“Take these trousers to Kristina, the old seamstress,” my teacher instructed me, “and tell her they need mending. I have also put some extra fabric in the bag,” she added. This wasn’t the first time I was being sent on an errand for my teacher. I had run to fetch her lunch, pick up her prescription from the pharmacy, tell her mother to take the chicken out of the freezer, pick her son up from day care, you name it. But this task was different. It was exciting. What’s so exciting about going to a seamstress you may wonder; she was no ordinary seamstress.
You see, Auntie Kristina (that’s what a girl with manners should call her) was a friend of my family. She had visited us more times than I could count, but I had never been allowed to visit her, because her husband was unwell (and, I thought, probably couldn’t stand noise). They had no relatives in town. Their only daughter had married and moved to a distant city. So they lived alone in our small town, where everyone else had been there since Adam. It seemed to me that as outsiders they really appreciated the friendship of my parents. Also my father would fix any electrical appliance that broke in their house, free of charge. I guess Auntie Kristina and her husband loved my father like the son they had never had.
Auntie Kristina had the strangest ability to mend clothing like no one else could. She could patch a hole or sew a tear so that it was no longer there, as long as you had extra fabric. You couldn’t detect where a patch had been, even with my grandpa’s glasses on. Ask my mom if you don’t believe me.
So, I was ready to sprint toward her house when my teacher delivered her final instruction. “Be careful. Don’t drop the trousers anywhere. They are very expensive. And,”-that’s when my heart froze-“tell her these are your father’s trousers.”
You might have asked why, but I didn’t. I knew the reason. Auntie Kristina had stopped doing this kind of work for quite some time now. She had turned down such requests lately because the job put a strain on her aging eyes. But there was only one person she wouldn’t turn down: a dear friend asking a favor. And that was my father. If you wonder how my teacher knew that, then I suppose you’ve never lived in a small town full of gossip.
Yes. I knew it was a lie, but after having had this same neurotic teacher for 3 years, a teacher who had pulled my hair in first grade for writing crooked letters, I knew better than to say no.
I lowered my head and dragged myself out of the school. As I watched my shadow slide over the stones on the dusty road, I tried to think of a way out. The first scenario that played in my head was telling Auntie Kristina the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
“Auntie, my teacher sent me with a pair of trousers which have two holes, one big and one small on the left leg. These trousers belong to my teacher’s brother-in-law, who is our ambassador in some far away country and who burned them accidentally during a reception. (No, I am not making anything up. I overheard my teacher talking to her assistant during recess.) Since these trousers are far too expensive to throw away and since it is very, very important that the representative of our glorious country doesn’t go around with holes in his trousers, would you kindly repair them, please?”
She would politely decline and I wouldn’t blame her. Why strain one’s eyes to save the fancy pants of a careless diplomat?! However, this kind of answer would spell disaster for me. I abandoned this scenario and switched to the next.
I would go to her house; pretend I had knocked till my knuckles hurt, then turn back to tell my teacher that the seamstress wasn’t home. My teacher would believe me because: number one, I hadn’t lied before, and number two, she believed that the child who could lie to her had not yet been born. (She told us this herself, but if you can keep a secret, I will tell you-she is wrong. Two of my friends lied to her once, and they didn’t even flinch when faced with her lie-detecting stare.)
Anyhow, I would try, if it would end my misery. Yet, I knew like two plus two equals four that she would send me again the next day and then the next until I found the seamstress home. Chances are she would send another envoy with me after the second attempt. Then, I would have to convert that classmate into an accomplice, which was about as easy as swallowing a bull.
As I swallowed my saliva and wiped my sweaty forehead I realized that I had arrived at Auntie’s house. Standing in front of her door with my fist raised to knock, I couldn’t think of a way out of this dilemma: Shall I lie to my teacher or to Auntie Kristina? To tell the truth, the first seemed a lesser wrong but with greater consequences. I would have the same teacher for another two whole years.
I knocked twice, wishing hard that Auntie Kristina had moved to another city without letting anyone know, or had gone to see her daughter long enough for his Corpus Diplomaticus to go back to that far-away country. Have I told you that I am not that lucky? Well it’s time you knew.
Auntie Kristina opened the door with a big smile that made me blush to the tip of my ears.
“Hello Auntie! My parents send their regards to you. My father’s trousers need some repairs.” My voice trembled like I was begging for food. “Some extra fabric is in the bag.” I handed the bag to her with shaky hands. As soon as Auntie saw the shiny, high quality pants she looked at me over her spectacles, perplexed. She inspected the holes and fell silent. The longer the silence lasted, the hotter my face got. Auntie Kristina, who probably knew how many fillings my father had in his mouth, could quite easily guess that my father, a modest electrician, would more likely land on the moon than own those fancy trousers. I lowered my head and waited for a shame-on-you slap but instead I got:
“O.K. Come and pick them up tomorrow.”
Tomorrow? I was worried. I will have to go through all this again my mind protested.
“Yes, “she said. “I don’t have time today.”
“Tell your parents I said hi,” she reminded me. I nodded. You would expect me to take a deep breath once she closed the door, right? Instead I felt like I was choking and there was only one way for my lungs to get air: let the tears that were knotted in my throat flow. And I did. I didn’t care who might be watching. I hated my teacher. I detested her mindless brother-in-law. I loathed pant-burning cigars. I hated myself. I was a bad girl. I was a liar. I continued to cry to my heart’s content, until my eyes were dry and I could breathe again.
The next day my teacher’s face brightened up when she examined the repaired trousers.
“Unbelievable!” she exclaimed. “One thousand witnesses are needed to prove that there was a hole in these pants.” She turned to me with a smile and said, “Well done.” Her praise, rare as rain in the desert, didn’t make me at all happy this time. In fact, it inflamed my guilt which was burning holes inside me. All I could do was to wait for the flame to die out.
Three weeks later, when the fire of my guilt had somewhat subdued, something happened that blew the ashes away and exposed the embers. It was the day of my older sister’s wedding. As I was busying myself, getting into everybody’s way, I heard Auntie Kristina’s voice greet my father. I jumped out of my skin and hid behind my bedroom door. Peaking through the keyhole, I saw her hand Mom a wrapped gift for my sister. Only for a split of a second did she scrutinize the outfit my father had on. Although it was his best gray suit, it stood a hundred light-years away from those fancy trousers.
She smiled at him and proceeded to the sitting room. She sat on the sofa exchanging pleasantries with both my parents while her coffee was being made. I glued my ear to the wall so that I could hear and started to reconstruct the puzzle of their conversation from what I could hear. When she asked where I was, suddenly finding a hiding place was more urgent than hearing what she had to say next. If I knew one thing about my mother, who stuck to the rules of manners like no other, it was that she would be looking for me in no time. It is considered rude for children to not greet guests, especially when the guests deigned to ask about them. I wasn’t mistaken. Mom rushed into my bedroom calling my name. I was sweating in my closet, hiding among racks of clothes. Did Auntie tell? Is Mom angry? Am I in trouble? I wondered. I could sense she was annoyed and impatient. Somebody called Mom from the kitchen with urgency so she stopped looking for me. I stayed inside until I heard Mom thank Auntie for coming and say goodbye.
I couldn’t spend my whole life inside a closet, so finally I decided I had to come out. On my way to the front yard, Mom called: “There you are! Here, take this. It’s from Auntie Kristina. She said you are a good girl,” Mom related with satisfaction. I don’t know why, but parents are really happy when their children are praised. “Isn’t she a nice lady?” Mom asked. Without waiting for my answer she hurried to greet another guest standing at the door. My mom had placed a bag of candies in my hand. My eyes welled up, but I pushed the tears to the corners. Something that felt good was happening inside me. The holes of emptiness were being patched. My soul was being mended.
“Yes,” I whispered to myself. “She is a nice lady, and the best seamstress of all.”
Mirkena Ozer is pursuing MA in women studies at the University of Georgia, Atlanta.