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A slender woman in a beige sari ushers Sara into the store.
The man inside snaps, “Get back to your work!”
The woman scurries over to the pink fabric on her sewing machine.
“Welcome!” The man turns to Sara; his voice is as large as he is. “I’m Bablu tailor. How I help?”
Gold hoop earrings wink in his ears. Bablu’s abundant hair is up in a topknot. Sara blinks against the onslaught of color; he’s wearing green pants, purple shirt, and orange sneakers. Like a doctor’s stethoscope, a measuring tape dangles from his neck.
She tucks a blonde curl behind her ear, pulls out a sari from her bag. “I need a blouse stitched for an Indian wedding.”
“No need for worry. I’m best expert in ladies’ tailoring for Indian clothes in whole New Jersey.” He unfurls the six yards of blue silk. “Ah, I see the attached blouse piece.”
He turns around. “Shanti, cut the blouse piece,” he barks.
Posters of Julia Roberts, Natalie Portman, and Meryl Streep grace the walls. Someone’s attached paisley and brocade fabric segments on the posters, dressing the stars in Indian finery. The shop’s warm. Sara fans herself with the empty sari bag.
“Bewakoof! Inefficient woman! Get notebook, write measurements,” he yells.
He moves close to Sara. “Miss, arms wide, please.”
Sara holds her breath against a cloying combination of cheap cologne and tobacco.
As he brings the measuring tape around her bust, his grin reveals stained teeth. “Chest, 36,” he says.
Shanti writes in a tiny pad. Her eyelids don’t lift.
What’s Shanti to him? Wife?
Sara imagines her voice will be soft.
“We’ll cut the back of the blouse to here.” He runs a finger between Sara’s shoulder blades to indicate depth.
A red-hot flash bathes her body. She fights the urge to twist his arm.
As instructed, Sara returns two days later.
“Most beautiful blouse is finished,” Bablu says.
“Shanti!” he commands.
Today, the woman wears a gray sari; the drab clothing emphasizes her mousiness. She hands Sara a brown sack.
“Thank you,” Sara says. She catches a flicker from Shanti—the incarnation of a smile.
“You enjoy wedding, okay?” Bablu says.
It sounds like an order.
Back home, Sara cannot wait to try the blouse.
Something’s wrong. Her arm doesn’t fit into the blouse sleeve. The garment cannot be hers; it’s made for a small child. Puzzled, she dashes to the store.
She finds the door open and a row of angry women screaming at Bablu in a mix of English and another language. They hold kid-sized clothing.
“A joke or what?” a stout woman asks, shoving a tiny blouse into his face.
“Sorry, saali Shanti, she’s gone.” Bablu blubbers. “This is your store, your responsibility. I need my 20 blouses for the bridal shower by tomorrow.” The woman grabs Bablu’s collar, shakes him. His top-knot bobbles, unravels.
Sara drives away. I’ll have to wear a dress for the wedding after all.
She makes a mental inventory of her gowns; they’re all too plain. The stoplight takes too long to change. She removes the blue and gold blouse from the sack, drapes it on the steering wheel.
To check on the light, Sara lifts her gaze. A group of pedestrians is crossing the road. In their midst, a slender woman in a radiant yellow sari.
She rolls down her window, calls, “Shanti, Shanti!” and catches a flicker, it could be recognition, in the turn of Shanti’s head.
Impatient drivers toot their horns behind her.
She cranes her neck as she inches the car forward.
The woman’s disappeared around the corner.