The first thing I noticed about him was his hat. I supposed this was intentional. Everything else about his clothing was hard-wearing, worn, and possibly even a little shabby. From his almost-olive-drab t-shirt, blue jeans that had holes in one leg, shoes that looked like they'd seen better months, unzipped jacket that looked tough enough to stand by itself when taken off, three-day stubble, and single ring gracing the middle finger of his right hand, I'd have been forced to say he was halfway to vagrancy.But there was more. His beard was growing out from a neat trim but was still well-maintained. It was a fussy style, too. His sideburns grew down his jawline, along his jaw, and into a goatee. His neck, which looked like his razor needed replacing, was shaven – aside from the stubble. His hair was long, but he'd pulled it back in a loose tail so it wasn't in the way, and just starting to gray a little at the temples.His middle was thick, like he was used to eating big, or at least heavy, meals, but not so thick as to make someone think he was fat. His legs were well-hidden by the jeans, but the thighs looked ever-so-slightly strained over the muscle moving when he walked. Actually, when he paced.He kept his hands in his pockets, but he hooked his thumbs into the belt loops just above them, like he was used to resting his hands on something hanging off his belt. His eyes darted from door to door and looked out each window. He never looked over his shoulder when he changed direction, but you could tell his awareness was keyed up.He didn't pace like a caged animal as he waited for his clothing to finish getting mauled by the industrial washing machine. No, he moved too slowly and deliberately for that. His pace was measured and cautious, like he'd grown used to watching where every footfall went. He never moved in one direction too long, either. He didn't turn his head, he turned his whole body to check behind him. And there was more. Whenever he didn't have his hands in his pockets, his thumbs locked in his belt loops, he moved his arms in a curious way. They swung like coiled springs, ready to loose their tension in less than a heartbeat on anyone incautious enough to come too closely.I felt the corner of my mouth curl ever-so-slightly in a half-smile.The hat, though. His jacket was faded and starting to fray around the cuffs, his shirt had bleach spots from a hurried hand putting the cap back on the bottle, his jeans were torn in several places on his left thigh, and his shoes sported soles that were obviously more than half worn and the bodies were starting to deteriorate, but he had that damn hat. Everything else he was wearing was obviously hard-used and designed to take it, but the hat was new and, aside from a few stray cat hairs, well-cared for.It looked good on him, don't get me wrong. It just stood out like a sore thumb, and nobody could say it was laundry day and that's why he was dressed down. He was far too comfortable wearing the shabby clothes to be that image-conscious.The hat was a fedora. Not a damn trilby, a fedora. There's a big difference, just so you know. Anyway, it was black, with a smaller brim than I would have expected, but nothing too obvious. It rode his head comfortably, and he was patently used to wearing it because he didn't hit it on anything he could have.It just seemed, well, odd.His right leg was minutely stiff and he had a barely-discernible limp from it, but nothing that would disqualify him from a ten-kay march.No, the more I watched him the more I came to the conclusion that the deliberate movement was to conserve energy, that the thickening middle was from eating habits from long periods of privation and heavy exercise rather than laziness, his hat was a peacock tail, and that this man had spent some serious time first in the suck and then in the shit. And, like so many other veterans, still spent part of his time there. At least he did in his own head.He didn't engage anyone. The only time I caught his eye I could see a stare that went beyond the horizon. I didn't try to hold it. He wanted to be left alone and it was the least I could do for someone who still hadn't come home. I left him alone to continue his solitary march through hell.
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