Sara: I met a Chinese-looking girl today…

My name is Sara. I work on the first floor of a John Lewis department store in the North East of England. I met a Chinese-looking girl today. It was about 12 o’clock midday Sunday, 25 Sep.

Because of the Sunday Trading Law, people just started to come in. She walked right into the fabric and sewing area, looked like she had something specific she’d like to buy in mind. She got distracted by the new collection of Amy Butler’s fabrics and disappeared among the shelves and wall displays. It was a new collection of craft and home furnishing textile with a lot of colour and design. I was very pleased when I put them on the shelves last night. They looked like a happy rainbow. Like an art work.

I moved slowly towards her just in case she’d like some help and saw her taking photos of the labels at the end of the roll of fabrics. Why does she want to remember the name of the company and the designer? Does she want to buy them in big quantity? Why does she need a lot of fabrics? When the floor is quiet, playing guessing game is how I keep myself entertained.

I stood behind the shelf next to her and asked my default question, are you OK there? I still remembered when I first came to the UK, a young guy asked me that question in Ryman stationary shop. I immediately replied, yes yes of course! And thought did I look like I was not OK? I realised not long after that, “are you OK” is just a default way to say “do you need help”? She turned back quickly and couldn’t see where the voice was from. I’m a short girl and I’m a bit shy so I’m quieter than average shop assistants. She saw me eventually and paused for a split second. I caught it, because I was too used to that reaction here. I was expecting it. I’m from Malaysia and I wear headscarf that Muslim women wear. I wear black ones when I come to work, so as today, it merges into John Lewis’ staff uniform. It makes me look like a walking black fabric roll. And I think I’m the only walking fabric roll in this department store.

She answered with gestures that she was looking for elbow patches of wool jumpers. I showed her the patches on the wall display. She said thank you cheerfully and started to look through the various colours and fabrics. Have her jumpers got holes in them? I don’t understand why someone have holes in their jumpers someone don’t. Do some people have more pointier elbows than others’? Celia, my sister, always had holes in her clothes when we were little. I always had to wear clothes with holes in because they were all hers. Thinking about my clean clothes from our wardrobe when I was at home, I miss that old homely smell on them…

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