Thursday, September 15, 2005

mai oh mai

Or: how to succeed in business without really trying.

If you haven’t guessed it as yet, I have been somewhat overwhelmed these past weeks. Work, packing, moving, clearing the house – all have taken their toll.

So I tell myself: oh, what the hell. Let me give my nonfitting clothes over to Mai. Mai will put up my pants, take in the tuck where a tuck is needed, she will do it well and she will do it cheaply. She has saved me before when my inclination was not to sew.

On Monday I take things to her little shop around the corner from where I once lived.

You have to be careful how you approach Mai. She has a million ongoing sewing projects. Like anyone on this planet, she does not like being told what to do. What you want to avoid saying is: please fix these by the end of the week. Instead, you say: is it okay if I ask you something? Then she will look at you with great doubt spreading to every pore of her beautiful face and you can push forward with your request. And tell her that you will amply reward her for her efforts. Then take out the bills and lay them down flat on the counter.

It’s worked before.

We agreed on Wednesday as the pick up day.

On Wednesday, I come by in the late afternoon. It’s dark inside. No sign of life. She must have closed earlier than her usual early hour. Okay, tomorrow I will come even earlier.

And so today I brush off students, write the most nonsensical, hasty emails on the planet and head west.

By now, people have pasted angry notes on the door begging for their clothes. I thought of the trip I am going on tomorrow at dawn and of my teaching needs for the next week. What good are angry notes when she is not there to read them? Calling her landlord proves futile. He notes that she had disconnected (temporarily? permanently?) her phone and his lawyer told him to stay out of her store (thank you, random and unhelpful lawyer).

Inside, her store appears even darker than before. And yet, I can see the parrot that keeps her company all day long (it flies loose, and I always check my clothes to make sure somewhere in their folds their isn’t a bit of parrot dropping). She may have gone off and left our clothes behind, but she would not have abandoned her parrot.

Or would she have?

I drive home wondering if a daily dose of jeans for the next three weeks would be noticed.

I sit down to write a post about Mai – about how beautiful she is and how I wished her beauty would make its way to Mai’s Tailor shop and open the door for me to retrieve all that I hold precious.

The phone rings. It is Mai.

Nina? I’m in the shop. Do you want your clothes? I am here for only five minutes.

I live downtown, no longer around the corner, but I promise her I’ll be there in ten. And I am, give or take ten additional ones.

She is standing there in the dark shop, not wishing to be seen by anyone, holding onto my clothes.

Are you sick? I ask her.

I thought I was. I do have an appointment in a few minutes.

I feel bad that I am keeping her from the doctor that she so needs to see. And yet, I note that she is standing in a full length black dress with sparkles sewn in throughout. Her hair is down around her shoulders. She is wearing make up. Her beauty, though no longer youthful, is especially palpable.

I stare at her unrevealing, unflustered face. Thank you, Mai. I tell her. You saved me.

She smiles. It is the only time I have ever seen her smile.