“Madam, haiko tayari. Kuja kesho, nitakuwa nimemaliza (It’s not ready. Come back tomorrow, it will be ready then),” the tailor told me for the umpteenth time.
I had a mind to pick up my material and leave with it but it was already cut into the design and partly sewn. And more than anything, I needed peace – it had been a long day.
I sighed, looked at the tailor angrily, then bit my tongue because I knew I was about to say something I would regret.
“Sawa (Fine),” I said tightly as I stepped out of his shop, weary and regretting why I had passed by. Then I turned back and said: “Ka haijaisha kesho nitaichukua na sitalipa (If it is not ready by tomorrow, I will take it as it is and I will not pay you).”
I watched the tailor’s jaw drop (let’s call him Tailor M) and turned around walking away. I bet he has never seen me angry.
But I was livid and was growing tired of his kesho—he had told me the same thing two weeks ago, and this was not the first time he had stayed so long with my dress. The lie was getting old. Much as I wanted, I couldn’t take it just yet as I had already made a down payment.
I realised it was time to move on to another fundi as this relationship was no longer working.
I don’t know if it’s just me, but the first time I give a tailor business, they deliver fast and make neat clothes. I am always impressed. Usually, I can’t wait to buy another kitenge and take it back to them. Then, after a few months, the relationship starts getting sour – so many delays, broken promises, wrong designs, stealing of leftover material, dodging calls...I get tired and look for another tailor. I build rapport, get good service the first few times, and then the same disappointing cycle begins.
But it hasn't always been like this. I once had really good tailors and enjoyed their services with minimal problems. But some moved away and my favourite one died a few years ago. I do miss them.
Anyway, the next morning I called him and said I was on my way to collect my dress.
“Give me an hour and it will be ready,” he said.
It was 9am, but I decided to give him more than an hour.
At 3pm I was seated in his stuffy little shop and he was still working on my dress.
FIT OF ANGER
A woman, fuming, got out of the small cubicle he calls the changing room.
“Hii ndio siku hizi unashona? (This is the kind of work you do nowadays?)” she asked in anger, turning around, her back towards us. The back of her dress looked like it had some sort of leaf and the side of the dress looked like crumpled paper, but worse, the dress could not be fully zipped up.
“Hii ni ribbon? Hii ni ribbon? (Is this a ribbon?)” she asked, pointing at the back of her dress. “Ni mimi ulinishonea ama mwingine? (Did you make this dress for me or for someone else?”
Trouble was brewing and the tailor, red-faced, turned to me with a ‘Let-me-sort-her-out-first’ look. I was too exhausted to say anything so I turned to my phone as the woman began her tirade, cursing the tailor and saying she would not pay.
Two other women in the shop got up and said they would come back another day. I stayed put. I was not leaving without my dress. And after this, I was not planning to come back to this tailor.
The man was at pains to explain what he would do to make the dress better. He asked her to come within an hour. “Make sure it looks like this,” she said, pointing at a picture on the wall in one of those posters found at almost every tailor’s shop. That dress did not look anything close to the design she had pointed at.
She changed and left in a huff, promising to come back with the police. I burst out laughing, knowing it was an empty threat but one made in anger and so convincingly you would think she personally knew the police boss.
I looked over the tailor’s sewing machine, sighed in relief that my dress didn’t look that bad. It wasn’t finished but it looked something close to what I wanted. And then I couldn’t help myself but laugh some more. This will be a good story for an article, I told myself.
The tailor turned to his colleague and asked him why he had messed up the dress when he had even cut the outlines for him. The young man, looking terrified, did not answer. The tailor clicked his tongue and went to work on the dress.
I decided to get a drink and come back in an hour.
When I came back, to my utter shock, I found the shop closed and the tailor did not pick my calls. He however called the next morning, and said my dress was ready.
I went to pick it up and it looked good – until I tried it on. I had to suck in my stomach just to get it on, and I struggled with the zipper. I could also hardly lift my hands without feeling the dress digging into my shoulders and under my arms, and the bust area was so tight I could barely breathe. The mirror in the cubicle told me I wasn’t the fairest in the land that day. Nevertheless, I took off the dress, put it in my bag, paid my balance and left.
Flash forward a few months later, just the other day, his colleague called me and asked why I have not passed by for long. He said he had missed sewing clothes for me. I told him I have moved out of the city. I wish he knew that I was now enjoying the services of a new tailor.
A few months before Tailor M messed up my dress, a different one had decided to add flower designs and a bow on my dress, saying it was the ‘in thing’, yet I hadn’t asked him to.
Another time I had chosen a design and gave clear instructions that it should be sown as a dress, but it turned out to be a skirt and blouse. There’s also a tailor who took the initiative of sewing a second dress from my remaining material, a design that I wouldn’t be caught dead in.
And then, there was a friend whose bridesmaids' clothes were not ready the day before the wedding. They had to improvise on D-day and came up with fancy but different outfits to look like they had planned it all along.
But the one which takes the trophy was when a tailor told me he used up all my material, and a few weeks later when I went to take more material for a different dress, I found his wife trying on a new dress he had made for her – it was from my left-over material!
Dear fundis, the drama you have made me go through in this town...
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