Thursday, November 17, 2005

The Tailor

“You are needing only loose covers,” he says, a doll-sized sewing machine dangling from one arm. “This, I am finishing by eight o’clock.”

I look at our two big chairs and the bolt of fabric and shake my head. It is already four in the afternoon. No way can he cut, fit, and sew zippered covers for the cushions and these massive and thickly upholstered beasts in four hours. Maybe this tailor, who has been sent around by one of India’s big department stores, is speaking in metaphors? Maybe he means eight o’clock on some night next week. Whatever. We’ll obviously have him around for a while.

Not that he takes up much space, being a very short and slight person with shoulders and hips the breadth and thickness of those of an anorexic, twelve-year-old American girl, with arms as thin as those of a Belsen-Belsen survivor. His face, though, is firmly fleshed and defined with determination, his eyes black and hard, his hair thick and black.

“This is good,” I say, ever the diplomat. “But to work tomorrow, too, is okay.” And, I hear my own voice and realize that I’m beginning to speak in simplified English.

I go back to my Think Pad. The tailor gets an iron and ironing board from the maid. I edit photographs. Behind me the board squeaks and the iron hisses. An air purifier squats in the corner, slurping up the fetid Delhi air, spitting out a slightly cleaner product. My Photoshop program eats four pictures in some unaccountable way. An hour passes before I think to look around to see the thin figure bent over one of the chairs, a length of cloth draped haphazardly across its back and arm. Snip. His scissors, sharp as stilettos, cut a six-inch, curve more or less following the shape of a chair arm.

My mother’s sewing genes wince. I close my eyes. It’s going to be a massacre. Tattered bits of cloth will soon be hanging off the chairs. We’re going to need another 14 meters of fabric. We’re going to … .

I won’t look. I’ll find another place to work.

That’s the best idea. Think Pad in hand, I set up shop in the living room. Cocktail and dinner time arrive. From the study comes the hum of the sewing machine. Something is happening in there. I won’t look.

I do, of course, but only a peek as I walk past the door. He’s haunches down on the carpet, barely visible beneath heaps of cloth. One knee seems to be propping up his chin, the other juts out at right angles to the body, his hands feed fabric through the speeding needle of his sewing machine.

Dinner is over. We are considering the medicinal qualities of brandy when … .

“Finished, Madam.”

The tailor is standing in the door, his sewing machine again hanging from one arm. “I am going now,” he says. It is eight-thirty.

We crowd the study door, see a scene of devastation, a room strewn with thin strips and snips of fabric. They cover the floor, form heaps on every surface. Lint has turned the red carpet to a near white, but … against one wall sit the two chairs, resplendent in their new clothes. The cushions bulge against their covers, fabric shapes in smooth curves over arms and backs, nips where it should and makes nice, tight edges above the floor. The chairs are beautiful.

“I DO believe in miracles,” I say. “I really do.”

Total Cost, fabric and labor: $20
Total Time: 4 ½ hours


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