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  • Drawing the pushchair to a halt beneath the familiar Singer logo of the sewing machine shop on Talbot Street I gestured to Anton to hang on a few minutes and mind the kids for me while I went inside. My younger brother, he'd been a godsend helping in little ways as I juggled the various tasks of raising two children who were only 17 months apart in age. My white Toshiba machine fit perfectly into the upright gap in the back of the buggy and I reached for its built-in handle, thankful that taking the gamble to walk into town with the buggy had spared me the sore arms of lugging it all the way there myself. The weather wasn’t great and we’d hurried against the threat of rain.
    Though I’d picked up simple things like buttons and sewing needles before, the Singer shop was not my usual outlet for haberdashery supplies. There was a good Hickeys up on Henry Street but this shop was the only one I knew of with a walk-in service for machine repairs. A bell rang overhead and I looked around as I entered through the green door: a man was speaking on the phone at the counter opposite but there were no customers apart from myself. Balls of wool, bolts of cloth, threads, caddies and pincushions were arranged on display shelves but most of the room was given over to different models of sewing machines for sale. The man was still on the phone as I approached and hoisted my machine up on to the counter. He looked to be about fifty, hair turning a light grey, with ruddy cheeks, gold-rimmed spectacles and clothes that hinted at affection for colour and texture; a peaty brown shirt and tweed jacket, as far as I could see above the counter.
    He continued to ignore me and I sensed movement behind at the exact moment his eyes flicked to the door. Two prim-looking old ladies with big handbags were heading towards us. The man murmured something into the phone just as they drew up, replaced the receiver and turned to them with a courteous rub of his hands.
    “Yes ladies, may I help you?”
    My jaw dropped. Looking rather taken aback, the old ladies turned in my direction. I tried to scramble my wits together and gulped a grateful smile for their good manners.
    “Excuse me sir, I was first.” As I addressed him a timidity in my gut made me feel as though I were facing a crocodile or lion. The smile he’d shown them was replaced with a mask of disdain for me.
    “What do you want?” He snapped.
    “To get my machine fixed. The plastic spindle for the top thread has snapped, I need to order a replacement.”
    “Do you have a receipt for that?”
    “Sorry?” I couldn’t believe my ears. One of the old ladies hooted beside me.
    “Proof of purchase.” He sneered, his gaze moving to the front window where Anton could be seen waiting with the buggy. The Talbot Street area of Dublin has a notorious reputation for drunks and junkies as the brainiacs in City Council thought it would be a good idea to locate the main homeless hostels and methadone clinics in the heart of the tourist district. This was my first brush with prejudice since growing up as Irish in London during a period of bombing activity by the IRA. Though I had my first baby young, at 18, I had never been an addict, a criminal, or homeless. I was nothing but a school-dropout hemming curtains to make a few extra quid.

    “How dare you?” I was appalled. The fighting street kid in me wanted to snarl something awful and judgemental but I couldn't bring myself to stoop to his level. I hoped a dignified glare as I hauled the machine off the counter was enough to inform him what a grave mistake he’d made. I faced the two women, my mouth a grim line. “I’m never coming here again.” I hissed, turning on my heel.
    Outside a minute later I stood up from fixing the buggy's undercarriage and saw the women had left, also empty-handed.

    With superglue and a sliver of duct tape I managed to fix the broken spindle. But I no longer enjoyed spending time perched over the footpedal and the concentration for guiding the material carefully became clouded by the connotations of the conversation in the shop. My plan to find work as a dressmaker died and the machine gathered dust. The new spindle was never needed in the end.
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