He winked at me.
The cheeky bearded scamp winked at me. He stood by the bus doors, casually hitched his rucksack up onto his shoulder, turned his head to half face me as he dropped onto the pavement and winked at me. After a moment of nothing, I did that low hiss of derisory air from my lips at the same time as blushing and smiling, the three emotions that is it possible to feel all at once as a woman when being winked or whooped at; deep disgust, aghast shyness, and…secret pleasure. (Which is code for: NICE TO KNOW I’M STILL VISIBLE. Which is code for: I AM NOT DEAD YET. Which is ok. Because it’s always ok to not be dead yet.)
Then I noticed his blazer. His green school blazer. I felt dirty – even though I hadn’t even been the one to wink. I would have wiped the wink off if winks did such a thing as land on your face.
“WHAT THE RA-RA-RASPUTIN IS A BEARD LIKE THAT DOING ON A SCHOOLBOY?” I thought. Do they not get detentions for such anarchic foliage? Is it not on the banned list along with stink-bombs and hipflasks? Or is it a precociously follicled boy’s right, just like Muslims can wear head scarves, Christians little sad Jesuses on chains, and girls… sanitary pads? Is the beard the one thing you can’t take away from a boy if he says he needs it?
It threw me, reader.
Now, I am a massive supporter of the beard movement. I go to bed with one every night and am a fan of its shifting shapes, its light-skipping hues, its contours, defiance and mutability, its general bristly snuggly pinchable pluckable trimmable manly wonder. I like the fact that a good beard can look trampy in the morning and later that evening it’s like a kempt Edwardian gent is talking you out for a stroll. I like the fact that some days it’s like every man you come across attended a secret overnight convention and willed a beard into being while they slept for a grand morning unveiling. I like seeing old chums and doing a dramatic double-take when you see they have wordlessly joined the club. I like the fact no man really knows what to say when you bellow “YOU’VE GROWN A BEARD!!” They just shyly say “yeah” and pull it a bit like you’ve just told them their flies are undone. You want to say “it’s just a beard, dude. Own it for god’s sake, or it will own you” but you sort of like their vulnerable moment, because those moments are always way cooler than someone being cocky and jutting their chin in your face like the prow of a Viking ship.
But when a hirsute boychild eyes you like he forgot to pack his nutrigrain and you’re the nearest substitute for a pre Geography breakfast, I am left scratching my head. How come these worryingly confident little poppets can push out bristles before they have even learned how to wash their own crispy bedsheets? Can have a wiry ginger streak in their fuzz that speaks of age-old clan genetics before they know how to do tongues without strangling a girl? How? Nature’s weird.
I shall miss all the yesteryear beards when they ebb away. When scruffy Tolstoy boys go neat and preppy, when the fickle tache-twiddlers decide they’d rather have a baby smooth tan, when all the young dudes lose the illusion of wisdom and just look confused again, when streets don’t look full of poets and bars don’t look like libraries, when the curlicued blooms drop like fruit trees at the end of their season.
Maybe if I get a pubescent colonel winking at me again I’ll honour his strange bravado and wink back and scare the bejesus out of him. Or maybe I’ll tell him no girl worth her salt will love him later if he doesn’t pass through the natural awkward bare-faced pimply stage unhampered by gross self-assurance.
Or maybe I’ll just smile and look out the window because chatting to schoolboys on buses never looks good, does it?