Fit For A Crown - The Returning Story

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Chapter 13

“Give me this mountain and all its surrounding hills

I may be getting older, but I feel youthful still.

My heart still beats with passion, my ambitions still aflame.

I possess as much determination, as when the zeal first came.

So give me this mountain, I really feel it’s mine.

I’d like to take on the challenge, before my strength declines.

I mastered the art and learnt the ropes a very long time ago,

A part of me wants to get started without letting you know.

But the journey would be easier, the victory much more sweet,

The pain much less grievous (should I face defeat)

If I could have your consent. My greatest joy? To know,

That as I follow my heartbeat, you encouraged me to do so.”

One more client came to her studio as Stella was preparing to hand over the keys. The last pieces of cut fabric and waste materials had been stacked into two sacks and placed outside for disposal. Furniture and appliances had been pushed into a corner. Unlike the last time she shut down her operations this way, she was not being forced out. She and Edwin had spent much time working out plans for the next phase of their lives as they reasoned into the early hours of many mornings. Bit by bit, they emptied the house; selling off stuff and giving away lots more.

The last sewing machine was being rolled out when a new customer came rushing in. Stella would have politely turned her away indicating, with arms spread out across the studio, that the business had been shut down. But the woman was unrelenting in her plea, saying she had come here via a referral – she blurted out the name - and was so relieved to have caught Stella at the eleventh hour.

’Could you make me that exact attire that my friend wore?’ she asked. ’It looked awesome. You see, I’m a journalist and I have a big interview coming up. It is to be aired live on television and I must be well dressed for the occasion.’

Stella did not like journalists although she did not say so. They had not been kind to her in the past, and her reputation had suffered much at their hands. There had been ugly pictures painted about her life way back when she was still a young celebrity. It amazed her how many distorted stories, once published in black and white, generally became accepted as the truth. Since then, she wanted nothing to do with the media and hoped never to cross paths with them again. That alone was enough reason to turn this one individual away. But it would not be fair to take her misgivings out on this hopeful client, whose pleading eyes seemed to say: ‘You will like me.’

‘Ok! Ok look,’ she relented. ‘I’ll make the outfit for you, but that will be all.’

Heaving a huge sigh of relief, the woman relaxed triumphantly into a chair. Stella had already let her assistant go, so she would have to take the measurements herself. As she searched for her tape measure, the woman prattled on endlessly.

‘I’ve never hosted an important personality before,’ she said. ’Mostly I just write articles and cover news clips of breaking stories and that sort of thing. I’m sure you must have come across some of my work.’ She mentioned some past events, while announcing. ‘I covered this and I covered that.’

‘I trust you report it as it is?’ Stella put in. ‘People like to hear the truth.’

‘Oh, I do my best ma’am,’ she replied. ‘Although my colleagues often tell me, the juicier the story comes out, the better it is. I’m always at odds with them. They have strange ideas about how I should report my stories. It makes the job a bit tough, but I’ve decided that it’s either journalism for me or nothing else.’

Smiling slightly, Stella turned to give her a closer look. She had always felt the same way about fashion designing. ‘Well as for me,’ she said, with a little more warmth, at the same time hoping what she was about to say would not sound ridiculous. ‘The closest I have come to journalism is keeping a personal journal.’

‘Oh, you do?’ the woman squealed. She did not think it ridiculous at all. ‘Then we have something in common. There are things I write for the whole world to see, and then there are things I write for only me.’

‘Well I wouldn’t trade secrets with you,’ Stella went on lightheartedly. ‘The last thing I want is to see the details of my life spilled all over the pages of your dailies.’

As her client laughed, Stella stepped back with a bemused look. ‘Listen, I can’t seem to find my tape measure. As you can see, almost everything has been packed so it must be in one of those boxes.’ She checked the time. ‘It’s getting late and I have to pick up my boys, but I’m here till the end of the week. If you come in early tomorrow morning, I should have fished it out from its hiding place and I can measure you then.’

The woman nodded agreeably. ‘That’s fine.’ She placed her bundle of fabrics at the far edge of the table. ‘I hope it’s okay if I leave these here.’

Without waiting for an answer, she got up and Stella was sure she heard her whisper. ‘I’ll be back,’ as she gave the fabrics a gentle pat as though to assure them that they were in safe hands.

‘Till tomorrow, ma’am?’ she said, as she waved and walked out of the door.

Again, Stella smiled, ‘Tomorrow then.’

We are moving again. This will be our second relocation since we got married. Edwin had hinted at it for a while and I tried not to get too emotionally attached to this still relatively new place. But it’s hard when you are leaving behind good friends and so many wonderful memories.

We have a full house. My dear sister, Otas is here with the kids. They came into town to help us pack our stuff. Irabor, Ovie and Joboy are extremely elated to have their older cousins around and are playing the perfect hosts. Otas is unusually energetic. She finds this all so fascinating. I think it’s because she has not moved house once, in all her twenty nine married years, so our occasional relocations excite her. She is even more fired up than I am, as she applies herself to all the packing and clearing stuff out, as though she were living out a dream. I wish I shared her enthusiasm. When Edwin told me of this new land that flowed with modern day milk and honey, I listened halfheartedly. My attention was divided as I thought about the grueling process of settling into a new place. But as it all began to sink in, I feel compelled to take stock of the four years which we have spent here.

I experienced a considerable drag in my career over the first few years of our union, with me being occupied with duties which, though of no less significance, offered non-monetary benefits. The long hiatus from fashion designing was necessary to focus on raising the kids at their tender age. When we moved here, the yearning to build again was strong though I often wondered if I could do anything meaningful in this young town. Once the home front was in place, I set my sights beyond its walls. Edwin advised me not to overwork myself. He knows me well; that once I get into my element, there’s no stopping me. Indeed, I thought the moment I opened the doors of my new fashion studio, the people would come flooding in. But they were in no hurry and for the first five months, I attracted just one solitary customer. (No wonder they were all so shabbily dressed at the couples’ ball.)

There were many idle days spent in my rented studio. But it left me with enough time to get to know my only client. She was a newlywed housewife with lots of questions and keen ears that were ready to soak in every word I said. She would linger in the studio, keeping me company while I made her clothes and that’s how she ended up learning what I do - and as an added bonus, I also taught her a lot about domestic life. We had grown quite close by the time I secured my second client. After that one, another came and then another till I was juggling so many customers, sometimes it was a wonder how I found time to breathe.

A handful of them, like the first, got more than they bargained for. I did not plan it that way. All I know was that I was sensitive enough to perceive a more pressing need, and accommodating enough to offer a bit of myself. Otas remarked that she was not sure if I was operating a fashion studio or a vocational center. She feared that if I shared too much of what I know, it would reduce my relevance. But I had no such qualms. Life, after all, is more than food and the body more than clothing. This realization has made my experience at the studio much more rewarding. Beyond the income, I’ve immersed myself into this new environment with its changing tides. Whereas in previous years, I always found an Edede or a Mrs. Aigbe to run to in times of crisis, now I’m the one spreading my wings over these younger lives. My work has turned out to be a bridge from which I crossed the comfort of a protégée to the responsibilities of a mentor. Slowly, I’ve come to terms with this reversal of roles which the passage of time has brought. If this is what I take away from here to our new home, then it is priceless.

I’ve only been to ‘spy out’ the new place once, so it’s too early to form an opinion about what life there will be like. Though I’ve teased Edwin again and again about this nomadic lifestyle which he has subjected our family to, this time my moving will be deliberate. On that one visit, my dear hubby did not just take me round the shops, he got me one. And with all my sewing equipment sent ahead, he has seen to it that I hit the ground running. So whatever the makeup of the new environment, I’ll be venturing there with purpose. I expect an influx of clients, no less than what I had here. For the precious few among them who I’m able to guide along the path of life, they will be to me; a joy and crown.

Leaning back into her chair, Stella finished her last few thoughts for the day before closing her leather bound journal, stuffing it into a suitcase full of her children’s clothes, and zipping it up.

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