My wife and I are in a strange city, a combination of Bombay and Shotesham, if such a thing were at all possible. There is an ever-present roar in the background. The sea? I do not know. The place is strange, different. And yet we belong here, somehow, though this is not where we live, it feels like home, more like home than our real home. We go into a shop, and now my mother is with us too. We wander around the shop for a while, and find ourselves heading towards the sewing machine department. It will be our wedding anniversary soon, and I am going to buy a sewing machine for my wife. I have not spoken to my wife about this - I have not even thought about the idea until that moment. Yet now it is as if that were the reason for our being here, as if we had planned this all along.
We enter the sewing machine section. We now stand in a great hall, next to a thick, pillared stone wall. I can barely see the mighty vaulted roof, high above me. I cannot see the other walls. Rows and rows of sewing machines of every conceivable description stretch into the distance. Hundreds of officious-looking people in long white robes move amongst the
machines. They're caring for the machines' needs, I think to myself. How did I know that?
I am fascinated by one of the machines; a smooth, sleek, grey affair. I move towards it. Its name is written in a strange script which I cannot read. The serifs remind me of Hebrew, but there is something of Greek there too. I feel my wife tugging nervously at my elbow. I pull away, irritated. There is something hypnotic about the sewing machine. I feel a sudden need to caress the needle, to feel the silvery smoothness of the bobbin. From out of the corner of my eye, I see my wife growing frantic. An attendant approaches from the distance, smiling. He is almost here now. I tense, waiting for his arrival. A strange thrill runs through my body. Paduka!, my wife screams. I turn to look at her, and she pulls me away from the machine. Don't look at the new machines, I hear my mother saying, and I understand that I should not.
We pause by an old, old, machine that sits on an ornately carved wooden table. It is black, one of the very early Singer models. This is the machine we must buy, a voice says, and we agree. The machine is right next to a cash desk. We walk to the sales clerk. She is speaking a mixture of Gujarati and Dutch. Not Dutch, I suddenly realise, Afrikaans. Three thousand nine hundred rupees, she says. I fumble for my wallet, but I can only find francs in it. A lot of francs, enough to buy a small chateau in the Loire valley. But no rupees. My mother shakes her head. My wife laughs. I do not understand why I have francs. I have never been to France. And anyway, they don't even use francs there. There is something important about this, I sense, but the feeling disappears almost as soon as it starts. My mother pays four thousand, and is handed the change. There is something a little odd about the notes, and as I glance at them I realise that it is Pakistani currency. I try to alert my mother, but she dismisses me with an annoyed look. We're lucky that she let us pay in Indian currency, she says. I want to protest, but my head is swimming.
We walk out of the shop. I am carrying a parcel wrapped in a newspaper covered with Cyrillic print. I frown at the parcel, wondering what it is. The sewing machine, my wife reminds me. She didn't give us the table, I say with sudden panic. We are crossing a wide, busy road at a pedestrian crossing. My wife is looking at me strangely. My mother has vanished. I rummage through the parcel. She didn't give us the motor or the footpedal either, I say, we have to go back. Don't be ridiculous, my wife responds. I don't understand what is ridiculous about what I'm saying, but I let it go. Only three thousand nine hundred. Cheap, anyway., I say. My wife shakes her head. Expensive. Cheap, I insist, but my arguments have slipped away. Cheap, I say again, vaguely, but I no longer remember what we were talking about. In the background, I hear the roar of the surf on the shore.