Sunday, October 23, 2005

Other windows

It’s a fine Friday night just after sunset. Summer. I’m leaning against the wall of a building at the corner of Spring Garden Road and South Street, dressed to the nines in my best turquoise finery. I’ve just come from the wedding of a friend, where I stayed through receiving lines, dinner and just long enough to watch the bride and groom have their first dance.

As usual, I’ve left earlier than most of the guests. I can only manage to stay in public persona for so long and then I begin to feel as though I’m wearing a huge, suffocating mask. Introvert overload sets in and I say my goodbyes, squeeze out the last charming smile I've got - and flee.

Now I’m leaning against this brick wall feeling exhausted, relieved and lonely. On Spring Garden Road, most of the city parades by – there’s hardly a square inch of pavement empty of people. I don’t know what to do next. Where to go. Lost in my own life again.

A small miracle is about to happen.

A few feet away, a busker plays guitar and sings. He could be forty, fifty, sixty. He’s bone-lean and wiry. His clean, cheap clothes speak of jobs where only the boss sits at a desk. Life has etched sadness deeply into the lines of his face but his voice is breath-taking. I can’t place the country singer he sounds like, but he’s pitch and note perfect and if I closed my eyes, his song could be coming out of a radio from my childhood.

My father and mother grew up on the prairies, on a radio-diet of country and gospel music. They had fine voices and loved to sing. My father would be upstairs, hammering at something, finishing work on the house they'd built together, and my mother would be downstairs doing work of her own - he’d start to sing and before long, she’d join in with the harmony. By the time I was ten, I had rolled my eyes in protest to the lyrics of just about every tune Hank Williams every wrote.

When he finishes his song, I ask, “Do you know Your Cheatin’ Heart?” He looks straight into my eyes and begins to sing. I edge a little closer along my wall and keep time with my foot. Under my breath, I start to sing with him. “When tears come down like fallin' rain/ You’ll walk the floor, and call my name. You'll cry and cry/ the whole night through/ your cheating heart will tell on you….”

His eyes stay locked on mine, never wavering, and suddenly I’m singing right out loud. I forget the crowds, forget myself, forget to be lonely and self-conscious. There’s just the two of us there on Spring Garden Road singing that old Hank Williams tune to each other.

When we get to the end, it seems so paltry and inadequate to say “thank you” and put money in his guitar case. But that’s what I do.

And I whisper, “that one was for you, Dad.”

1 comment:

Koru's Daughter said...

You know that you gave that busker much more that a few bucks, right. You gave him the exactly the thing he wants most... the reason he stands in the street and sings to strangers. You gave him your attention and a little bit of your heart. I bet you made his day. I bet he told his friends of the Hank Williams chick with wild hair who sang with him. I bet in his retelling, you were described at a hottie.