Exclusive Member Story ‘The Abandoned Overcoat’ By Sinj Karan

The Abandoned OvercoatSusan walked up the stairs as she exited the metro. One of her earphones fell out and she bent a little to grab it. Adele’s latest song was sneaking out as the earphone went back into her ear. She walked a little further and there it lay, right at the foot of the flight of steps; this old raggedy looking, dust laden overcoat.  She stared at it for a few moments and then quite unknowingly, yet naturally, bent down to pick it up. As she made her way up, she felt it to be slightly weighty. She looked around to see if someone had dropped it, but other than a stream of people rushing up and down the stairs in front of her, she couldn’t see any claimants. She saw that she was already late for class and thus decided to hold on to it. She threw it over her shoulder and briskly walked up the escalator.

She entered the class and Prof. Sipomochoupus was already deep into his lecture. He didn’t appreciate interruptions and on seeing her trying to sneak in, called out.

‘So do we have the two of you joining us this morning, Ms. Burns?’

Susan was interrupted by the question and she stopped right there in her tracks. She wasn’t really sure who else was with her and coming in so late. It was as if Prof. Sipomochoupus read her mind, she turned slightly and found no one was behind her.

‘It’s the ginormous coat that you seem to be dragging in with you Ms. Burns, though your accomplice doesn’t seem as startled as you.’

Everyone in the class burst into a laughter. Prof. Sipomochoupus was known for his frivolous commentary and prying into people’s lives. He was a brilliant academic, yet his politesse was notorious around the school. Susan slightly glanced at the overcoat and realized for the first time that it was larger than her.

‘Oh this is not mine Professor,’ she replied pretending to be spontaneous.

‘Is that so, then whose is it and what is the gentleman doing with you?’ he queried.

Susan didn’t know how to respond to it and looked completely puzzled. Prof. Sipomochoupus decided to let her go and said,

‘Given your blissfully inarticulate demeanour, do come on in and join us in a discussion about sociological metaphors.’

Susan was feeling slightly embarrassed and decided to simply drop the coat in the corner and whisked herself to her seat.  Prof. Sipomochoupus decided that he had enough fun and went straight back to his lecture. Susan breathed a sigh of relief.

As she got to her seat and sat down, Carol quizzed her ‘where in the world did you find that?’ Susan briefed her friend on the origins of the coat, to which Carol seemed completely surprised, commenting how strange it was that Susan would just decide to pick something off the street like that.

Susan didn’t want to speak any further, but their neighbour Amit overheard the entire conversation. Half an hour later the class was done and a few people were the first to leave. By the time Susan got to the corner where she had parked it a while ago, it had gone missing. She looked at Carol who was right by her. Carol shook her head, saying that she didn’t know where it was.

‘But you saw me put it here, right here, didn’t you?’

Carol was as non-committal as ever.

‘I guess…’

Susan wasn’t happy with the response.

‘I was going to turn it into the school’s ‘Lost and Found’ and they probably would have a better chance at getting it to the rightful owner. Now it’s just gone; are we surrounded by thieves?’

Carol chimed in saying that she was being slightly dramatic. They both walked towards where the lockers were and continued to hypothesize where the coat could have vanished. Susan felt a sense of loss with the disappearance of the overcoat, even though she had only known it a few hours. She couldn’t really describe the feeling.

Amit in the meanwhile found a place in Jacob’s open locker space, which was somewhat overflowing with his books. There was a little nook just below his squash stuff and Amit stuffed it in there.

‘It’s not like this belongs to someone, she just found it on the street,’ he murmured to himself.

Some twenty minutes later Jacob opened his locker door and his eyes went straight to the strange black sack snoring away in the corner. He pulled it out and with the utmost disgust turned and dunked it in the recycle bin.

‘Whoever thought I am the janitor here.’

An hour strode by and the janitor rolled along with his mops and cleaners. On being picked up by the janitor, while he was emptying his bins outside the school, the coat fell out. He shook it up a little and other than some dirt on it, found it in a pretty good condition.

‘This will make for a nice pawn exchange this evening,’ he chuckled.

Boris was soon done for the day and very excitedly headed straight to the pawnshop.

‘How much for this cashmere that my uncle left to me at his passing?’ the janitor proudly declared to his favourite pawn trader.

‘This is not cashmere, who are you trying to play Boris?’ cried Dora in her thick east European accent.

‘I have been at this pawn shop for how many years?’ she quizzed Boris. He reluctantly said, ‘twenty….’ ‘three’ she completed it for him.

‘I am older than your mother times two,’ and gave out a shrieking laugh.

‘I give you five dollars and not a cent more, ya man’.

Boris turned his head pretending to be struck by disbelief.

‘That ain’t even a bargain Dora.’ ‘Do you think I look like the one to bargain?’ she shrieked again, ‘but only to my advantage when I do.’

The vendor next to her joined her laughter. Boris was getting frustrated for a coat he had only acquired a few hours ago.

‘Eight and that’s my final offer,’ said Boris. ‘Well for your final offer, I pay you only three dollars fifty now, and that’s my final,’ she saw some other customers in the distance and turned to them.

‘But Dooora..you can’t do this.’ ‘You know me Boris..I am not good at negotiation ya?’

Boris shook his head and deciding to part with the coat, gave it to her. Dora knew she would make a fortune with it.

Boris didn’t leave with the biggest grin on his face and rather with a strange sense of loss. It was indescribable how he could have felt somewhat attached to something he had known less than two hours. However, he did spend the evening at the tavern with some extra to pay for a pint or two. He went home drunk, thus making it a full day for him.

Dora had been waiting for the perfect time to sell her cashmere overcoat. She had entertained a few people’s interests, but nothing substantive enough to catch her fancy. She waited on a few of her regulars to really make the fortune she was sure she would.

Mr. Lee loved walking around the pawn stores, and there were a few of them he was a regular at. He walked by Dora’s and was struck by the enormous looking coat in the window.

‘I haven’t seen this before,’ he commented as he made his way inside the store.

Dora had the biggest smile on her face. Mr. Lee was one of her oldest customers and his cheque book was her best friend. He was never the one to question or complain about a purchase. His mere stature and wealth added a few hundred dollars to the article, as soon as she would make the sale to him. Mr. Lee for his part had enough money lying around and enjoyed his indulgences.

‘I just got it yesterday from an antique store in Northern Finland. This is made with true Finnish wool and thread,’ the smile remained unaltered.

‘True Finnish you say Ms. Dora? I have to say it does strike me as a fine specimen of Scandinavian wool.’ He looked at it intently, taken by its simplicity and size.

‘How much then Dora, I’ll take it,’ and he slowly began rubbing his fingers against the fabric.

‘Oh,’ said Dora looking polite and subservient. ‘When have I told you a price before, please pay as you wish.’

‘Oh no no no Dora, we must break this habit. I know nothing of the cost of this and the only thing I know is that it was on a journey from Finland,’ he paused to think. ‘So I guess I can also pay you some carriage expenses with the total?’

Dora giggled, but refused to say the price. She had never been disappointed by Mr. Lee’s payment and there was no reason to change that now.

He took out his rather heavy wallet and ordered that the coat be readied for him. Mr. Lee left a happy man and the coat was sold for one hundred and eighty dollars. Mr. Lee slightly smelt the coat and realized that Dora’s scent was all over it.

‘This has to be gotten rid of,’ he mumbled as he continued to walk.

Dora was happy to have made a handsome profit from this last sale, however having housed the overcoat for a few days, she felt its absence. She felt as if something was missing from her display window. She looked dreamy and nostalgic as she thought of the productive time she spent with the large thing: pampering, cleaning, preparing it and then finally enjoying the benefits of selling it.  She was going to miss it.

On reaching home he put his walking stick near the door, while a basket where he left all of his things from the outside became the overcoat’s new home. Then he paused and decided to take a moment with it. He took it out from the basket and then emptied it from the bag it was in; the thing was big and dark, with some remnant stains of wear and tear. Mr. Lee smiled at the authenticity of his purchase; he basked at the character of the piece of clothing.

‘Such wear and tear of so many years and such long distances,’ he spoke loudly and sounded extremely pleased. He placed the coat at the head of the closet.

‘Lori my dear, can you please search through my closet and remove the old black coat that I have? We must clear out the extras when we add new members to the group. I just bought myself something very special and I plan on wearing it every day starting tomorrow morning.’

Lori looked back very respectfully and nodded in agreement. Mr. Lee touched her elbow expressing his gratitude as he straddled past her towards his room. She heard the door go ‘thud’ which meant that Mr. Lee was going to bed. He slept very soundly that night, given the pleasure of his latest purchase.

Lori forgot to complete the task assigned to her and left for the night. Early next morning she made her way into Mr. Lee’s apartment. She made some tea for him and got the breakfast going in the kitchen. Mr. Lee wouldn’t wake till much later and Lori would set the breakfast table for him and leave. Just before she walked out, she remembered the request Mr. Lee had made the previous night. She hurriedly began searching the closet by the door. There were quite a few of the ‘black overcoats’ to rummage through. She wasn’t really sure which one was the oldest one. Then she found herself looking through the one right up-front and in a pretty worn out state. She assumed that Mr. Lee had parked it at the head, wanting it to be removed.

‘He is pretty organized that way,’ Lori said to herself.

She intuitively grabbed the overcoat. The one that was proudly bought at the pawnshop the previous night made its way into Lori basket of things to take.

She entered her home and heard her husband talking loudly, as if addressing a gathering of people.

‘Marx didn’t spend his life trying to theorize the endemic suppression practiced by the bourgeoisie. He strove to end the suppression that has existed in this world for hundreds of years.’

Raul saw his wife put down the basket of things and take out the coat to hang it and spoke right at him.

‘Feels like cashmere to me, please try it on and see if it fits you?’ she glanced at him as if she was expecting something horrible to come out of his mouth.

‘And then they hand out their worn and old clothing to us the proletariat, and we should be grateful, thankful that they exploit us, and then try to pity us by throwing at us what they stole in the first place.’

Lori wasn’t happy by this, even though she was used to the constant rant by now.

‘This thief that you refer to my dear man is the one who gives you bread and shelter over your head so that you can freely breathe this air and ask for food and continuously do nothing but sit here and talk about Marx. If he is so bad, then stop eating his food and starve to death. Then I will follow your principles and turn to Marxism myself.’

Raul didn’t stir one bit and very calmly responded to his wife in poetry.

‘Alas, she mocks me and my principles thus, is it not a travesty that I suffer this life, this living, of how she cares not for my morality or my ideals, such travesty.’

He cried out and then turned his chair to return to his reading. Then he suddenly turned back and spoke to his wife again.

‘Please don’t bring anything for me from his home or work. I am begging you to keep me out of this cycle that you seem to be in with him, dear wife. The cycle is tolerable that you work for him and seem to respect him, but bringing his things to my home and praising his repressive ways is not acceptable.’

Lori didn’t bother to respond to him as she saw him rise up from his desk, walk straight at where her basket of things were. He leapt directly to get the overcoat out of it.

‘I discard such benefits that the bourgeoisie bestows on me, I disregard them.’

He flung the overcoat out the window and the garment fell down two and a half stories and went plop into the street. Lori was stunned by the suddenness of it. She saw the coat fall dead on the street. She immediately took her husband to task.

No passer-by seemed bothered by it at all and its presence went ignored by the first few that encountered it. The coat lay there unmoved, unchecked and undisturbed.

A bicycle rider, with a large carrier attached to him, strode by and interrupted himself by the sight of this black thing. He wouldn’t have been so intrigued by the piece of clothing, but for his curiosity of what it was. He was a suspicious one and came to a complete halt beside it. He didn’t venture to explore it right away. He took out his long stick and slowly pecked at it, hoping to stir it a little. He wasn’t sure if it would wake up, was it a collapsed bird that spread its wings wide and he would be the object of its wrath? He also didn’t possess the bravest of hearts, and on hearing slight thunder overhead immediately looked up and saw that the clouds were slowly casting a shadow on the dwindling day. He poked it with his stick a little more, but when it didn’t stir one bit he gathered some courage and caressed it gently with his hand. The lack of any movement and the touch of the fabric got him to finally make full contact with the alleged cashmere. He was now holding the coat in his hand, exploring it and discovering how big this thing was. He gently folded it and once he had tucked its arms inside, put it on his carrier and biked away.

Panting and out of breath she arrived at the place she saw the coat fall, and it was gone. Her sense of disbelief left her slightly confused, not knowing what to do. Lori had to go around her building to be able to get to the street. It took her longer given her detention by the monologue she delivered to her husband, following the overcoat’s fall.  She was unhappy at this sudden, unnecessary loss, even though she had known the overcoat for such an insignificant period of time.

Mr. Lee discovered Lori’s folly and how she lost his precious overcoat. Lori was beside herself when she realized the true gravity of the loss to Mr. Lee. She offered to compensate him from her wages over the next few months, however Mr. Lee wasn’t the one to penalize her for what was an inadvertent error. He did wish that his precious overcoat find a worthy home and a more worthy owner. He missed not having created a real memory with it, for he never even tried the thing on once for size.

It had begun to drizzle as Fady peddled away towards the side street that took him right to his house. He wanted to speed up a little, excited to share his find with his family, especially his father. He always enjoyed sharing such experiences with him, knowing fully well how it would result in at least a few anecdotes to spring from his long and elephant like memory. He enjoyed his father’s stories a lot. He biked on pacing slowly to make sure he was able to avoid the rain, which was catching up to him as its droplets struck the ground harder with every passing moment. He saw a shadow walking near the sidewall as he closed in to his house. The shadow was soon to reveal himself as an older gentleman who looked quite frail and lanky. His frame was tall and thus his body looked even thinner. He was cold and close to shivers, given the impending rain and wind. Fady’s feet slowed immediately and he ground the enormous carriage to a halt with his long arm, as the bicycle broke speed.

‘Are you all right Sir, it’s about to rain, maybe even a storm. You should take shelter immediately.’

The man shook his head in disagreement, ‘I have to get to some place. It is urgent.’

Fady wasn’t sure what he could do but knew he had to get home, so any assistance to the stranger had to be efficiently rendered. He ran through his thoughts as quickly as he could and came up with the only obvious, logical solution. He ran back to the cart and dug out his most recent find and met the man, who was still relentless in his tracks.

‘You must take this Sir, it will keep you warm in his cold weather.’

The man looked at Fady and gave a half smile, causally took the overcoat and gently muttered, ‘thank.’

Fady wasn’t going to wait any longer. The rain was beginning to pick up thick and fast and he had to get going. He hopped on his bike and with a few quick strides arrived home.

As the man continued to walk next to the side wall, with the overcoat now hanging on his left shoulder, Fady looked back before entering his house. He wondered what would have happened if he hadn’t picked up the coat from the street. Perhaps the man wouldn’t have been able to brave the cold. He smiled to himself, still feeling a sense of loss, for he had only known the overcoat for less than an hour and yet felt so connected to it. But he was happy that the abandoned overcoat had indeed found a deserving home.

The man walked less than a few hundred meters and rain began to pour as if there had been a sudden cloudburst. He tried to cover himself with the overcoat, but a few minutes on he realized that it was a woolen type fabric. The water started to slowly percolate through the thick weave of thread and he started to feel it get heavy. The overcoat managed to hold the water in and was getting drenched as the man got as far as a kilometer or so. He knew what he had to do and with a swift movement he off loaded the coat and flung it away from him. Another passerby saw the coat fly past him and land into the carriage of a passing lorry. The man yelled out, ‘you ….. your coat mister.’ The man didn’t even turn around given his rush and waved at the passerby saying, ‘no..not mine, its not.’ He continued to walk away as the passerby’s eyes followed the overcoat slowly moving away, lying patiently in the back of the lorry. As the man continued to stare at it for a few moments longer, the lorry drove away and the overcoat with it.

***

About the Author

Karan is a Montreal, Canada based artist. He has been writing short fiction for many years and recently he began adapting his stories into screenplays for short films. Born in Northern India, Karan immigrated to Quebec, Canada to make Montreal his home a decade ago. His stories explore the human condition through the prism of identity, otherness, diverse historical and ethnic realities and issues that are part of our everyday living.

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