I own about four t-shirts, but this didn’t always use to be the case. There was a time when I had enough t-shirts to wear a different one every day for two weeks. So that´s fourteen t-shirts and I don’t know why I had to beat around the bush like that.
Here’s what happened: At the end of 2015 I took a trip back to South Africa for Christmas and New Year, and my return trip to Chile involved two layovers and a missed flight. I had to travel north from South Africa to Ethiopia, then south and west to Brazil, and from there to Chile. It was over 24 hours of travelling, and by the time I reached my destination I was too tired to care that my lucky violet suitcase hadn’t popped out onto the conveyor belt at Santiago´s international airport. My efforts were instead spent on me trying to remain upright. I can’t remember how long I stood there, just watching the plastic matting of the conveyor snake it’s way around the concourse, becoming progressively devoid of any bag, pram, or surfboard. But eventually I was able to process the fact that no further luggage was forthcoming. It must have been early morning by that time, but I remember that it was at that special moment when everything is dark and no one is about – the perfect conditions to remind you that you are alone in the world and miserable.
Feeling as if I was watching the world through someone else’s eyes, I shuffled over to a help desk, filled out a claim form, and then caught a taxi back to my apartment.
Now, the t-shirts weren’t the only things that were lost along with my luggage. There was underwear, socks, toiletries, a few souvenirs, a pair of sneakers, a backpack, a tent, and jeans.
Those jeans. How I loved those jeans.
I don´t buy clothes often, and I buy jeans even less so, but a few months before my trip to South Africa I had found the ideal pair. I’d found them in a thrift store, among a jungle of other denim products. It was a glorious find. The brand was Levi, and they were the most comfortable things I´d ever pulled across my thighs. The material possessed an elasticity I’d never felt before. It’s shape conformed to my body well, highlighting all the best bits, except for at the ankle, where the magical material flared out ever so slightly in what I considered to be the most fashionable thing a man could ever wear.
I was definitely in love. And, like all perfect love stories, this one was fraught with conflict.
“Michael” said a friend to me the first time I wore my jeans out, “why are you wearing women’s jeans?” I’d agreed to meet my friend at a nearby Korean restaurant that we were both keen to try. I wanted to surprise her with my new purchase.
I did a few more leg lunges before replying. “They’re not women’s jeans. I got them in the men’s section.” There was no ambient music in the restaurant. I knew my words would carry to the waitering staff.
“No, those are women’s jeans,” said my friend, calmly and dexterously snatching up some squid with her chopsticks. “See how there’s more room around the hips?”
I hesitated for the briefest moment before replying, “I found them near other men’s jeans.” A waiter stepped around me as I lunged again. I knew I looked fantastic.
“But Michael,” said my friend, “see how shallow the pockets are. Your phone´s about to fall out.”
I was having none of it. I strode up to our table and placed one foot onto the chair opposite her. “How can you say that? Why would I buy women’s jeans?” I leaned on the elevated leg to get the most out of the stretch. My phone popped out of my pocket and clattered to the floor.
“No, those are clearly women’s jeans. Looked at the sparkly stitching and-” my friend leaned closer, “Oh my God, Michael, are those flares?”
“Flares are in fashion” I said, casting an eye to the waitering staff. I caught whispers of “…obviamente para mujeres….”
My friend put down her chopsticks, looked me in the eyes, and said to me, “Michael, I don’t care what you wear. You’re free to express yourself. But I’m telling you that you’re wearing women’s jeans.”
I´d had enough. I retrieved my phone, payed my portion of the bill, and ran from the restaurant. The running wasn’t necessary, but the elasticity in the material made my legs feel remarkably free.
I refused to believe what my friend had told me. Despite the evidence, I chose to continue wearing my jeans. They were comfortable, and freeing, and I loved them. My opinion would not be swayed.
But sadly, like all of the greatest love stories, this one came to an end. I’d left my beloved jeans in my lucky violet suitcase when I made my trip back to Chile from South Africa. It was my jeans that I was thinking about when my taxi dropped me off in front of my apartment just as the sun was starting to come up.
Over the next few weeks I had to fill out a lot of paperwork in order to claim some kind of compensation for my luggage. Of course, nothing would be paid out until a proper search for my things had been conducted. In order to aid this process, I had to fill out a tedious form detailing every item that had been in my lucky violet suitcase. This was a difficult task. Who remembers everything they pack when travelling? But I did the best I could. I remembered the important things. My t-shirt collection, the backpack, the tent, my beloved jeans. I began to fill out that information when I was stopped short by the requirements.
The form I was filling in required that I write down the item, colour, estimated value, purchase date, and, in the case of clothing, gender.
It had come down to this. For months I´d been able to lie to my friends and family, and even to myself. But when the fate of all of my worldly possession was at stake, could I lie to the international airline service?
I was in a corner. Stand by my convictions and risk losing everything? Or tell the truth and possibly lose everything anyway? I sat for a long time in front of my computer screen before I admitted to myself that every man has his price. The price of my dignity, I reflected as I began typing “fe-” into the appropriate field, was the cost of about ten t-shirts.