Chapter four: Costume change
I try to adjust the braces to a point where they’re not hanging by my knees.
Then find I overcompensated and need to loosen them not to tie off circulation in my arms.
Braces are annoying. Who invented these?
I’d like to have a word.
But looking in the mirror I can’t help but admit that I look much more like the people outside now.
Not my face, or my hands and these pants-legs are far too long for me.
But it’s close enough.
I wouldn’t recognize myself walking down the streets.
That’s what counts.
“What do you think?” the saleslady asks as I emerge again.
“The black shirt is fine.”
“Splendid then now that we have our base it’s time to look at the rest.” She says with a smile trying to lead me up some stairs.
“Oh yes, vest, coat, tie, hat, gloves socks, shoes and cufflink.”
“Oh…” I look around for the others but they’re gone.
I don’t like this. She’s probably just doing her job but it’s all too sudden, too pushy.
“Actually, I should find my friends first, they’re in here, I’ll be right back.”
Her eyes look surprised but that perfect smile keeps sticking to her lips as she says “certainly sir.”
I bow quickly, then rush to the ladies’ department again.
In my hurry, I run into some short fellow with a dark blue suit.
“Sorry, sir-” I start but then the person turns around “Alice!?”
“Xuiyo!? Is that you?” Elizabeth asks shocked as she spots me before I even had a chance to enter the department.
“Oh you look great, did you find this yourself?”
“I had help.”
“Yeah… but never mind that you look…weird…but in a good way?” I tell her pointing at her, everything. I’m not sure what I expected her to wear. But I can’t help but think the shimou fits her better. The dark blue pants-suit has silver details all over and a long coat that reaches all the way to her knees. The cut is well-fitted and it looks very expensive.
“Yeah, I figured I’d just put in a little extra money into getting something I really want. Call it a birthday present to myself.”
Because her birthday is in six days of course! I remember her arguing with Dana over it so I must have known.
But only now it dawns on me.
I think back to my gun, now stuck in the ship but that gift means so much to me.
And I don’t have anything in return…
“Right, it’s nice.”
“Where’s Hi- Hamala?” I ask.
“I gave her some skirts that seemed her style and she’s changing now. She’s just…taking a while longer than expected.”
That sounds bad.
I should probably go check on her then.
Back at the restaurant, she could change from her work to performance clothes in a matter of seconds.
This doesn’t sound like her at all.
“Where are the changing rooms?”
“Back end wall. Is everything okay?”
I shrug. I don’t really know but I like to be sure.
“Hamala?” I knock gently on the door.
There’s a gasp on the other side filled with tears “Hui?”
“Can I come in?”
I open the door gingerly. Himowa is sitting on the floor in her shimou still, knees drawn up and face red.
The clothes hang on the hook, a mass of aggressively coloured fabric looming over her.
She looks so small in comparison.
I sit down next to her. Not quite sure what the correct response is.
She leans against me, head on my shoulder. “I’m sorry.” She says.
“I’m holding everyone up, just, sitting here wasting time. I should just, get over it-”
“Get over what? I…can you start at the start?”
“Sorry, it’s just. I want to help, I want you to be safe. But I feel like I have to abandon much more than just my homeland. My name, my culture, my history. I’m not sure who I’m supposed to be anymore.” She tries to wipe her tears on her sleeves, looks at the patterns that remind her of home and grasp at them, crumpling into herself in despair.
“I’m sorry.” I never had much connection to my family or my past.
I suspect Elizabeth hadn’t either.
But Himowa never tried to leave, never wanted to leave.
She left for my sake.
She swallows hard and wipes her tears away “It’s fine, it’s silly anyway.” She bullies herself but she’s wrong.
“No, it’s not silly.” I hug her tightly then tell her “I can talk to Elizabeth if you like, they’re just looking for us if they’re looking at all. Maybe you can keep your clothes as long as we changed up enough?”
She raises her head. Two puffy red eyes filled with gentle hope “I’d like that, thank you.”
I get up.
Give her a kiss “I’ll be right back.”
Outside Elizabeth is already waiting for us. I reckon she’s done shopping for now.
“Is everything okay in there?”
I open my mouth “Uhm. Hamala isn’t comfortable with the new clothes.”
“Oh, I’ll look for something different then, what didn’t she like, we can-”
“No I mean, all new clothes. She doesn’t want new clothes.”
“But it’s fine I’m paying I-”
“No.” I grunt, what did Himowa say again “It’s just that we’ve been pushing her too hard. She already had to leave behind her home and name, now she has to leave her shimou and dress up like someone else?”
“Oh…” Elizabeth falls silent for a bit “I see, of course, how stupid of me I had no idea.” She takes another moment to think.
I wonder if I’m supposed to say something but then she steps up to the cabin door and asks softly “Himowa? Can I come in?”
There’s a soft sound of affirmation.
The door opens.
“Can Hui come as well?”
“Of course.” Elizabeth waves me in with a swift gesture.
These tiny rooms weren’t made for three people. But it fits just about.
“First off.” Elizabeth starts “I’m sorry Himowa, I’m afraid I have been inconsiderate.”
“Oh, no, it’s not your fault. I’m sorry for making a fuss.”
“Don’t be. I…I have an idea and if you hate it I want you to tell me okay?”
She pulls open her bag and pulls out the shimou she arrived in today “We can ask the people here to fit this to your size. I don’t know if they can but if so you’ll be dressed as a Jaobaian lady of high standing which is not what anyone is looking for right now. And it wouldn’t be the same as your old clothes of course but they’d still be clothes from home if that makes sense.”
Himowa looks at me, then to the robes “I couldn’t, those shimou are worth more than I could ever pay back.”
“Well, I can’t wear them out here because it looks too suspicious so the only way they could otherwise go is at the back of my wardrobe. I’ve loved these robes for so long, I’m not sure I could bear that. You’d be doing them a favour…if you like them of course.”
She looks stunned for a moment. Then nods and starts crying again.
Elizabeth looks panicked for a bit but then Himowa pulls herself off the floor and hugs her “Thank you.”
Elizabeth smiles perplexed but in a good way. She then turns to me “Hui you said there’s a lady who can speak Jigani?”
“There is?” Himowa looks at me amazed.
“You think I picked out these clothes by myself?”
“Good point.” Himowa chuckles and she dries her tears before we leave the room together.
The people seem shocked at seeing three people leave the same dressing room but I don’t think I care.
I find the lady upstairs where she’s already helping a different customer in a language I don’t get. It doesn’t sound like Jigani or Cygnian for that matter.
The moment her eyes fall on me though she snatches three things from the rails and sends the customer into the changing rooms.
“Do you have a fitting service?”
“Of course, right this way.”
“Well, this is highly unorthodox.” Our translator explains after witnessing her and the seamstress argue for a good five minutes.
“How much does she want for the work?” Elizabeth asks in Cygnian.
The back and forth continues. I look at Himowa, she looks tense.
“Ten silvies,” our translator tells us with an embarrassed look on her face.
“Will you take the same equivalent in chui?”
“We have a money exchange booth on the ground floor so currencies shouldn’t be a problem,” Maowe adds helpfully.
“All right, now will you get started then?”
The seamstress jumps off her chair at the confirmation and Himowa gets to stand on a little podium, Shimou draped around her.
“If you leave it here overnight the dress can be done tomorrow.” The woman explains.
“Tomorrow?” I ask. I thought we were going to be in the air again before nightfall.
“I think that’s all right, in that case, can I bring two more shimou over, for variation, would that stretch the deadline?”
“Not at all.” The woman assures us.
Himowa is beaming on her little platform.
I don’t have the heart to tell her how I feel about spending the night.
“Now as for the matter of your clothes, I have some jackets and hats lined up.” The sales lady tells me
I grunt painfully “Right…”
Some time later I have a jacket, but at least I managed to talk my way out of the hat.
Elizabeth pulls out a leather rectangular wallet and counts out a currency I don’t know.
I wonder where she got it.
“Now let’s go and see how Dana’s getting on,” Elizabeth announces pulling us along.
I wonder but I don’t ask.