Hair cut. Listening to the buzz of trimmers. A chorus of machines overplaying one another along the row of silent men. Each gazing at or trying to avoid his reflection. Each sitting to update or maintain their look. The barber’s is small place, one like so many others around the world. A row of chairs, a row of mirrors, a tiled floor. Ageless. Filled with the productive sound of steady work. Click and snip. Buzz and trim.

Someone speaks up, trying and failing to spark a moment of small talk. The weather. Sport. Weekend plans. But never politics. Only safe topics; that is the best plan when someone is wielding a blade near your head. It is the cost of cohabiting among the press of humanity in the Citadel: an unspoken agreement, to try not to offend each other.

Some, sneering, call that agreement – and ever-evolving understanding of where offence may or may not lie – political correctness. I call it not being an asshole.

My barber tries me out, looking for a tip, commenting on the weather. I agree that it is windy. Conversation over, just how I wanted it. He will get a tip if he does the job right, that’s how I work. Fifteen minutes of silent, enforced, reflection, pulled away from the data feed, is a comfortable and peaceful time for me.

When I’m done, before I pass over hard credits and leave, I gaze at the cut-offs. There’s a lot more grey pooled on the floor than there used to be. Hair is changing. Body is changing. Age is reaching out to me, poker-faced about my future.

In truth, the weather is bland and uneventful. The occasional gust tries to stir up the world, but it, like the small talk in the shop, soon falters. I step out and make my way to a bar. Just stopping in for a bit, taking a while to watch the world and break out my reader. I’m slogging through a pulp sci-if novel. Having to force myself a bit, it is not as good as I had hoped.

I’m tired, so I order a stim from the barmaid. A sweet mix of sugar, caffeine and taurine – just what I need. An early start saw me at the local green-space, with a crowd of 500, all gathered to run two laps. A small burst of exercise to start the weekend, potential to socialise over a caf at the end; it is not a bad idea. It is a gathering being played out around the country, and in others too. Pushed forward through the web, linked into the social feed, and supported by both business and government, it has grown and replicated over the past few years. Can’t fault it. The intersection of commerce, politics, people and health can be a hell of a thing.

At 0900, people gather in green-space around the country to thump out five clicks at their own pace. It is not a hard run, but not the easiest either. I was joined by an old friend and her father, visiting from their own local version of this run, to show me the ropes.

We will meet again for dinner. I’ll need more stim-drink – the 0900 run cut short a much-needed lie in. I was up late, as the date went well. Not that kind of well, but well enough to keep me out deep into the night. Good conversation, good company. Easy time spent between two strangers, breaking down the wall of unfamiliarity. I couldn’t believe my luck. I asked if we will see each other again, and her reply was instant. Positive.

Before the run, my friend caught a still of us. A keepsake for two people, friends that grew close in the ill-lit, drunken, discos of their early twenties. Still keeping each other company, all these years later. My expression in the capture surprised me. We are both smiling, but for once mine doesn’t have a tight, uneasy edge, with eyes that belie the expression. My usual fixed, and flawed, response to image capture. Today it was different.

Real.

Go figure.

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