The street outside is buzzing with the excited energy of school children as dusk begins to set in. A sea of generic patterns floods his vision as the uniform-clad teenagers rush directly in his direction, and then hurry past him to the thriving bakery just a door to his left. Bowing his head and pushing his foot on the pedal of his sewing machine, he smiles. This is one of his favourite sights, every weekday. Children.
He thinks back to a time when a crowd, just as big as this, but matured and subdued by adulthood, thronged to the door of his tentative business. Years have passed since he experienced the pressure that came with having to complete a few dozen elaborate orders in a week’s time; and years have passed since he basked in the confidence of having so many people depend upon his needle and thread, and being able to cater to their needs.
In the span of months, his store grew from an overlooked shack to a whitewashed building, two storeys high, and in the peak years of his business, he had found it necessary to hire three young, and sometimes incompetent, money-minded assistants. He remembers puzzled expressions on young men’s faces as they struggle to convey to him their wives’ very specific tailoring instructions, and he remembers their embarrassment when he haughtily dismisses them, after he’s had his fun. He remembers the regular gaggle of women in sarees, gossiping at his counter while they wait for someone to attend to them. He remembers long days and longer nights of pushing, shoving, praying for elves and desperately needing to get the job done before dawn. He remembers his young son’s frequent complaints about his spending too much time at work. But most of all, he remembers the sounds: the sounds which tailored the routine of it all. The muffled honking of impatient drivers outside. The sizzling and clanging of kitchen utensils from the tiny startup bake house next door. The screeching of chairs on the hardwood floor when one of his assistants felt the need to stretch their legs. The clink of loose change being handed over at the counter. And the rapid thrumming of the needle coming down hard on a silk blouse or a polyester shirt. Sometimes, he thinks he is wistful.
But then, he remembers why he ended it all; he found that he had saved up enough to last him a lifetime. Enough to educate his son, up until the day the boy decided he wanted to run a business too. Enough to keep his wife happy and buy her a necklace on their wedding anniversary. Enough to pay the bills on time and take care of his weakening body. So, on one sunny April morning, he sent his assistants away. In the following weeks, he sold the top storey of the building to some mattress dealers, and built a wall at exactly a quarter of the length of what was left. Then, on his son’s birthday, he gave the bright-eyed youth the larger portion, hoping to give him a boost. He stopped taking any order they gave him, and restricted himself to doing linings, repairing flimsy hooks; the little things.
And now, he sits contentedly with his silvery locks falling over his eyes, and chews on beetel leaves as he works. He has lunch with his son, who runs a decent stationery store, and closes at seven p.m. He could probably spend his last days without the obligation of work, enjoying the comfortable quietness of his home; but there is something that refuses to allow him to pull the shutters on this shack for good. He supposes that is what happens when you dedicate over five years of your life to nurturing, loving and cherishing something, no matter what it is. A throat clears, and he looks up. Ah. A regular customer.