Our relationship had been mostly transactional. I’m sure I never registered in his memory, except for the fact that I can’t seem to memorise my phone number. I’d put over 200 dirty shirts over his desk in the four months I’d been going to Parsons Green Dry Cleaning. We’d count them together, and he’d arrange them with the collars facing the same direction. Upon pickup I’d struggle to free a bank card to pay with in my overstuffed front pocket wallet. We had a tacit agreement to make our time together go as quickly as possible. No dillydallying, no chitchat, no nonsense, all business. He always had an ear bud in one ear. I’d imagine his friend on the other end of the phone sipping tea or picking his nose until I’d walked out the door, bell ringing to celebrate my departure.
I knew he was kind, as one day he let me use the utterly disgusting bathroom not much bigger than a coffin. He warned and apologised for the state of the room, but could tell I did not care. I’d just had a venti, grande, or whatever the largest size Starbucks and their toilet was inhumanely out of order. I liked that the toilet did not have a seat, so I did not have to figure out how to lift it without wanting to dip my fingers in acid after. And since the light bulb was out I blissfully could not see too much. Just relief, some mouth breathing, the sweet sound of water contact, and a shaft of light coming in from under the door.
I bet you can tell much about a person from their dry cleaning. I always scan the shirts looking for mine to stand out before he found them. Wide vertical stripes always make me think I would not gel with that person. My milk toast selection shows a man who has surrendered any ambition for having an edge, and looks for preppy comfort mixed with poseur sophistication, anyway that’s how I’d read my dry cleaning if I was him.
On this particular day, I’d noticed for the first time, that attached to the doorjamb was some limes and chilies strung together on a piece of red thread. I had not seen such a thing before and I thought it was odd and interesting. While my manners were telling me to look it up on the internet, my curiosity leapt forward. I was working on opening myself up and these thing were happening more and more.
“So I noticed, the chilies and limes on the door. Is it okay to ask what that is all about?” I said wanting to give him an out if the meaning was too personal or I was overstepping some unknown cultural bounds.
“I don’t believe in it, but the owners of this place it’s part of their reli
gion,” said the clerk.
“Is it a Hindu tradition?” I guessed based his subcontinent accent.
“Yes, but I’m not Hindu.”
“So what does it mean? Do you know?”
“They think it brings them good luck, but I don’t believe in luck. I think you are in control of your future and putting limes and chilies on the door is not going to change anything.”
“I’ve been thinking of this myself lately.”
He began to speak from a place other than his head. “Life is about the decisions you make. I’m in control of where my life goes, not limes and chillies. So many people waste their life waiting for things to happen to them.” I started to get chills. “This is not a job I’m passionate about, but I do it, and I do it well, because I have to. Am I unlucky that I cannot do what I want to do?”
“What do you want to do?”
“I want to be an artist, a musician.”
“That’s amazing. You have to do it. That’s your gift. There is some freedom in that realisation. You have no other choice.”
He holds the receipt while I sign.
“I know, I know.”
“I’m struggling with this exact thing right now. At least you know what you want to do. So many people never know.”
“It all works itself out” he says.
“What is your name?” He holds the receipt while I sign
“I’m Kevin. Great to talk. Good luck.” Door opens, bell rings and ear bud conversation continues.
On my visit the following week Jahved was not there. I had wanted to thank him for his wisdom. I asked the couple working the counter, who turns out were the owners, the whereabouts of Jahved.
“He went home to Pakistan. He could not find a wife here, so his parents wanted him home.”