A Story for Lucinda

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THE LAST HATTER

 

The hat-man pulled all his hats out of plastic bags and boxes and set them on the table in the middle of the market, panama hats, derbies, fedoras, and top hats made of the finest velvet.  He came to the market every Sunday, and everybody there knew him, the fish vendor, the bookseller, the man in the red turban who told fortunes.  They waved at him and said, “Good morning, hat-man!”

 

That hat-man had a hundred hats, all of them displayed to make them look important, and the very best of them, top hats made with the finest material, he put on boxes on the very top. The hat man had sold hats all his life, but lately, in the last 10 years or so, he didn’t sell very many and it became hard to make a living. There was a time when practically everyone wore hats, men and women alike, and back then, he lead a good life and had a wife and they got a dog and they were happy. But now, people came to the market and wanted to buy funny T-shirts, cases for their smart phones, scarves and T-shirts and baseball caps. Nobody wanted hats anymore, not the kind he sold, panamas, derbies, fedoras, and top hats made of the finest material. He was the last hat vendor in the market.

 

Today, the day our story takes place, the hat-man arranged all the hats just right, and he was ready for the market to open and for all the people to stream in. Unfortunately, when the doors opened, the people walked right by him, tourists and locals, men and women, and although some of them stopped to look at the hats, most of them moved on to other, more exciting stalls in the market. Occasionally someone would try on a hat, look at themselves in the hand mirrors he had on the table, and they laughed at themselves. Some took selfies and posted it on their social media, but this day nobody was buying.

The fish vendor told him that he should charge people for trying on his hats and taking pictures of themselves, but the hat-man insisted that it’s important to try on the hat before you buy it, just to make sure that it’s the one for you. He believed that everybody had the right hat for them out there somewhere, as if hats were daemons, and they just needed to find theirs. He believed that when a hat was made by the hands of a craftsperson, it had a spirit inside of it, and that it the hat itself would seek out its human.

“Whatever,” said the fish vendor. “Times have changed, old man. All people want to do is play with your hats and make silly faces. You’re not gonna sell anything that way.”

 

The hat man needed to make at least a few sales that day, as the rent was due on his little flat, and the landlord had been patient with him, but even landlords needed their money.

 

If he didn’t sell at least three hats, he didn’t know what he would do. He didn’t know where to go. His wife had died years ago, but he still had his dog Binky, and he was very old and couldn’t walk anymore. If they had nowhere to live, Binky would surely die.

 

At around the stroke of noon, when the market was at its fullest, people streaming in and out, they bought fish, they bought books, phone cases; they got their fortunes read by the man in the red turban, but nobody bought a hat. They bought funny T-shirts and scarves and umbrellas. Oh, a few people stopped, lifted a hat, rubbed their fingers against the fine velvet. Some people even asked the price, but when they heard how much they were worth, they put down the hats and walked away.

 

The market was open all day, but nobody was buying hats. The hat man sat on a crate and had his lunch, a hard-boiled egg and a piece of bread, and he waited, and he hoped, somebody would buy a hat or two.

Actually, three.

That’s what he needed to pay his rent, and if he didn’t have that money by the end of the day, his landlord, who had been very patient, would have no choice but to kick him out. He was sure that would end Binky’s life.

 

The weather was nice that day, sunny and calm, slightly cool, not too hot, but suddenly from over the mountains that surrounded the city an unexpected wind exploded into the valley. It blew hard through buildings, a wind unlike anyone had seen in years, blowing trees and leaves, and on the streets of the city it blew the baseball caps off the heads of boys on bikes, and it blew the scarves from the necks of women. The wind kept getting stronger and stronger, and the wind entered into the market.

It blew through the stalls and, as if the wind could see, as if the wind were a playful spirit, it saw the table of hats, saw the hat-man sitting hatless at a seat eating a hard-boiled egg and a piece of bread, and it blew all over the hats. It lifted them all, panamas, derbies, fedoras , top hats made of the finest velvet.  The wind blew all the hats away, all of them swirling and flying like birds all over the market. Everybody looked at the hats, swirling and twirling into the air, going in and out of doors and windows, and it was so beautiful! It made everybody laugh, except for the hat-man.

“No, no!” he said, watching his livelihood fly through the air in every direction. He ran after the hats this way and that, like a child trying to catch butterflies, reaching a fedora with the tips of his fingers, but then the wind would blow it away in another swirl.

The people watching the hat-man run around thought it was funny, and they had a good laugh.

Suddenly the wind died, just like that.

It disappeared, and what can only be described as a miracle happened.

Each of the hats, every single one of them, the panamas, derbies, fedoras and the top hats made of the finest velvet, fell straight down, out of the air, and each of them landed on the head of somebody standing there.

Each hat fell on the head of someone.

People looked up and found they had hats on their heads, and they got glimpses of themselves and thought, “Oh, this is the perfect hat for me! It is a gift from heaven!”

They walked on proudly, wearing their new hats, panamas, derbies, fedoras, and top hats made of the finest velvet.

 

The hat-man was very sad and upset, because people were leaving the market with his hats on their heads.

He collapsed with despair. His hats were gone. His chance for earning enough to pay rent, gone.

 

But then the fish vendor, the book vendor, and the fortuneteller in a red turban, saw what happened. They all left their stalls and went up to all the people with hats and explained to them to whom the hats belonged. The people who had hats on their heads thought it was a gift from grace that they had found the perfect hat for their personalities, and they didn’t want to lose them.

So each of them went to the vendor and paid the full price.

The vendor sold more hats that day than he ever had, in fact, he sold them all, a 100 hats.

He went home very happy.

He paid rent, fed his old dog Binky, and he was about to sit down for a dinner of a hard-boiled egg and toast, when he decided to go downstairs to the corner café for the Sunday roast and a fine pint of ale, a meal like he hadn’t had in years.

 

From that day on, anytime the hat vendor heard the wind blow through his window or through the stalls at the market, he closed his eyes, thanked the wind, thanked the great spirit, and that’s the end of the story.

 

 

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