Panya was still in the shop when Anjali arrived back that evening. She had set out on the table the tools that she would need for the work that was required. This was a set piece, a planned alteration to the way things would be; a careful measure of what needed to happen, with the last minute adjustment completed as she heard Anjali at the rear shop door.
The blanket light from the workroom ceiling was shining down, providing enough illumination for the most delicate of needlework. Anjali realised as soon as she saw the light shining that Panya would be in the workroom. Panya would never have left the shop without the lighting adjusted to the overnight setting.
Anjali entered the room as if this were just another off-the-shelf encounter between the women, placing the files she was carrying on the cupboards to the right of the entrance door. Panya, who had remained seated as that was the pattern to be followed, was shaken by the unexpected normality of Anjali’s approach, and bought herself some time by asking, ‘How did it go?’
‘I could feel that the messages were striking home,’ Anjali answered in a measured manner. ‘You know when the cut and colour and fearlessness of the design is there. One of the Directors around the meeting room table became quite irritated. It was as if he knew that the river was flowing on a new course, in a new direction, and he could do nothing to stop it. His arguments were soon swept away by the endorsements from the other Directors.’
Panya had regained her poise and was back on script.
‘You are being pulled out of shape by your ambition,’ she said deliberately but serenely. ‘There is no foundation to this work. It can take us nowhere. You have made our tailoring subversive. This obsession has corrupted you like a fungus. It is rotting away the base that we have worked too hard to fasten in place.’
Anjali was thrown. Panya was always measured, rarely direct, and never this direct. She drew breath, and then with her words snipping like scissors, she said, ‘The past you repair, Panya, the future you design. If I could just stitch courage into your backbone we could fabricate something so colourful, so beautiful, here in this drab valley.’
Panya was now on her feet. She would work to the pattern – or at least as closely to the pattern as this unfurling affair would allow.
‘The role of the Tailor is to sew comfort into the world,’ she said with a rehearsed delivery. ‘If your fashion leads to this outcome of so much upheaval and conflict, what is the good of it? Alteration and repair fit within the structure of this valley and the lives of the people who live here. The fabrication of your design can only be forged in a hot fire of change and destruction. The cost is too high for this little tailoring business to even consider.’
Anjali saw no value in responding. She may as well have put her hand beneath an advancing iron.
‘I am not going to discuss this further,’ said Panya. Now with rising steam she continued, ‘I will simply tell you how things are going to be. Our paths seemed to have crossed like swords. I will protect what I have worked so hard to stabilise.’
She closed her eyes, which suggested that she was overcome. In reality, she was ensuring that the essential detail was being covered. This was not a piece of stitching she wanted ever to have to unpick.
‘This is what I am determined to do. To pull the needle through obstinate fabric you need to have strong fingers. I have had to sew such strength into my fingers over the last years. You need to catch a thread before it unravels; and then you ensure it is safely tied down. There is much that needs repairing here, Anjali. There are alterations that must be made.
I have already told your uncle that there is no bridging of our two positions. His investment controls the majority of this business, as you must know. He has the power to act in the best interest of the customers of Threads.’
Panya turned to the door.
‘She is like one of the figures that decorates the face of the town’s clock and turns to strike the bell with the coming of each hour,’ thought Anjali.
Panya turned back again.
‘I have had a long and very wearing day,’ she said. ‘Please make sure the lights are at the overnight setting before you leave.’