The story is set in the war-torn Colombia where the civil militia is fighting against an oppressive regime. The revolutionary militia has a network of informants disguised as people of normal trades like barbers, carpenters etc.
One such covert agent runs a barbershop and is the protagonist of the story. He is fuelled by a desire to end the unending lineage of violence and sees the army and government as tyrants.
Captain Comes to Barbershop
One day, captain of the army, Torres comes to the barbershop. He asks for a shave. This creates a dichotomy for the barber who is caught between his desire to end the war and do the right thing.
He continues with his work and lather up the captain. They start talking and it soon becomes clear that the military man was there to gloat about his victims and brutal accomplishments of war.
This makes the barber’s skin crawl but he keeps himself calm. The captain provokes and prods the barber by describing his acts of cruelty and bloodshed. He even asks him to claim loyalty to the army’s cause. It is as if he wants a response from the barber.
Desire to Kill Captain
At one moment when he captain has his eyes closed and the barber has the razor in his hand, he wonders if he could help the cause of his compatriots by slitting the neck of the enemy.
However, he cannot bring himself to do the barbaric and cowardly act. He contemplates that a murder is not the solution for peace and violence is violence, even if it is retaliation. He finishes the shave and cleans the captain’s face. He decides to keep his hands clean of any blood.
But as the captain is leaving he declares that he knew that he was an enemy informant. He had actually come there to test him. He also acknowledges that the hardest thing in life is to take someone else’s life and it does not get easier. He, too, find it crushing and morally exhausting.