I don´t know God. But I know the person who takes care of their suits.
Those were the only words I said in front of the court, during the trial. When they allowed me to speak.
And they all laughed. And I don't blame them.
Since that time, no one else has set foot in the tailor shop again. It has been closed forever. If it were up to me, I would let them demolish the place, crush the rubble too, leave a huge empty hole in the ground. But the tailor shop is still there, as if it were waiting for my uncle, as if it was waiting for me too. People look at the shop´s windows all painted in black and immediately imagine what the newspapers said: some manage to see a body, still hanging in their swing with their feet a few inches from the floor, or they manage to see a body stabbed with tailor scissors, even if it is all dark and nothing can be seen inside. It doesn't matter that my uncle has disappeared, that his body has never been found. He is dead. The court said it, and people had already shouted it before. But he is not dead, my uncle, the way everyone believes. Although it doesn´t really matter: everyone is convinced that I have murdered him.
But let's go to the beginning. There will be time for you to laugh too. The story is this.
My uncle John was the owner of that store, and I, forty-five years younger, was his only employee. Tailor's apprentice. The truth is that before I started working for that man, I had never seen him in my life. John was my mother's brother, but she had no relationship with him. Although we lived in the same town, we had managed to pretend that this man who had the same last name as my mother did not exist. Invisible uncle. His tailoring invisible too. And if I ever wanted to find out why they had drifted apart, my mother's only response had been a bitter silence that forced me to shut up.
So, one day I began to imagine the possibility of leaving home. I didn't want to be there anymore, I couldn't take it anymore. But at the time, the furthest place I could get to was my uncle's tailor shop. I knew it was the only place in town that neither my father nor my mother would go looking for me. They wouldn't dare do it. So, one morning I waited for my chance to be able to go out with a small handbag, and I left home. It did not take me long to cross the town, and minutes later I arrived at my uncle's tailor shop. I stayed at the door for a few moments, I didn't know how to introduce myself. When I entered, some little bells rang when I opened the door. At first my uncle could not recognize me, but when I said my name, he remained motionless and silent. He was sitting behind the counter, reading the newspaper. In his hand was a white cup, stained with coffee, surrounded by pencils. He looked at me for a moment, as if inspecting my clothes. Maybe it was his job, figuring out who was who based on the clothes he wore. I am not my parents, I said. No one had ever wanted to tell me what it was that had distanced them so much, between my mother and her brother, and I did not intend to find out now. It was the only thing that occurred to me to say: I am not my parents. My uncle was still silent behind the counter. He hadn't moved a single muscle since he'd looked up to see me. But I felt that it gave me the opportunity to speak, even if I didn't know what to say. I need a job, and a place to live, I said later. Then something softened on his face, as if he suddenly understood that which, for a long time, he had known would one day happen; the missing piece to complete the puzzle, to finally see the whole figure. I was that figure. The finished puzzle. So my uncle looked up at the ceiling, beyond the ceiling of his tailor shop, and barely said, Thank you.
He wasn't talking to me. But I took his words as a welcoming gesture.
In a short time, I was cutting the fabrics that my uncle indicated with his white chalk, pinpointed issues of shoulders and sleeves, and without realizing it I began to learn that trade of being a tailor. I learned it without passion, without obedience or sacrifice, as long as I wasn't in my house, it didn't matter if I was there or being anywhere else. My days, in those days, were a succession of moments without much sense, something that I saw pass before my eyes as if it were a film from which one waits for the end to be able to get up from the armchair and go home. But I could not get up from my life, I could not go anywhere, as far as possible had been that tailor shop, and the danger of my parents coming to find me crushed my chest and emptied my lungs. My film had started badly, and would continue worse, and I was not used to its bad plot. However, that job as a tailor's apprentice had become my livelihood, my parents' independence, and since my uncle allowed me to stay in the fabric store on the mezzanine, the tailor shop had become my own place to live. In a short time, I armed myself with a cot, a chair and a small table where I could eat; and although there were no windows up there, and the air used to be filled with the dust that the rolls of fabrics brought, being there was the best thing that could have happened to me: in that tailor shop nobody came back drunk in the middle of the night, I could sleep with both eyes closed, without fear of being awakened to blows.
As I thought, my parents never came looking for me. And as the weeks went by, my life before that tailoring began to be hidden in that place of memory to which one returns alone only under the duty of a tragedy.
I can't forget the pride in my uncle´s eye as every step I took. He had never married, had no children, and his profession was already boring him, although he was not willing to admit it. He was tired of always making the same suits, of dressing shoulders, arms and legs of bodies that, over time, turned out to be the same body, all his clients the same client, sometimes taller, sometimes fatter, perhaps with one less arm due to an accident or a wooden leg to hide. Trousers, shirt and jacket in all its variants, in all its fabrics, which for decades had taken shape in his hands. And suddenly, his life became something else. He changed, with me at his side, it was no longer about doing, it was now letting the other do, teaching. Then he became someone else, another tailor, a new person, someone more important. But I did not care about his happiness, I must admit it. I didn't care about mine either. I learned what I had to learn, and I settled for the little money I was paid. My uncle allowed me to live there and that was enough. It was in this way and only in this way that I learned the job of being a tailor, thanks to the patience of my uncle and the wishes that someone follow in his footsteps.
At nights, I was alone and silent. When the tailor shop closed, I would go up to my loft and wrap myself in some roll of cloth. That was, in short, my true payment. To be alone, in silence, protected. Seeing nothing.
Almost nobody talks about that incident, now, as the few who dare to remember it call it. They say the incident for not saying the tragedy, or dare to say the tragedy for not saying the murder. That word burns in their mouths, it reminds them of the story that for days entertained them in the pages of the newspapers, but then they tried to forget. The story brings my name and my uncle's name, the black-and-white photo in the newspaper, me being handcuffed leaving the tailor shop, my hair a little tousled, the smile of a child in my face while a policeman pushed me into the patrol without understand well what is happening. So the story doesn't seem as funny to them as it once did, reality sticks to their skin like that soapy drizzle that sometimes falls from the sky, and they want to make the news a story, a myth, set fire to entertainment that morbid smoke to be made, and so the guilt is lost with the wind. But the smoke stays, capricious and hopeless, and stinks them anyway. As the court psychiatrist expert said well, The accused is not mystical, he does not hallucinate, he does not fable. It is shown that the accused is convinced that he is telling the truth.
However, life imprisonment they said at the end of the trial.
And upon hearing the sentence, my order to the lawyer defending me was not to appeal.
One year after joining the tailor shop, one winter afternoon, my uncle told me that from now on we would be partners. He said it suddenly, without my having suspected anything, and as he noticed that I was not aware of what he was offering, he took me by the arm and led me out onto the sidewalk. We stopped in front of the store, and drawing a semicircle on the air he said out loud: Tailoring Louis and John. It was like that, suddenly, an afternoon of wind and rain. And days later, he sent my name to be added next to his on the windows in front of the store. In gold colored letters. I will never forget. When I asked him why my name was in front of his, since in fact he was the tailor, he replied that it did not matter, was of no importance, in the future the poster would say only your name. He said. And added: I won be here forever. I did not fully understand his words, or preferred not to understand him. I wasn't even happy when my uncle made me a partner in the store; seeing my name painted on the windows aroused fantasies that did not allow me to concentrate on my tasks, as if suddenly some thoughts were imposed on my mind and did not allow me to work in peace. In the following days, several neighbors came to congratulate me, merchants that they had their stores in the same block. With a forced smile, I accepted the comments and the claps on the shoulder they gave me while I counted the seconds for them to leave me alone again. I knew well that from that moment on my life would change. And I didn't want any of that. I was content to arrive at night, wrap myself in the rolls of cloth and remain silent among the specks of dust that floated in the air. That’s all I needed.
One morning, I heard the little bell that hung on the door ring, and I saw a man in his fifties come in, about forty-three shoulder, thirty-eight sleeves and twenty-two neck, as I had become accustomed to classify the people as I saw them go through the tailor's door. The man entered the room and looked at us for a moment. He took three steps toward us, and looked at me, as if he knew me from before. At last he said Good morning, gentlemen. He said it in a strange way, with stronger confidence than the rest of the wealthy clients who used to frequent the tailor shop. What was strange about that man I did not know until later, when nothing could be done about it. Good morning, I answered, and I waited a few seconds to listen to the greeting of my uncle leaning on the counter behind me. But my uncle did not open his mouth. And I immediately understood that something bad was happening. My uncle had seen the man who greeted us come in, I had no doubts about that, I had seen him take those three steps towards us, he had heard him say good morning, and yet my uncle did not answer the greeting. For the worse, he had remained motionless protected behind the counter. Then I turned to see him and suddenly I was sure that we were being robbed; my uncle had turned pale, and his eyes were wide. When I felt the hand of that intruder resting on my shoulder, I knew that when I turned around I would find a gun pointing to my head. But finally my uncle said Good morning, sir, be welcome again, and those words completely baffled me. This man must be an old customer, I thought, but something was wrong anyway. And looking at him again, instead of a gun I found his outstretched hand and his eyes on mine. The client looked at me, looked through my eyes, he knew of the fear his presence had caused me: a different fear, without screaming or violence, the fear that paralyzes the prey immediately, like the haunting of car lights in front of the hare, a second before crushing it. He knew it. He could feel the fear leaping out of my eyes. And in a way he enjoyed it. Uncomfortable with his presence, my uncle said Please, come with me. He reached up to draw the heavy velvet curtain embroidered behind the counter, and they both disappeared from view in the back room of the store. Minutes later, they returned to the living room. My uncle was paler than before. Without looking up to see me, he escorted the client to the door. The man looked at the two of us, curtsied as if taking off a ghost hat, and left. My uncle watched him walk away from the store, and he stood there at the door for a few moments. He had stared blankly at the sidewalk glowing in the morning sun. His hands, inside his pockets, kept shaking. Still staring at the street, my uncle said: lower the blinds, we close for today.
And he did not say anything else.
The next day I woke up like every morning, among the cracks of light that filtered through the rolls of cloth; I let my eyes adjust to the gloom and was careful going down the steep staircase that led to the saloon. I raised the blinds of the store, settled in the chair behind the counter and opened the notebook where we noted the measurements of the suits that were missing sewing. My uncle hadn't come to the store yet, but that didn't worry me; Since I had joined the tailor shop my uncle used to arrive a little later each time. I kept the keys to the padlocks and stared at the sunlight that began to enter through the windows. With the first tasks of the day, the hours of the morning passed me. By noon I still didn't hear from my uncle, so I decided to phone his house. But dialing the number, I saw him open the store door and look both ways down the street before entering. He was emaciated, and I knew immediately that he had not been able to sleep through the night. I hung up the phone, put it back under the counter, and asked him what had happened to him. He was surprised to hear my voice, as if he didn't expect to find me in the store. Then he looked me in the eye, silently, for a few seconds. And as if he hadn't heard my question he said Never, under any circumstances, attend to the man who came yesterday. When I asked which customer he was referring to, my uncle was disturbed and screamed, ¿don't you really realize? It was the first time he had yelled at me. His voice had become so piping that no longer seemed like his voice. I had the feeling that he wished with all his soul to be able to tell me who that client really was, I even think he was about to, but somehow he thought it was better that I would not know. Then he grabbed me by the shoulders and shook me violently, so that I could become aware of what he was warning me. His hands were fragile, they no longer had strength, however they shocked me. But his arms were loosened, and with a thread of voice he whispered who came yesterday is a very powerful person, he has the power to grant you whatever you want, but the cost to pay is always too high. ¿You know? You are tempted, you are old and alone, and you get the idea that death will come before your bill. And with tear-filled eyes he made me promise him that if the man ever returned, I should leave the store immediately. ¿Where I go? I asked, ¿to police? My uncle laughed, in a very sad way. To the police ... he repeated aloud, with as much irony as possible, as if the hall had now been become into a stage. The boy wants to call the police, he said opening his arms to an invisible audience. No, that would be useless. As if it were so easy. Then my uncle looked at me from a place in his eyes where he had never been before: If that man comes back again, you just leave the store forever.
The rest of that afternoon we pretended to work as if nothing had happened, but his hands trembled and the threads were no longer allowed to be threaded. We hardly speak to each other, and when it was time to close, we lowered the metal blinds, now the tailoring was no longer a tailor shop to become my refuge, and we sat on each side of the table that we used in the back room at lunchtime. My uncle wanted to tell me something, I could tell, he seemed to want to start talking but something stopped him; He opened his mouth for a moment and looked at me, then he swallowed the words as if he were swallowing poison, and so it went down his throat and squeezed his heart. Until after a few moments he managed to gather courage, and finally said: There is something you should know. He looked me in the eye, but then he looked down again. Regarding the man who entered the store yesterday, there is something very particular about that client, he paused as if he himself doubted what he was about to say. A few years ago, that same man came to see me, and asked if I could make a suit for someone who was in no condition to come. I replied that it was possible, but that it was also of utmost importance that someone take the measurements very carefully, because it was the only reference I would have of his body to work. The man took a piece of paper out of his pocket and said he had already done it, that those were the measurements. I looked at the directions, it was all written there, as if another tailor had taken them. Then he asked me to show him the best fabric I had, the most expensive of all, and then he asked me to show him the worst, the cheapest. Suddenly my uncle looked up, surprised at his own words. It was hard for him to understand that I was there, listening to him in silence, without asking. Then he continued: At one point, the man said something that caught my attention a lot, and made me suspicious: He wanted me to make the suit with the cheapest fabric, but he would pay for it as if I had done it with the most expensive fabric. He wanted to be done that way. But ¿what is the point of paying a cheap suit for an expensive one? I asked. The man looked at me for a moment, I remember very well, he seemed to be angry, as if he had not imagined that someone could question him, but then he smiled. I told you, replied the man, the person who will receive the suit prefers it that way. Well, ¿who is that person? I asked nervously, intuiting some kind of scam that I was not understanding. And the man, undeterred, answered me: what I have come to order is a suit for God.
My uncle was silent again. I think he expected me to laugh or something, but instead his words worried me a lot. A suit for God, I repeated in my head, without understanding. My poor uncle. Too many years stuck in here, making these suits, so much pressure to meet delivery dates. There was in his gaze the expression of a condemned man, someone who knows his destiny and who sees nothing good in him. I looked him in the eye, I wanted to see if there was a bit of sanity left in that man who now rested his hands on the table, with the gesture of confessing. Life is strange, my uncle said after a moment, after all these years, when I thought that he had already forgotten about our treatment, he returns to remind me that he has kept his promise, and that now it is my turn. He looked at me again. Something made me think that I had a lot to do with it. ¿The promise? I asked ¿what promise? For the second time that day, my uncle's eyes filled with tears. When the man came to pick up the suit, I had the audacity to speak a few words with him. I said to him: if this suit you have asked me to make is really for God, then I am not going to charge you a penny for my work. But in return, I am going to ask you for something I wish with all my heart. My uncle stretched out his arms on the table, and with the tip of his fingers touched my hands. Hearing what I intended for the suit I had made, the man remained very serious and silent, but then said that there would be no problem, but that desire had a very high price, and that it could not be paid with a simple suit. The gloom of the afternoon began to gain the air of the back room. It had gotten dark without us noticing. I did not want to spend the last years of my life among these fabrics, alone, as I have always been, said my uncle. I wanted a son, someone to whom I could pass on my tailoring skills, to whom I would also leave this store, which I have raised with so much effort ... That was my wish, in exchange for that suit… and one day you appeared, opened the door and asked me if I could give you a job ... I want you to know that this last time has been the best of my life. I want you to know. Those words took me by surprise, and the guilt struck me like a hammer. I had never been able to understand how my presence meant to him, I had only entered his life to get away from mine. My uncle took a deep breath, looked up from the table and said: Now that man is back, and he wants me to pay my share of the deal. And with all the irony that was possible, he added: Oh, the man says God has been very happy with the old suit, and he wants me to make him a new one. But now he is going to pay for it with money. He does not accept another way.
That night I decided to walk him to his house. We went out to the street, lowered the blinds of the store, walked together and without speaking; I would repeat in my mind the words of my uncle without paying attention to where we were walking, and as I did so, the image of that man who had entered the tailor shop the previous day appeared before my eyes. When we arrived, my uncle stared at me for a few moments; then he looked down, entered his house and closed the door.
Back at the tailor shop, without knowing why, I had the need to take a new path, so instead of redoing my steps I turned the corner, turned the block and delayed my walk as long as I could. Stores had closed and the streets were empty. Something had changed in the way I walked, in the way I saw the world; I turned my head to the sides to make sure no one followed me. I was not the same man as two blocks ago. And a dark and numb happiness burned me inside.
The next morning, I waited for my uncle to come to the store, but he never showed up. Somehow I knew he wasn't going to come to work. I started to measure and cut the fabrics of a late job, but I did not dare to look for the mold in which my uncle had been working. Arguably, that day was a day like any other. Sometimes my uncle would spend long hours in the back room, and I stayed in the living room, answering the phone and receiving customers. At dusk, that day, I lowered the metal shutters on the door, put the padlocks on, and stayed in the back room behind the embroidered curtains that protected me from the world. Later I took courage, went out into the street and walked to his house. When I got there I opened the front door with the emergency key that my uncle had hidden under the counter. And when closing the door behind me, the silence of this living room enveloped me with its violence, and in this dark air something held me to the floor to not let me advance. At last I had the courage to go up to the first floor, where his room was; I closed the door, but couldn't find him there. I left his house without any feeling, I confess, maybe I was stunned or maybe I already knew it. And without giving the news of his disappearance, I returned to the tailor shop. Some neighbors returned from their jobs, made purchases for dinner, people passed me without knowing that the world had already changed. Suddenly it had started to rain. People began to stop next to me. They surrounded me as if I would try to scape, and started to insulting me. I also looked up at the front of the store, where now all those people around me looked, and suddenly we all fell silent: slowly the letters of my uncle's name blurred in the glasses of the tailor shop. The rain erased his name, only his name, as if the sky had already heard the news. Cold drops ran down my face. A policeman suddenly appeared. They were looking for me, he wanted my hands behind my back. I looked for last time to the front of the store. And I smiled. The door of a police car opened, and I was pushed inside. And the screams of the people were quenched in the rain.
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