Black shapes in the drizzle were crisscrossing the end of Arrow Street. The town centre market was drawing to an end, and the clatter from the dismantling of stores and the loading of cases of stock reached the window behind which Anjali was working.
There were now three dress-suits draped over mannequins at one end of the consulting room.
Anjali was working alone completing the small details, the tiny stitches that one tends to address when nervous about the coming day. There was comfort to be found in the soothing movement of a bright needle as it fastened down the last ends.
She was abruptly pulled from a tangle of meditation and fatigue by the sound of the back door opening. Panya came into the consulting room, dripping from the drizzle that was caught in the evening air.
‘I decided I had better come back to the shop rather than telephoning,’ said Panya. ‘We have been so busy that I never had the chance to look in detail at the documents the Factory Manager is presenting tomorrow.’
She placed her grey coat on a hook by the door. The movement of the material caused more water to fall to the thin carpet. Panya returned to the job in hand.
‘I had pulled together a pan of stew. It was something I could do quickly and then leave it to finish. Then I sat down at the table and flicked through the presentation.’
She pulled a copy of the presentation from out of the plastic bag that she had used to protect it from the drizzle. She opened the document at a page she had marked with a piece of yellow material; material that she had cut for the purpose.
‘This presentation shuts the weaving mill,’ she said.
‘Yes, I know,’ replied Anjali after a pause. ‘It is the detail.’
‘This presentation shuts the weaving mill,’ repeated Panya.
‘We cannot be a part of this, Anjali.’
This was the most resolute that Anjali had seen Panya. She had felt that this moment was coming. It is that wave that eventually overtakes you, soaking your feet on a shingle beach. It was always coming.
‘I am following a thread of silk,’ Anjali said slowly. ‘And I know it can guide me to all those places that I have wanted to reach since I first rubbed my fingers through folded fabric in my uncle’s workshop, and felt everything that it was capable of. It has always haunted me, picturing that this silk thread would fray or perish before I reached the end of it.’
Panya was still looking down at the presentation. She had that control that you expect to find only in a mantelpiece clock. She would strike, but only when the hour had perfectly come.
Anjali took this as a sign that Panya was prepared to reach a compromise, and pushed her case further.
‘I have taken a fabric and made it into far more than a bundle of material. I have made a design that not only impresses, but it does so with pinpoint accuracy to a targeted end. This is the outcome that I have worked hard for. I cannot abandon this now.’
‘The design of the clothing is good, Anjali,’ said Panya after a precise pause. ‘But the designs we have created strengthen the delivery of the message. There is still the message. We have many customers for repairs and alterations who work at the Wetledale Weaving Mill. What will they think when they find that we were involved in this?’
Anjali took a pin from the cushion on her arm and pushed it through the cuff of one of the jackets.
‘The Factory Manager is just making changes,’ she said. ‘It is change that generates wealth. Fresh and effective design is expensive. If we are ever to be more than just a shop that alters and repairs, we need to work for those in the town that force the change and create the wealth. This week, Panya, we have at last started to change Threads. This week we have started to see what the full value of our work can be.’
Like the snip of a pair of scissors through lace Anjali then snapped a last remark into place.
‘I know about the changes that might take place at the mill. It is of concern to me. But we cannot work at the cutting edge, Panya, without cutting.’
‘You have hold of the wolf by the cloth of its ears,’ replied Panya quickly. ‘It will bite us and it will bite hard. This is a small town where reputations are quickly formed and quickly destroyed. The town is like an echo chamber, where any rumour echoes amongst the buildings and becomes distorted. Every report, every opinion, every comment will always sound far worse in echo than it ever did in action.’
‘We are a tailor,’ countered Anjali. ‘A tailor lives from stitch to stitch. Design, form, texture, colour, they accompany a person through life, they do not lead them. We create a garment. That is our only action. That is all we are responsible for.’
Panya let her voice rise until it was enough.
‘We are a paid service,’ she said, ‘Without that service, it is very possible that this Factory Manager’s plan will not be adopted. We have many customers for repairs and alterations who work at that mill. I ask you again, what will they think if they find out that we were involved with this?’
Anjali let Panya’s words hang in the air. There are certain fabrics that will run together and certain that will clash. The trouble for a tailor is that you cannot fully know how different fabrics will marry together until you have seen them at their full stretch.
Panya paused and the silence wrapped around them. Then, as pointedly as a pin, she said, ‘A badly-dressed thug is a thug, Anjali. But a well-dressed thug is a name, is a presence, is a person of note. We make that difference – we make the alteration – and we cannot be anything but responsible for the alteration that we choose to tailor.
We will finish what we have started and then we will deliver the dress-suits to the Factory Manager, and we will tell him we have gone as far as we can. He can make his presentation, and we will return to our business. We repair and we make alterations. In this damp valley that is a service of real value.’
Panya turned and left. Anjali returned to the steady movement of her needle through the cloth: but from that moment the cut of the scissors and the snap of the cotton was calculated, definitive and final.