I first met Fred on a cold, winter’s day in a second hand record store. I could not help but notice him, his inflated head bop-bopping along to the tune playing. A Bod Dylan one, if I recall well. I held back a while before pulling up next to him. Flicking casually through the D section of the records, taking out Duran Duran’s Rio, both our heads turned at the same moment and our eyes met.
No words were said. Fred bit on the side of his inner lip, nodded and I nodded back. He was browsing the B section of the records. He had stopped, as it happened at Bob Dylan’s Desire.
– Dylan? I said.
– Ya, Dylan. He said.
We held our gaze for a while. His head was a perfect sphere. His eyes, sunken gems; dark, resplendent. Still biting on his inner lip he asked me:
– Where do you buy your hats?
– Ya, you wear hats don’t you?
– Eh, ya, I guess. I guess when it’s cold, I do.
– OK. He said.
I moved to the next section of records. The Bob Dylan song ended. I cannot recall what played next. He stayed, looking at the B section. A young girl passed behind me and took up place between us. She ran her fingers over the plastic sleeves of the records, not seeming to know what it was she was looking for. Her eyes glanced up at me and with a swift turn to look up at Fred to her left. This she repeated a few times. She didn’t disguise it. Clearly, our larger-than-normal bald heads intrigued her.
– I can’t find hats to fit me. He said.
The girl in little shudders turned to look at me, waiting for my response, and then looked down at the records again.
– No? I said.
– No. He said.
The girl stepped in a pace, lowering her head, sensing a conversation was to develop. I stepped out behind and walked to the A section of the records to the left of Fred.
– What is it with hats? I asked. My question taling off with a smile.
– It gets cold. He replied. He released on biting on his lip and flashed a smile in return. His eyes glistening as they travelled up to inspect my hairless globe.
– Ya, it does get cold. But I cannot wear a hat either. I find they itch. I said.
– Itch a lot, ya.
– Hoods? Never. Mine is a little bigger than yours, you know.
It was more than a little bigger than mine. To be fair, if mine was a grape his was an apple.
He turned and walk past sections C, D, E and F and stopped at G. The girl watching him as he passed. An Abba album caught my attention. I picked it up, flipped over its cover. Ring, Ring. It was one I had not heard. Immediately, I decided I had to have it. I flipped the cover back again, this time taking a little longer to take in the cover’s photo of the four members of Abba together. All smiling, all with full heads of hair, and wow – how their smiles dazzled.
He was at the counter, propping himself up with his left elbow. His eyebrows shooting down, pointing to the album in my hand
– Ya, Abba. I said. Why not? They have some great songs.
– They do. Some greats one altogether.
The sales assistant stood on his elevated spot behind the counter surveying the scene. Silence fell between us. Fred turned to the assistant and asked how much he had to pay. As he was paying the girl joined the queue. I felt her eyes resting on me. I fidgeted. I quickly paid for the album and saw Fred waiting for me at the door. His eyes piercing me. As I approached he stretched out his hand.
– I’m Fred. He said.
– Cliff. I said.
– Hoods? He said.
– Hoods!? I said.
– Ya. He said. How about getting a hood. I’m fucking freezing with this bulb on me.
– Right. I said. I know just where we can you sorted with a fine hood.
Out the door we went, bop-bopping along to buy some hoods.