Clothes make the man, he thinks to himself.
The little man at the front of the bus has to wear the little blue hat and tight little blue suit because he drives it. Or does he get to drive it because he wears those things?
The blue-suited man tells them they have to get off, it’s the end of the line. There’s one other passenger, a young woman, wearing tight, pleasing clothes, who hadn’t dared look at him for the entire ride.
The clothes making him that day were old and certainly out of style, very nearly exactly ten years so. No wonder the woman didn’t want to look at him. They weren’t even nice when he wore them the last time he was a free man, but at least they fit.
The only other thing on him was a wallet, full of cards long expired, the stub of a one-way ticket, now served its purpose, and lastly the one thing provided to him out of the kindness of the judicial process. A prepaid visa for one hundred dollars, to get him back on his feet, they said.
His feet, though, are just as well covered, and suit him just fine. And so carrying that card of finite subsistence, he finds his way from the bus station to the counter of a fast food restaurant, where the people there are made out of red and yellow stripes and grease and uniformity.
Then next door, taking however much was left on that card, and subtracting the pack of cigarettes at the convenience store, the workers more smoke and petrol fumes and old coins than most.
They, the cigarettes, were much more expensive than he remembers but certainly a trade more fair than bartering for bathroom supplies, extra food, or unmentionables. The people behind him in line, regardless of their components, make his gaze turn back repeatedly, but that feeling will go away in time, he tells himself. The thing to take his mind off of the sensation involves dressing himself in the fresh smoke and fumes, inside and out.
Now, if the ten years had been kind, he would have a place to shed his old layers and fix himself anew. But the ten years changed more than him. That old block of houses, stripped down and dressed up into condos.
Condos with women and their torn jeans and little purses and chihuahuas on limp leashes and men with shiny sunglasses resting in their tight vnecks instead of on their faces, nothing like the friend who was there, more loose and old-fashioned. Doesn’t matter where they are now, he tells himself. He is on his own, on his feet, and ain’t nothing wrong with that.
The rest of the card, or what is likely enough to push the balance against the red, is spent on a motel room. One night. And despite the shower and the remotely clean sheets, he is back into the same clothes the next day, feet back into the old shoes, and back to square one. But he is himself.
A week on the streets means there’s more than just the young women avoiding turning his way, but just about everyone else as well. He can’t decide if the cold is from their singular glances or the turning weather, but bundles of newspapers inside the sweatshirt he finds on a bench help stave off the feeling.
Suddenly those shoes– the socks underneath as well– aren’t as fine as they seemed, and it’s not just the cold eating at his toes, but the moisture. He finds someone willing to toss their socks his way from a gym bag, and he wears both because it would be a waste otherwise.
A second jacket comes his way after a fight and a calling of the police, and the person who used it now gets a nice warm cell for however long the dark blue ones decide.
Someone knitted hats and left them out on fence posts, not for people like him, but he figures he and his cold, painful ears would look made up in one.
People throw away plenty of things, things that don’t deserve it, he makes sense of the dumpster. Those behind stores are full of things like that, which means the contents get taken away unless people like him choose to save them. Sleeves cut away from a proper, good coat because it couldn’t be sold. But just those sleeves serve their purpose nevertheless, stretched over the other layers he has on.
When the rains come, and eventually the snow, it’s about all he can do to stay dry. Plastic bags do the trick, as noisy as they are, but he would never be considered a quiet person either way.
The winter wind will push its way through everything else regardless. When he can do nothing but conserve heat and energy, the plates of discarded cardboard make him a set of armor, protecting him from the cold ground and frigid air.
Clothes make the man, but none of the layers seem to make him the man that others want to see in any place they would be. And so the men in dark blue come. And they tug and pull. But when they begin to pull back the layers, they find that there is nothing but more and more layers of clothes all the way down.