Sunday, May 1, 2011
laundry man, passionate about ironing
I walked up to the unlabeled store front and he was standing in the same position he'd been the last couple of times I'd come by: behind an ironing board, furiously pressing clothing with a very hot iron that let out noises of a steam engine.
He looked up at me through his bottleneck glasses and said, "Maybe tomorrow?" But just as I was starting to get irritated with him and protest that tomorrow all stores would be closed, he started laughing. He was proud of his little funny joke which fully defused the tension from the fact my clothes had not been ready when I'd come by earlier on my lunch break.
He reached to a hook and pulled down my bag full of clean and pressed laundry: 3 skirts in the loose sense of the word (trousers, a dress, etc.) and 10 tops in the loose sense of the word (blouses, pyjamas, cardigans). I started to count them and he started to be offended. I tried to convince him that it wasn't out of mistrust of him so much as mistrust of myself, and he obliged me even though he kept telling me it was all there. And it was.
So then I asked him if he could write a receipt. "To get reimbursed?" he asked. "It's worth a try!" I replied.
He opened an ancient diary and pulled out one of two receipt slips tucked in the back. Even though it had been laid flat in a book, he proceeded to iron the receipt. Once it was starchly pressed, he filled it out, slowly and thoughtfully. He totaled the amount in Arabic numbers then wanted to rewrite the total in English numbers, presumably so my boss could understand. The price was 74 (that's about 12 USD), and in Arabic they write numbers from the smallest denomination to the largest. So he wrote out the '4' with the painstaking care of a first-grade student. Then he started the '7'. He stared at the sheet and twisted up his face as he tried to figure out what to do. He drew a curve and felt something was missing. A bit more staring and he nailed it, although the '7' as he wrote it fell well below the '4', creating a rather uneven number. So he wrote it again on the other side of the sheet, like a student practising his numbers. Then he wrote it again in the 'grand total' space at the bottom of the sheet and proudly handed it over. I felt like clapping at the same time as my heart sank in pity.
Next I handed him a 100 note and he called out to his friend, who had been watching the entire exchange from the street, to give him 26 in change. His friend handed him a 10 and a 5 note, and he proceeded to iron them. Then his friend produced another 10, and he ironed that. Still missing one, they started digging in their pockets and I insisted not to worry about it. Finally convinced, he handed me two crisp, like brand new, notes of 10 and a matching note of 5.
I thanked them and promised repeat business then left, feeling incredibly guilty as I folded up my pressed change and crammed it into my little change purse. It sure feels good to have clean clothes, though!