The soft entry chime alerted the dozing clerk. The small, lithe creature peered at the robed figure in the doorway.
Ben Kenobi paused at the entrance of the Mos Eisley shop, and let his eyes adjust to its shadowed interior. Compared to the blazing sun outside, everything else was dark and shaded and marginally cooler.
The bright blue-skinned woman looked him over, but didn?t get up from her clerk?s desk. Having identified him as not-a-threat, she shrugged, her hand idly waving toward the shop?s offerings.
Ben walked into the large, sunken area of the store. Everything was loosely sorted in bins: domestic utensils and decoration to the left; tools, fixtures and droid parts to the right; clothing in the middle going all the way to the back of the store. A couple of stooped customers grumbled through the bins.
He had been in this store soon after he had arrived on Tatooine to purchase a spare pair of pants, blankets, cooking tools and other things that he never needed to concern himself with in his life before. Years had passed and this store remained exactly the same as the last time he had been in it, except that the clerk had been older and even less helpful than the slight creature that occupied the front desk now.
This place was a fixture in Mos Eisley. Conveniently located near the slave housing areas, it charitably sold the usable refuse of society for relatively modest prices.
Ben scanned the overflowing bins. Organization was minimal. He passed by the bins of things obviously too small or too big for him. A young girl plowed through one brightly colored, sparkling pile, holding up first one and then another damaged showgirl?s gowns and bindings. She held one mostly intact, pale blue halter top outfit to her own underdeveloped body and then dropped it into a small pile at her feet. Ben Kenobi thought that she was far too young to be thinking about improving her station through her looks, but on a planet like Tatooine, it was practical.
Ben stopped at one heaping bin of clothes that looked approximately his size. He would begin with the pants first. That was, indeed, why he had chosen to come to Mos Eisley now, instead of in a few days as he had originally planned.
He had gotten up early in the cool before dawn as he always did to meditate. He felt the presence of his long dead Master, Qui-Gon Jinn, every morning. Sometimes they spoke; sometimes Qui-Gon appeared as a welcome ghostly image; sometimes Obi-Wan just sank deeply into his own thoughts, his old Master hovering nearby. After years of contemplation, of patiently sorting through the debris of his own scarred past, he had reached enough internal equilibrium to find Qui-Gon when he needed. His late afternoons and evenings were spent watching over the son of his fallen apprentice, and in training with Qui-Gon for when his own time came to join the Force. But his mornings were for himself.
He had knelt and a sudden twinge in his knee caused him to land hard on the floor. The sound of his pants ripping in the back immediately followed. Somewhere in the currents of the Force, Qui-Gon Jinn had been very amused.
His morning routine was destroyed. When he had inspected the damage, he found a long tear along the seam; the fabric was simply worn too thin. They could not be fixed and his old pants did not fit him anymore. Unhappy and pantless, he had eaten a breakfast of dried bread, yado paste and water while he pondered his options.
He kept as little as he could, yet he still felt as if his small dwelling overflowed with things. He couldn?t throw anything away. Trash attracted scavengers in the Jundland Wastes, and he could not afford to discard or burn anything that might be useful in the future. He settled for sorting things into their own places: a box for metal pieces, wall pegs for tools, a small barrel for spare parts for the vaporator. There was a whole line of canisters of edible things in the kitchen.
His shelf of spare cloth was nearly empty. There were assorted small pieces that he used for cleaning and the old pants which didn?t fit anymore; he had reasoned that he could make rags out of them, but he avoided finding a reason for doing so. He had been wearing them when he first arrived on Tatooine as a refugee, a wanted man, looking for a place to hide.
Ben finally took the large cloth that he used to keep dust off of his work space and made an improvised skirt out of it. He was sure it looked silly, even for an old, reputed-to-be-crazy hermit, but it would do until he got something better. As he put on his robe, he noted the sorry shape of the rest of his clothes. His underclothes had been repaired many times. The cuffs and hem of his tunic were frayed and the lining torn. The hem of his robe was also fraying and repaired in more than one place. He needed new clothes in general.
Taking water and what currency he needed, he had left his hut and trudged many hours to Anchorhead to get a transport to Mos Eisley. He could get food staples and most supplies that he needed in the small outpost town. He could get any part he might need for a moisture vaportor or a farm droid, but unless he wished to purchase fabric and make his own, he would have to make the trip into Mos Eisley Spaceport.
Ben looked down at a bin of old, used clothes that looked about right for his size and species, sighed and began his search. Green, no. Orange, no. Too big. Much too small. Black, absolutely, no. Despite the huge mound he faced, nothing seemed right. It was depressing.
While he searched, two women came in with a pack of children and they noisily started picking though things, occasionally tossing possible purchases on the floor. Ben searched faster. He hated this and wanted to be done and gone. Eventually, he acquired an armload of selections and headed for the changing stalls in back. The rusty servitor droid there scanned him, his clothes and the armload he carried. The droid had nothing to do with service; it was merely there to keep people from stealing. Ben loathed being a suspect, but on Tatooine the shops just assumed that the customers would take advantage of them if given the chance.
The stall was small and cramped with a dusty mirror, but at least the light was adequate. He dumped his own boots and clothes on one side and started picking out things and trying them on.
The first pair of brown pants were too small in the waist and one pocket had a hole in it.
The tan tunic was too long in the arms and cut into his armpits.
The dusty colored pants were too short, coming up almost to his knees, but otherwise they were sturdy, fit well and were comfortable.
All the rejects went into a growing pile.
When he had gone through everything, the only thing acceptable was a long, sleeveless nightshirt to replace the threadbare one that he had. None of the pants tried were wearable for him and pants were his one necessary objective. He sullenly looked down at his own clothes. He would have to put everything back on, leave the stall, have everything searched by the droid, take the things he did not want back to the bin while hanging on to the one thing he did want to buy, and then begin searching again.
Ben hated this.
Somewhere in the Force, Qui-Gon Jinn chuckled.
?You don?t have to look for clothes,? Ben muttered as he put his boots back on.
//You?re treating this as a chore, Obi-Wan,// Qui-Gon replied. Qui-Gon always used his old name. Ben sensed his Master?s presence in the stall with him, which was very disquieting in the confined space.
?Isn?t it?? He re-wrapped his improvised skirt.
//You are forced into acquiring something new. Why not use it as an opportunity?//
Baffled, Ben put the rest of his clothes on in silence. What did that mean? What possible opportunity could there be in a used goods shop in Mos Eisley? He finished, left the stall, had his things checked by the droid and went back to the bin. Another customer was there, messing up all of his earlier sorting.
He put the nightshirt down and laid all the other things back on top of the pile. He wiped his hands on his robe. Everything in the shop had a fine, grimy feel and his hands were already dirty from it. He started plowing through the old clothes again.
//That would look nice on you.// Qui-Gon said as he put aside a tunic. Surprised, Ben held it up. It was clean and made of strong fabric and it had a pattern of dark red and white stripes of varying widths. Ben could not recall ever wearing stripes before in his entire life.
?You never wore anything like that.? he commented softly.
//Not in front of you, at least.//
Qui-Gon remained silent until he picked up a light blue, half-robe.
//That would match your eyes.//
Shocked, Obi-Wan stared forward. The half-robe had a pattern of tiny, dark-blue diamonds along its edges.
?Are you serious? This?? The other person at the bin looked up at him and then moved away to another bin.
//It would be very flattering on you. I think at least.//
Ben was having trouble absorbing this new experience. Qui-Gon was advising him on what he should wear? Their deep meditations on the Force had never included fashion. The presence near him waited for him to answer. He looked down at the bin of old clothes, too worn out to be of interest to anyone except vagabonds like him on this dusty world.
It seemed too much for him to stand. He now saw that might be searching for hours to find something. If he didn?t, he would have to go on to the next dreary store and look and maybe go on to another. In the evening, he would go to one of the local gambling houses and discreetly win back what he had spent while listening for more news about how the Empire was swallowing up the galaxy that he had once pledged, as a Jedi Knight, to defend. He would rent a room for the night, buy supplies in the morning and carry it all on the transport back to Anchorhead, then walk back across the Jundland Wastes to his hut. With luck, it would not have been discovered unoccupied and stripped by the Jawas or Sand People. That had certainly happened to him before, though he had found ways of making the local predators wary of going near his hut since then.
//Were you really planning on doing anything better?// Qui-Gon, a living spirit in the Force, could, after all, read his thoughts. He threw the half-robe down.
?I was planning a better life!? He didn?t speak loudly, but the venom was there.
As soon as the words were out, his rage was spent. Qui-Gon had a way of bringing that sort of thing out of him. Qui-Gon?s presence stayed while he accepted all the things that were really bothering him ? all the things that he really missed, like not ever having to worry about his clothes fitting or supplies or huts.
I must be improving.
In the past, in his first few years on Tatooine, Qui-Gon would fade away for a few days and let him sort though moods like this on his own.
He looked about the shadowed store, at the mothers fussing over their children's clothes and counting their meager funds, the bored clerk who had been joined by another older man behind the desk, the grizzled, old mechanic running his thumb over an oblong droid part and the few other gray-clad customers shuffling between the bins. No matter how much evil ruled the galaxy, no matter how strong the Sith that had corrupted everything and destroyed the Jedi Order, life still inexorably moved on, just as it always had.
He could not change the present so he might as well live in it.
?What is the lesson for the day, my Master?? he asked the spirit Qui-Gon.
Another customer looked up suspiciously and edged further away from him.
//Ah. The lesson is, Obi-Wan, if circumstances force you into doing something new, you should take advantage of it.// Qui-Gon?s answers were often quite clear and succinct, once Ben figured out what the question was.
He looked down at the bin. He took the blue robe and the striped tunic and then he started picking out shapes and colors that he had put aside. Qui-Gon pointed out a few things. When he had a big pile, he went back to the dressing room and waited until the droid checked everything and one of the stalls was empty.
The first thing he tried was all black, pants, tunic, vest.
//Black is slimming,// Qui-Gon pointed out. //You could use that.//
?You eat the food here,? he muttered back as he looked at a side view of himself in the mirror. Qui-Gon?s mental chuckle answered him. Qui-Gon was right about the slimming part. Sadly, his diet wasn?t his only problem. His numerous, old injuries from the Clone Wars had caught up with him with age, and serious exercise risked aggravating them. He had used the Force more and more on his long walks to and from Anchorhead.
The black did look better than his old clothes, but he just didn?t want to wear it. He put that outfit aside and tried the striped tunic next. On top of that, he put on an overcoat of pink and brown diagonal stripes and pants with dingy yellow and black horizontal stripes.
Qui-Gon was suitably appalled.
Satisfied with this reaction from his Master, he experimented with grinning in the mirror and imagined himself crossing the desert in clothes that made him look like a flag. He put that outfit aside and hoped that Qui-Gon would think twice about suggesting stripes for him again.
He next tried a long, reddish-brown tunic that went down past his knees. This one had possibilities. If he simply wore a long tunic he wouldn?t need pants or have to worry about them fitting. He put the blue half robe over it. Then he leaned forward, looking at his eyes. He did not understand why it was important to match eyes to one?s clothes, unless one was very fond of the color. He put this ensemble away with the stripes.
He went through his next choices, a dark green shirt with an off-white border, a brown undershirt, a long cream-colored wrap around robe that looked like it was made for a being twice as wide as he was, yellow pants, a faded orange poncho, a big brown robe with a pointy hood, tan pants....
The pile of things that he had tried on grew, until there was nothing left to try.
//Did you find anything you like?// Qui-Gon?s presence was once again in the stall with him, but he didn?t feel crowded at all by it now.
Ben shook his head. He didn?t really like any of them. He would have preferred to have his own clothes back. The tan pants fit well; they were even a little big on him, and as long as he didn?t gain much more weight, they would do. He picked up the brown robe. It was a local style, with a pointy hood. But it was a nice shade of brown.
Obi-Wan realized that he liked brown.
It was not a Jedi robe. But when he wore it, it would be a Jedi?s robe.
//You wish to dress as a Jedi? You could choose another style. Whatever you like. Within reason.// Qui-Gon amended, acknowledging the limited selection. Ben Kenobi chuckled now.
?Yes, I do.? He wiped his hands off on his own, worn out robe. He would accept his present circumstances. And he would wash his hands the first chance he got.
The droid was waiting for him when he exited the changing stall and another customer immediately took it. He had taken a long time and the servitor droid seemed almost disappointed that everything was there.
Ben had separated out the pants, the reddish-brown tunic, the brown undershirt, the robe and the enormous wrap around robe. It was large enough that if he cut it down to fit, he would have enough extra to make an obi and a stole to hang off his shoulders, as many elder Jedi in the Temple wore, with their longer tunics, years ago.
He took the things that he did not want back to the bin. On a whim, he dug out the short, dusty colored pair of pants that he had tried on before. They would fit fine under a long tunic. Then, Ben Kenobi went to the front to pay for the clothes. The clerk muttered about him taking a long time, but she took the local currency he gave her. He counted his change carefully; one had to be vigilant about monetary transactions on Tatooine. Then he tied everything up in the brown robe, and with his cloth package under his arm, walked out of the dim, shadowy shop into the sunlit street. It was already late afternoon.
Life proceeded as it always had here, oblivious to the Sith Emperor, increasing his grip on power over the galaxy. Ben found it both reassuring and disturbing. It showed that even the Emperor?s evil reach had its limits, but being unaware of an evil was fantastically dangerous. It certainly had been for the Jedi Order that the Emperor destroyed ? and for one Jedi Master who did not see his own pupil falling in league for the Sith, until it had already happened.
//Would you still blame yourself for what happened?//
Ben stepped away from the shop and began walking toward the nearest gambling establishments, where he could get a meal and find a game that he could turn to his advantage.
?Of course,? Ben replied softly. ?Things are what they are now; but I will always prefer that they were otherwise.?
Qui-Gon?s sad, silent agreement came to him before he faded away. Ben knew that his presence would return when he settled down for the evening. He knew that, through Qui-Gon, he had become closer to Force than he could have ever imagined, his preparation for when he would finally join it. They would view from afar the son of his fallen apprentice, a boy growing up on a Tatooine moisture farm where he was safely oblivious to the Sith and the fate that would someday come for him, the fate that Obi-Wan would guard against, until the time came.
And after that, Ben thought, he would try on his new clothes.
Original cover by ardavenport. HTML formatting copyright 2006 TheForce.Net LLC.