temple but a barber’s shop; ear piercing and head shaving for two grobbels and a morning of sweeping the floor and wiping the blood off the furniture. This was the fifteen year old boy’s initiation into the world of work which is also called manhood. The first thing, though was to have your ear mutilated and your beautiful hair removed by brute force.

I really was very upset and so was Uncle Brudo, only his upset was embarrassment at dragging a weeping boy over the threshold into a shop full of bristle headed, stubble faced men, there for the weekly shave and head polish. The barber looked up at the commotion and grinned.

“Ah, Brudo, my friend, you bring me the boy to be made a man.” He waved his razor around and made hissing noises.  “Now what shall we do first? Ears or shears?”

There was something about the barber that jolted my brain like iced tea shocks the belly.  Was it the pale blue eyes? The long, sneering mouth? The trembling hands?  It was probably all of them. I stopped sniffling and wiped my nose.

“Mr Barber, Sir, I do not want you to cut my hair or pierce my ears. I want to leave this shop as I came in. I will clean your floors and furniture and I will learn by heart all the filthy jokes that your customers tell and retell them to my father to show him I am a man, but no one will touch my hair or my ears unless they want to die.”

The shop fell silent. The Barber put down his clippers and walked over to me. He bent his face down towards mine.

“Ah, yes!” Blue eyes stared into my dark brown and very wide open eyes. “You are the Zen pupil I have been waiting for. ‘He who breaks tradition to make tradition.’ You shall have your wish and keep your hair and ears intact.”

“His mother will kill me!” exclaimed Uncle Brudo.

“She may,” say the barber, looking up, “but she may also delight longer in her son’s hair, so your death will not be without purpose.”

“Easy for you to say,” Uncle Brudo muttered.

“Boy, my name is Udo” the barber said quietly, “I am a barber and a Zen Master. If I do not cut your hair or pierce your ear then you must become my pupil and work in my barber’s shop for twenty hours a week for twenty grobbels a week, cash in hand. Am I not wise?”

“Er, yes master.”

He slapped me hard on the side of the head.

“Wrong! I’m a smart arse, not a wise man!”

“Sorry Master”

He slapped me on the other side of my head.

“Never be sorry for giving the wrong answer! For in the error is the truth. Now, there’s your broom. Get sweeping and keep your ears open. There’ll be lots of jokes today now we’ve seen your Uncle Brudo. No offence, mate, but you did sound like a wuss. Frightened of your sister! Never mind, come and sit down and I’ll give you a shot of Fiery Jack to put some backbone in you. I’ll give you a free shave too, seeing as you have brought me a pupil. Ah, good, my hands have stopped shaking; must be the slapping did them good. Must do more of that!  Right, who’s next in the chair?”

He stared at each seated customer in turn. No one seemed to want a shave just then.

“And boy, what’s your name? “Crudo, Sir!”

“Well, Crudo, if you learn your lessons well and are a diligent pupil, I shall teach you the fine martial art of Tup!. It is the only one you need. Isn’t that right, lads!”

“Yes Master!” the whole shop roared back in unison.

And with that, I became barber’s assistant and Zen Pupil to Udo, Zen Master, smart arse and exponent of the art of Tup!.