John is 22 years old. He doesn't look younger, or older. Just right. John works at the Department Store, in the Man-Smart-Ties division. About that, and other things, he feels so and so, neither too good nor too bad. Just ok. The Department Store is the one in the town center, the high street one, the big-big one, the famous one, that everyone says "there is all you need inside and not even rubbish only". But John, who works there, can't really find everything-everything he needs inside, to tell the truth.
One morning, a morning like any other morning, he wakes up tired, black eyes. At work, he starts chatting with Marc, Elegant-Man-New-Season division, which is right there, three steps from him. But they never talk, because there are customers around and, you know, they need to be ready and willing. And when there are no customers, he doesn't really want to talk, and just stands there, staring at the escalators lights, and the red emergency button on the escalator. But this morning, as it happens sometimes, he really needs to ask something.
"How old are you?"
"And Jim, who is the oldest?"
"But if we are all less than twenty seven, what will we do when we are twenty eight?"
"We will be department managers, no?"
"But how many department managers are there in the department?"
"There are 25 of us. And the others? What will the other twenty four do?"
"But twenty four what? Why do you care? You are not twenty eight yet, are you?"
"No… you right."
John falls silent, and stops thinking, that for one day that was enough.
He likes his work, sometimes. When a customer asks for the right tie to wear with a dress like this and like that, John is happy, because he knows the answer. There is a small manual, pages falling apart, behind the counter, tied with the silver chain. If you're looking for something about the ties, here it is. Search the index for gray suit, wedding section, subsection 'best man' and there we are: "If the bride is in white: pearl shirt and blue striped tie (pick at random from the drawer 25H-2). If the bride is in pearl: blue shirt and black striped tie (pick at random from the drawer 29G -3)". And so on.
But once they asked him what to wear for a gala dinner with black pinstripes and cufflinks with green gemstones, and that was not in the manual, or at least not under the keyword "green gemstones". Then he recalled what they taught him in the staff training sessions. When you don't know, just say: "the latest trend is a bold contrast in shapes and colors, imposing the tie as an object of fine beauty and class on its own. May I suggest this tie, sir? What do you think?". And he takes a tie at random from those a little further away, that nobody ever buys, and a bit more expensive. It seemed like cheating a bit, and not right, not right-right, at least. But, then again, you have to do it, and everyone seems happy, no?
After work, John gets home by bus, the 51. The bus is always late, and packed, and he gets pushed by buggies and trunks against the window, to see the city and the people passing by, like staying in a giant fish tank. And through the glass, the city looks like a Department Stores, people moving slowly, with bags and hats, in silence, like dummies. John lives on his own, in a small flat. He thinks is lucky, better than strangers coming and going day and night, and never say hello. While eating, though, he must turn the TV on, to push the silence away, and not feeling sad. He does not know why is sad, because he's lucky, after all, but he just is. He lives in an apartment block, so many neighbors around, all strange, and strangers. In the lift, sometimes, he just says hi, and they say hi. He's got friends, you know, the ones you drink a beer with, on a Friday night, and on a Saturday night you go to the disco where everybody goes, looking at girls, girls pale for the cold, or red for the beers. But they don't really care for them, and so they stand at the bar, glass in hand, for hours, saying "yes" from time to time. John does not have a girlfriend. He's not really sure he wants one. A little bit yes, a little bit no. It depends, you know. He had one once, but then she left him for an older man, much older, with a nice shiny black coat. She liked him because he always smelled nice, and spoke to her a lot, saying things, asking things, and in summer they went to Greece on big sailing boat. Bought just for her, she said. And that was a nice present, she said, a very lovely present. John didn't know what to say, but he understood, and finished drinking the beer before leaving.
Even if you work, day after day, and eat with the TV on, night by night, and stand silent in front of the escalators lights, one day or the other you suddenly think a thought you did not think before, and you feel strange. And that's what happened to John. But the thing that happened, if you are not John, it's hard to explain, you may not understand, and get the wrong impression. Leaving the locker room he glimpses through the open door of the main warehouse. There is something bright and white in the darkness of the room. The face of a girl, thrown into the pile of defective clothes against the wall. The pale, smooth face of the model F5, a spare dummy that was standing, just few days before, in the department east wing, the Woman-Young-Casual. A mannequin girl, in short, and she has just been thrown there, like that, with her clothes still on. She has just been replaced by the model F6, because the new one stands more balanced on the right leg, with the left forearm raised, as if greeting a friend. "Like a Greek statue", so Phil said once. Phil, the security guy, one that reads a lot, and he knows about that sort of old stuff. John liked the idea, the Greek statue thing, as if something beautiful had finally come in that place of neon lights and plastic price tags. From a more practical point of view, they can easily hung the handbags now, and show the customers how good they would look in that red, short skirt. John remembered the model F5 very well, he walked past her every day, and remembered the last summer dress that they put on her. It suited her so much, her slim figure, like a princess. "How beautiful you are. Damn. How beautiful", he thought the first time. The yellow shirt so tight against the breast, showing the nipples, the naked belly, the short linen flower skirt, the red sandals for the beach. There is no beach here, but that's not the point, surely. Recalling that, John feels sad and happy, at the same time. How strange is that, how strange. Now, in front of the warehouse door, John tries to imagine which friend, or even girl he knows by sight, would look better than F5 with those clothes on, and he could not find one. Not even one. Not even close. Not on the bus, for sure. One is too fat, one too skinny and sick, one with dark red lipstick smeared all over the mouth, one with broken plastic nails, one with a silver ring in the nose, screaming 'fuck you asshole' on the phone, one with dark patches around the armpit. John used to pass and say hello to her every morning, before stopping at the bar, for the cup of instant coffee. She was always there for him, and always so beautiful, so perfect. Same as yesterday, same as tomorrow. Finding her in that state, now, on the cold floor, like an old rag, John feels a lump in the throat, and lowers the eyes. He closes the door, and runs, since in all that sadness, he was late.
You can't work well when something gets stuck between your thoughts. You don't know what, but you know it's there. John makes a mistake saying a price, even if he has good memory and never forgets a number. Days went by but that thought does not go away. How sad to see her thrown away like that, after all she did for them. So beautiful. So lonely. John decided that it doesn't matter why, if you really feel it. The next day, he brought the large bag, the gym bag, and the next day again, and again. Nobody noticed, or care, that piece by piece the model F5 disappeared, leaving only a pile of defective clothes. In the evening, at home, John mounts the last right arm, and sits her on the chair, at the kitchen table. He stares at her, motionless, for a long while. Something's wrong, she looks so uncomfortable, naked in front of a stranger, and looked down on the floor, ashamed for being so insensitive. John is a good boy, he always know what people feel, always. The next day, in the warehouse, as if just aimlessly wandering around, he quickly took from the pile that summer dress that she liked so much, and a wig too. Not the red one, so tacky and brash, since she is not, but the black French wig, so classy and exotic. He also buys new clothes, and accessories, from the third floor, where they don't know him. After work, he runs home, and he feels happy, even on the crowded bus, because he has a bag of clothes, and gifts for her. He realizes immediately she's happy too. Women need attention, and a gentle caress, not to lay naked in the shadow.
And days go by, so simply, one after another. Each day like the previous one, but different too. It was just different. Going out for a beer, he feel fidgety now, and sometimes he just says no, not feeling well. He stays home, on the couch, reading a book. Every now and then he looks up and feels reassured. She is there with him, and that's good enough. He just look at her and feels better, no matter what happened at work, or on the bus. Beauty is the cure, and the mystery, and it knows no rules. You're walking down the road, and in one short instant even a simple bark fills your life. Leaving home, knowing that there will be a coming back, that's the joy. There will be no more screams, no tears, no boat of old man. For dinner, he turns the TV off, because he must tell her about the day at work, and all the many crazy things that happened. If he has a problem, he just speaks with her, that talking and thinking something always comes out. And then comes the Autumn, and he returns with new pastel clothes. He doesn't really exchange opinions about books with her, but, after all, how many of you do? John thinks about his friends, the one that lives for the iPhone, the one that washes the car twice a day, and he does not feel strange at all. At night, before falling asleep, he whispers: "We'll be fine together, you'll see".