Where is she? She is always sitting here. Every day I walk past her on the street, and though she is busy, she smiles at me. Now I stand and stare at an empty space on the hot, cracked, concrete footpath and I am filled with disappointment Today is the day I chose to stop when I saw her. The old wheeled cage which houses her equipment, her work table which supports her machine and the bright pink stool for her customers, all evidence of her existence is no longer here. I continue to walk on, smiling as usual at the other two workers who sit next to her and hope that for some reason she may have moved further along the noisy road. But she is nowhere to be seen today. I enquire from local friends of her whereabouts and they suggest that maybe she is having a holiday and will return one day. A week or two passes while I continually look for her and then one day, as I approach her section of the footpath, I can see the plastic tarpoline cover over the wheeled cage that hooks onto the back of her motor bike. Yes, it is her – she has returned.
I approach quietly and smile at her, producing a pair of slacks from my carry bag and though no words are exchanged, she understands exactly what I want and indicates for me to sit on her low, pink, plastic stool. Quickly, she changes the cotton reel and bobbin on her machine and begins to mark the new hem line with her chalk. Next, she produces a sharp razor blade to cut the existing thread and like an absolute professional, holds each leg of the slacks in her gloved hand and with her old black scissors, cuts and removes the excess length of material to ensure a professional finish to the new hemline. Many years of experience have enriched the skills of this local dressmaker who sits here every day on the side of the road in the heat and the noise to provide dedicated service to her customers and to uphold her traditions.
Sitting on the footpath I breath in the surroundings as three more customers arrive and speak to her of their needs. One lady who speaks English asks my permission to speak to the dressmaker in Thai in my presence and I acknowledge her politeness and thank her. The newly arrived customers come by car, along the jam-packed road and simply stop and park at the spot where the dressmaker sits. It is not a parking area, just a lane for the traffic but that is not a concern here as cars will simply move to the adjacent lane.
I notice that pink seems to be a color she likes, as her carry bag, small fan and sorting baskets indicate. Her ancient radio is sounding her much-loved music which calms her as she works in the never-ending traffic noise which is deafening and dulling. Glancing around I notice that the man and woman who sit next to the dressmaker are busy repairing shoes and serving their customers. These skilled cobblers work from this spot on the footpath every day to ensure they can provide their children with the best education. On my daily walks as I pass them, the woman rarely looks up, but the man peers over the top of this thick framed spectacles and smiles.
The three companions have chosen an area on the shaded side of the street where they are surrounded by trees which provide some protection from the summer heat. They work tirelessly in an environment that does not include the comforts and conditions that I am accustomed to yet they appear serene and contented.
In less than 15 minutes, my slacks have been adjusted and the dressmaker charged just 40 BHT (AUD$1.50) and I am so grateful for her service and for the experience of sitting on the street with these local identities.