The tailor was a black man, short with a square head. He wore a narrow pair of black framed glasses and his voice when he spoke was surprisingly deep.
‘As you know sir the cuff of the jacket should sit between a half and a quarter inch above the cuff of the shirt. And the cuff of the jacket should be level with the joint of your wrist. Hold your arms loose. Loose. Yes, there.’
He made a chopping motion with his hand, parallel to my wrist. He wore a thin silver wedding ring, studded all the way round with diamonds.
He stood back. Behind him further in to the shop a second tailor was flipping through a book of fabrics.
I turned sideways and looked in to the mirror.
‘It will take me a couple of days for the alterations.’
‘I’ll need it ready for Sunday morning.’
‘We are open at midday on Sunday sir.’
The second tailor was a younger man. He wore a dark blue suit, jacket and waistcoat. His hair was black and shiny with product and he wore a tape measure draped loosely around his neck. I could see him now, talking to a customer.
‘Sunday morning I am afraid.’
He pursed his lips ‘If sir can be here at ten o’clock, I will do the final fitting before we open.’
I shrugged the jacket off and handed it across.
At the wooden cutting desk in the centre of the shop the tailor took an invoice pad and started writing up the purchases. Items were listed by type; two pair trousers, one jacket. Sizes were written below each article and circled. Alterations were put in a separate column on the right hand side.
* * *
The sun was shining brightly on the Sunday morning. I remember that clearly. The grey pavement looked cleaner in the light, and the small worn step that led up to the shop was hard to see without the cast of shadow.
A discreet sign in the window of the door read ‘closed’, I knocked and waited. My watch read five minutes to ten but I thought it unlikely the tailor was not already in the shop. I knocked again.
Five minutes passed before I thought to try the door itself. It swung inwards easily, and as it did I heard the faint jangling ring of a bell.
The air inside the shop was cool, and the smell of wax and polish rose from the wooden floorboards. There was a counter in the far corner of the room, a cash register and a display of silk ties sat on top of it, and behind it there was a small doorway, the door slightly ajar.
I pushed the small door open and went through. A short passageway led to a larger room with whitewashed wall. Three large cutting desks were set up, each with its own large flexi-lamp, bolts of fabric were stacked in rows against the far wall.
In the centre of the ceiling an ornate iron chandelier hung and beneath that a dark shape, held suspended by a tape measure that was pulled tight under the weight of the body.
The tailor wore a different suit to the one he had worn the other day. That was what I noticed first. Grey instead of navy.
I didn’t vomit but for a moment my head swam and I clutched at the desk I stood next to. A dead tailor, strung up by his tape measure. The absurdity of it.
The act of hanging gave the body a dejected air, the shoulders slumped forward, limp and disconsolate. I didn’t look directly at his face but from the corner of my eye I could see he still wore his glasses. My eyes fixed on his feet, the shot you see in films, feet together, toes pointing slightly down.
And now nausea welled up and I turned and stepped towards the door. My foot kicked something as I turned, sent it skitting away across the floor in front of me. It caught the light as it tumbled. A thin silver wedding ring, studded all the way round with diamonds.
I left the room and walked back in to the main shop. My suit was hanging on a rail behind the shop’s counter. I hadn’t noticed it as I walked past the first time. The shop felt colder than before. I breathed in deeply and smelt the wax of the floorboards again. I paced across the shop for a while. I didn’t vomit.
I was sitting on the step of the shop, my back pressed against the doorframe, the sun warm on my face when the second tailor arrived. There was a sheen of sweat on his forehead and his suit jacket was unbuttoned.
I gathered the suit that lay across my legs and stood to meet him.