The Barber King of Chow Kit

3 November 2021

Grooming is not my thing.

Left to my own devices, I would shave my head. The convenience of hair that requires no attention.

Shell feels differently. It’s my ears, we both know it.

A good barber is as important as a good physician. More important.

“Beware the young doctor and the old barber’ - Benjamin Franklin.

When I first moved to the mean streets of Chow Kit I went to Vikki. He was nearby. We bridged the language gap, high and tight. Convenient. No attention necessay. Ears discreet. Mostly.

Second lockdown. Everything was shut except the essentials. You could argue a trim was essential. You would be wrong. Tough times for Vikki and his brother.

Shell made a few attempts with the clippers. A fine job. It caused anxiety for Shell. Another solution required.

I bumped into Vikki outside his shop. We exchanged numbers and he agreed to give me a cut on the down low. Sounds standard.

I am the spy.

We live across the road from the Dang Wangi Police Station. A clandestine cut was like coming in from the cold.

I would wait on the corner, discreetly sipping a mango lassi. Opposite corner, Vikki’s brother. Catches my eye, signals to wait. I do. He looks around with his keen barber eyes. Wait, still. Moments pass as he surveys the scene. 

Undercover barber police?

He signals, I walk towards him. He nods me past. I stroll past the rundown shops, casual like. Definitely not getting a trim. After a hundred meters or so I get to their shop. The roller door is partly open. I slide in.

I am the spy.

Vikki is there. He glances up, shocked. Rushes past me and looks out the door. He tells me to wait. Looks some more. Pushes me out the door and sends me back to my corner. Vikki seems very agitated.

I am the failed spy.

​​“He met failure as one day he would probably meet death, with cynical resentment and the courage of a solitary.” ― John le Carré

I buy another lassi. Wait at the corner. I need a toilet. Vikki’s brother reappears. He looks annoyed. We wait. He scans for undercover barber Police. Wait some more. Time to move. I know what not to do. I am clueless what to do.

Before I get to the shop, a door swings open, just a hole in the wall. It’s Vikki. He pulls me in.

I am the spy.

The room is a scene from a movie. Broken tiled floor, filthy. It is the place people are killed and evidence is hosed down a drain. The room is empty except for a plastic stool in the middle. I sit down. I will face death with stoicism. They will not get my passport number. I don’t remember it. I will be brave.

The door opens. Barber police? A raid? Just Vikki’s cousin. They all live upstairs. There are eleven of them.

I get my cut. Leave my lassi.

This happens for the next 12 months of lockdown.

Farewell Vikki.

The Barber King of Chow Kit.


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