Marcus Fipps is a mountain of nervous speed sweating into a brand new Xtra Large black t-shirt. His brand new blue baseball cap is soaked, too, and a black plastic bag bulges and bounces off his back as he cooks on the Chicago sidewalk. He waits for the bus, pacing.
He eagerly feeds his fare into the bus driver’s machine and slips on board before the driver can get a good look at his face. Not that the driver cares, but Marcus feels safer pretending that he does. He pushes his way towards the back and takes up position in front of the exit door, saying almost without seeming to speak:
“T-shirts for sale I got t-shirts.”
Strangers, people unfamiliar with Marcus or the neighborhood or just how poor someone can be ignore him. They hear him, each word perfectly enunciated, but they can’t believe this big black man has just stormed onto the bus to sell them t-shirts. He must be talking to himself, they think.
But a few are wise to Marcus. Maybe he’s lucky, and one of them is sitting right there next to him, and in hushed tones negotiates the purchase of two undershirts and a pair of shoes. The undershirts come out of the sack hermetically sealed in plastic bags, then one shoe. The customer pays in crisp twenties from his wallet and struggles through Marcus’s incessant, nervous, subaudible sales pitch to inquire after the second shoe. Marcus digs the shoe and a black plastic bag out of his sack. The two of them get off the bus together. That’s the best case scenario.
Where the clothes come from is variable, almost an afterthought. Sometimes they are stolen. Sometimes they are traded; for work or drugs or other merchandise the traders feel more competent to sell. Sometimes they come from Marcus’s brother, who owns a T-shirt shop in the neighborhood just south of here. It’s easier for Marcus’s brother to give him T-shirts when he shows up shuffling and sweating at his door than it is to talk to him. Marcus only ever speaks in that quick, quiet monotone that makes his words slip right through the brain. He’s been selling shirts on the bus for too long. He’s been doing a lot of things for too long, and Marcus’s brother would like to tell him that, but it’s easier to just give him the shirts.