Jake huddled in the rear of the bus, face pressed against the moist window pane. Yuck, he thought. His nose wrinkled in distaste. He's getting closer.
'He' swayed, hanging from the straps, brachiating through the aisle like a monkey in his cups. His body was a shapeless, voluminous thing, clad in layer upon layer of castaway clothing, patched-up and dirty. Above it all, he wore a spotless, perfect dinner jacket, as out of place on his body as a fish on a bike.
Late as it was, the bus was completely empty. Nevertheless, the homeless man parked his posterior on the seat opposite Jake. Groaning and muttering to himself, he struggled to extricate himself from the dinner jacket, which clung to the coarse wool underneath like a sausage skin. The stink of the kind of cheap wine sold in Tetra Paks wafted over, paired with the stench of the unwashed and filthy.
Jake watched him from the corner of his eye while pretending to stare out into the rain. It came down in buckets, splattering against the window and rendering the city outside a blurry parade of shapeless neon lights. He sighed. Even if he got out in the back, half a bus closer to home, he'd be drenched by the time he'd have reached the questionable shelter of his cubby hole.
"Quite the weather, innit?" the derelict offered his sympathy.
Jake flinched, regretting that sigh. Why did all the weirdos always feel compelled to talk to him?
"Cats and dogs, I tell ya, cats and dogs. It'll be horses next!" The old man cackled at his own joke, completely oblivious to the fact that the youth in front of him just kept staring out, giving not the slightest indication, that tiny jolt aside, that he'd even heard him.
"Not gonna stop either, I tell ya. It's gonna keep up like that for the rest of the month."
Jake closed his eyes and prayed for patience. Four more stops. Only four more stops.
"Nothing like the rain we got back in our days, though. Ever heard of the Year of the Rain?"
Jake gave up. "No," he mumbled, but refused to look up.
"That was in India. Cherrapunji, I believe. Crazy days, I tell ya. And the wrinkles we got! Nothing ever dried out completely, no matter what you tried. We all looked like prunes!"
Jake clenched his jaws. Three more stops. He could do this.
"More than a thousand inches of water came down that year."
"When was that, then?" Jake surrendered to the inevitable and raised his head. For a moment, he was stunned. Beneath a wispy tuft of white hair, above a lumpy, malformed nose covered in a blue-red network of burst veins, settled deeply inside a nest of lines and furrows, was the most vivid pair of startlingly blue eyes he'd ever encountered.
"Oh, let me think. The British gave back the Mosquito Coast that year, and Lincoln was running for President...1860, it must have been. Aye, the summer of 1860, and it lasted right until the summer of 1861."
Jake gave a snort. "Sure," he muttered. What a nutcase. As if anyone alive in 1860 would still be alive today.
"You don't think I'm that old?" The man cackled again.
Jake didn't bother with a reply. Two more stops. Less than five minutes.
With much creaking of old bones, and even more rustling and shuffling, the hobo lifted his sorry existence up and towards the exit. Unable to believe his luck, Jake followed his movements from his peripheral vision. Only when the doors hissed open and the man hobbled outside into the downpour, did the youth notice something white.
"Hey, you've forgotten..." he started to say, but broke off as the doors slammed shut again and the bus veered away from the curb.
The dinner jacket lay abandoned on the seat.
Should carry it to the driver, Jake mused. There's bound to be something like a lost and found. Somehow, though, he couldn't bring himself to get up. He just kept looking at the jacket.
Wonder how I'd look in that?
He shook his head with a wry smile. As if he'd ever have occasion to wear something like that. On the other hand...what harm was there in trying it on, just once? Just to see how it would fit him? His arm reached out, only to be pulled back again. No, he couldn't do it. It belonged to someone else. Besides, he didn't much fancy wearing something that had until recently clothed a dirty bag of human debris.
Still. The jacket showed not a single mark, nothing to make you guess who its original owner had been. It was very white. Spotless. Perfect.
So inviting. Beckoning. Almost looking at him, begging to be worn.
Before he could stop himself, Jake had cast his own coat aside and thrown the dinner jacket on. It settled upon him like a second skin, hugged him like a lover's embrace. He watched himself in the misty window, barely able to make out his shape. I bet I look dashing. I need a proper mirror.
He looked up, to where the required item hung. There were mirrors every few steps down the aisle, positioned in such a way, they allowed the driver to view the entire bus without moving his head.
Must be one of those distorted mirrors, Jake thought. I look thin as a rake.
A moment later, the bus pulled up beside an apartment complex. "Your stop, Jake," the driver called out to his regular. When no reply came, he turned around.
The bus was empty. He frowned. That wasn't like Jake, to get out without a word, and a stop early, too. Was there something wrong? Or maybe he'd just fallen asleep, and slid off his seat?
He wriggled out of from behind the steering wheel and walked back along the aisle. When he came to the back of the bus, where Jake usually sat when he rode home from his late-night shift, there was nobody around.
A coat was hanging across a backrest, and a dinner jacket lying on the floor. The driver picked it up and made to brush it off, only to find it wasn't necessary. The thing was spotless, despite the sheen of muddy rain water it had been dropped into.
"Weird," he muttered, holding the jacket up the better to examine it, all thoughts of Jake wiped away. "Who leaves a beauty like you behind?" Gently, he ran his fingers along the silken lapels. "You must have cost someone a fortune. No off the rack piece, you. Custom-made, if I'm any judge. Look at those stitches. Handmade, even. I wonder how you'd fit me?"
He shrugged out of his uniform jacket.
The streets dark and deserted, the rain still coming down as if there was no tomorrow, the only light came from the bus quietly chugging at the stop with doors open.
Nobody saw the hobo approaching as he dragged his weary feet up the sidewalk. Wheezing, he climbed the step into the comfortably warm and dry interior. Slowly, he ambled his way past the rows of seats, into the very back.
The dinner jacket was lying on the ground, in a dirty puddle. The old man clicked his tongue, forced his stiff back to bend and picked it up. Stuffing his multi-layered arms into the miraculously spotless sleeves, he jerked at the sudden surge of energy rushing into his body.
"My," he sighed, watching himself in the mirror as lines and furrows were smoothed, lumps on his nose vanished and burst veins healed up. A crooked spine straightened. White tufts of hair lengthened and filled out, rapidly darkening to a raven black. Heaps of discarded clothing disappeared, replaced by an elegant, almost opera-like cloak, complete with an old-fashioned walking cane, shiny mother-of-pearl inlays running down its length. Only his eyes, vivid and startlingly blue, stayed the same. "Looks like you had more than just that boy for dinner. Bad jacket. Did you have to eat the driver, too? He's going to be missed. There'll be an investigation. And I had grown so accustomed to this place. Bad, bad jacket. Ah, well. Can't be helped. I'll just have to journey on again. I hear Australia is quite nice at this time of the year."
Angelika Rust was born in Vienna in 1977. These days, she lives in Germany, with her husband, two children, a despotic couple of cats and a hyperactive dog. After having tried almost every possible job from pizza delivery girl to HR consultant, she now makes a living knowing English. She doesn't know yet what she wants to be when she grows up, whenever that may be. In the meantime, she writes the occasional book.