Apart at the Seams

by Christine Forte

It was a noisy street corner.  Never a dull moment really. The woman with her baskets of hot buns in the  morning, the pushcart vendor selling plants and flowers stopped there in the afternoon, the man with bushels of pomegranates in the evening, hawking his fruits to the busy workers rushing home. There were the carts with bamboo, building materials, garbage, chickens, vegetables and any other matter known to man swooshing past at all hours of the day and night. The bicycles swerved around them, their drivers unable to break from important errands. Housewives waddled past, dragging their shopping along behind them, screaming children attached to their skirts.

All day the little seamstress watched the colorful changing scene from her window as she carefully made rows of tiny perfect stitches up and down the edges of fabric. She loved the way the scenes and smells and noises changed throughout the day, how the intersection of the two streets looked different in the morning from how it did when the sun went down. But by far, her favorite part of the day was when the little boy with the yellow hat came running down the street, whistling up at windows and taking bits of paper and bowls from baskets as they were lowered down to him. At 11:30 every day she would see him appear way off down the block and her heart would start to beat a little faster as he approached her window. She would prepare her own basket, note and bowl, lowering them once he arrived on the sidewalk below her. He would grab the note and bowl and run off, returning a few minutes later with a steaming bowl of food. She would then lower the basket again, this time with money inside and he would replace the money with the bowl. Giving her a wave and a grin he was off and running once more, ready to take care of his next customer.

As she raised the basket, she would smell the steam from the fresh rice with whatever vegetables and meat were served that day. Then she would slowly eat her food, savoring the image of his smile until the next day when he would return. The little seamstress was not allowed to go out onto the sidewalk without her father or mother, nor was she allowed to stop working for more than a few minutes lunch break. Instead, she admired the boy from her window, her sweet smiles at him masking her envy of his freedom.

One cold day in January 11:30 ticked by on the clock and yet the little boy didn’t appear on the street. “Well, maybe he’s just running late,” thought the seamstress. 11:35 came and went. “It’s early still,” she told herself. 11:40. “For sure he’ll be here any minute.” 11:45. “Lunchtime isn’t really until 12 anyway.” 11:50. 12:00. At 12:10 another lunch seller called up to her window offering pork with cabbage and rice but she waved him away. Surely, the boy with the yellow cap would be here any minute. 12:20. 12:40. 1 o’clock. The little seamstress’ stomach rumbled but she refused the other hawkers. He was coming. She knew it. Finally at 3 o’clock she surrendered, lowering her basket for a snack of some fruit and an egg from a passing cart.

The rest of the afternoon passed slowly. All kinds of worries crossed her mind. What if he something had happened to the boy with the yellow cap? What if she never again saw his dimpled smile with too many teeth that shot off in all directions? What if she never again saw those twinkly eyes or heard his brave shout of “beef or pork?” It was all she could do to keep from crying.

The following morning also dragged on. In her anxiety she made many mistakes and kept having to tear out seams and do them again. At 10:30 she found herself already searching down the sidewalk for him, so she forced herself to turn and face the wall until it was time for lunch. At 11:27 she allowed herself a peek down the street. Her hopeful eyes saw his face on every passing boy  but there was no mistaking his yellow cap. She had never seen another one like it. At exactly 11:29 she thought she saw it but then it turned out to be the end of a rug slung over the shoulder of a worker. 11:30 came and went and her anxiety increased. At exactly 11:31, she caught a glimpse of yellow peeking around a wagon piled with barrels. Could it be? Too slowly, a brown face emerged from around the side of it and the boy, grin as big as ever was flying down the sidewalk. She felt a smile come to her own face as she heard his familiar shout. “Fried rice with pork!”