Jimoh acquired his name by being the fastest working apprentice at Oga Segun’s tailoring shop. Not only were his hands incredibly fast, but his brain also worked like Usain Bolt’s legs. By the end of his first week as a tailoring apprentice, he had become so competent with the sewing machine that his master was already delegating some of his work to him. The other young apprentices, in awe and envy, had found it fitting that he should be called no other name than a tailor who was swift.
It was one week before Christmas when Jimoh was rudely awoken from his nap by a thunderous knock at the door. He shut his eyes tight and hoped the goat would go away, but the knocking only grew louder. He leapt up from his sleeping mat and stomped towards the door. When he unlocked it, he found a furious faced Madam Yemmie in the company of a baton-wielding, black bedecked policeman staring back at him. Madam Yemmie hissed loudly upon seeing his sleep reddened eyes.
“So you were sleeping during the day ehn?” she bellowed. “No wonder our clothes are never ready” She brushed past him into the shop. The policeman and his baton closely followed.
“I worked throughout the night, ma” said Jimoh. “There’s no light now and my machine is electric, so...”
“Where is my Swiss lace?” Madam Yemmie huffed impatiently. Her ample bosom heaving up and down as she spoke. “I said where is my lace?”
Jimoh dragged his feet towards the white cabinet in a corner of the room and started to rummage through layers of fabric and sewing supplies in search of Madam Yemmie’s lace. Two weeks ago while cutting and ironing the lace for sewing, he had mistakenly burnt a hole in it. Madam Yemmie had graciously promised him forgiveness in exchange for the same quality of lace.
“You still dey find am?” Madam Yemmie thundered. “You better produce my lace now now o!”
Jimoh, who had been rummaging through the cabinet for the past two minutes, finally retrieved a red sequins and bead embroidered lace from the cabinet and presented it to Madam Yemmie. She took one look at it, turned her nose up in the air and shook her head vigorously.
“This cheap thing is not my lace!”
“Aah! I bought it for fifty thousand naira o!” cried Jimoh.
“Ehen? My lace was ninety thousand naira? You people are all the same. Thieves all of you. Who knows if you are just lying so you can keep my expensive lace and give me a cheaper fabric instead.”
Jimoh wanted to retort that he was not a thief, but the policeman’s baton, which was now raised threateningly, made him reconsider.
“I am not lying ma. I can show you the burnt lace,” he said instead. “Abeg abeg, just pay me my money let me be going. I will go and buy the lace myself”
“Ah! I don’t have money now, ma. Abeg give me a few more days to find the money”
“A few days bawo? Officer, take him away. I will use you as a scapegoat for all the useless tailors in this Lagos!”
Jimoh was awoken by the clanking of keys against iron bars.
“Tailor! dem don bail you,” a wiry limbed, pot-bellied corporal called out.
Jimoh’s wife, Titilayo was waiting at the counter. When she saw his swollen face and bruised body and how dangerously thin he had grown in the space of three days, she burst into tears.
“Shut up your dirty mouth,” roared the corporal. “This is a police station, so carry your yeye tears commot outside”
Titilayo stifled her sobs and made her way outside. Once outside, she turned her teary eyes towards Jimoh.
“So you want to make me a window eh?” she sobbed. “You wan die leave your pikin for me abi?”
“Titi, don’t talk like that”
“Why I no go talk like that, when you dey always disappoint customer? Just look at your body. Look at how they man-handled you. Why you no go change eh?”
“But this time it was not my fault now. It was a mistake.”
“Me sha, I don tell you my own o. This na the last time I go bail you.”
The couple trudged on in silence, each embroiled in their thoughts until Jimoh broke the calm.
“How did you raise the money for bail?” he asked.
“Alhaja agreed to collect the lace and refund the forty thousand naira”
“Forty thousand ke?” Cried Jimoh in alarm. “I paid fifty thousand naira for the lace!”
“It's forty thousand she gave me o. We were even lucky she agreed to collect the lace back. I borrowed the remaining eighty thousand from Mummy Shade.”
“Eighty thousand! How much did you pay at the station?”
“One hundred and twenty thousand naira.”
“But I am only owing Madam Yemmie ninety thousand naira!”
“Ehen? The remaining thirty thousand naira was for the police”
“Aaah! Nawa o!”
As soon as Jimoh had eaten some eba and egusi soup and taken a much-needed bath, he headed back to his shop.
Every tailor knows that the fastest way to incur the wrath of a Nigerian, is to not have their Christmas or Sallah cloth ready. He had already wasted two days languishing in the cell, but he was determined to work non-stop for the next five days to meet his Christmas deadline.
When he was an apprentice, he had sworn to never become like his master, Oga Segun, who was the typical Nigerian tailor, a living image of disappointment, but these are some of the issues.
When Jimoh says to a client “Your cloth will be ready in two weeks”, and they say “Jimoh are you sure? You know how you tailors are. Na so so promise and fail!” But he assures them that he is different, that he is the fastest tailor in Lagos. He tells them that they don’t call him Tailor Swift for nothing.
A part of him intends to keep his word, but then NEPA suddenly starts being more stingy than usual with the power supply, so he goes to buy fuel to power his worn-out I-pass-my-neighbour generator. But there is fuel scarcity, and the prices have spiked, and he deduces that if he splurges on fuel for sewing, he would not only be sewing for free, he would also be doing so at a loss. So he decides to wait until the power is restored, but while he is waiting, the orders are piling and the deadlines are drawing near.
Finally, the power is restored. He jumps on his machine and gets to work, but soon another customer comes knocking with new work. She says she wants it by tomorrow and he says to her, “Madam, this is express work o. You will pay express price!” and she says, “No problem. How much?” and when he tells her, she does not bat an eyelid. She does not haggle back and forth until the price is tethering on the edge between profit and loss. She counts the money and pays in full! In full o! Jimoh has mouths to feed, bodies to clothe and bills to pay. In that moment, the money in his hands means more to him than meeting all the deadlines in the world.
Jimoh’s machine was strategically placed across the window overlooking the street. That way, he could see approaching clients long before they reached his doorstop and he could quickly lock himself in, pretending not to be around if the client’s outfit was not ready. He had raised his head from the sewing machine to stretch and look about him, when he sighted Mrs. Patrick alighting from her black Toyota Land Cruiser. He rushed to the door and bolted it. He had completely forgotten that her outfit was due for pickup today. Which devil had whispered to him to sell her fabrics in order to raise money for madam Yemmie’s lace in the first place? His plan had been to save some money to buy them back from Alhaja before Mrs. Patrick came calling,but it was too late for that now.
There was a knock at the door. Mrs Patrick had arrived. Jimoh sat as still as he could and waited for her to grow tired and eventually leave. She knocked a few more times and then she gave up, or so Jimoh thought. He was hardly done heaving a sigh of relief, when his neighbour’s voice wafted into the shop.
“Madam, knock again. He dey inside. I see am now now when he enter,” he heard Agnes say.
The little witch! Thought Jimoh in despair. So Agnes had still not forgiven him for not making her wedding gown ready in time for her wedding? His angry thoughts were cut short by the loud vibrating ring of his cell phone. In his scramble to lock the door, he had forgotten to switch the bloody thing off! He frantically reached for it, knocking over a chair in the process.
“Jimoh, so it’s true that you’re inside ehn?” bellowed Mrs Patrick. “I don’t want to sew again o. You’ve wasted my time enough already. These fabrics are the aso ebi for my daughter’s wedding, so just open your door and give them to me, let me find another tailor.”
Jimoh remained motionless, as he waited with bated breath. Mrs Patrick knocked rapturously on the door again.
“Jimoh abeg now,” She said, this time in a conciliatory tone. “Truly I just want to collect my fabrics and go. I don’t want to sew again.”
For a nanosecond, Jimoh mulled over her request. He was exhausted from playing this never-ending game of hide-and-seek with his customers. If he explained everything to her, perhaps she would give him some time to raise money to buy back her fabric from Alhaja. He had made up his mind and begun advancing towards the door when Mrs. Patrick’s voice floated into the room once more.
“Jimoh, I say abeg now. I just want to collect my fabric. This fabric cost me one fifty thousand naira o”
Jimoh froze in his tracks. One fifty thousand what? Her fabric was almost twice as expensive as Madam Yemmie’s own! There was no way he could raise that amount of money in two days!
Jimoh quickly walked towards the window, jumped out of it and ran as fast as his legs could carry him. After all, they don’t call him Tailor swift for nothing!