12 February 2017

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Coming down into the T out of a furious slush-storm, I heard a small, sweet, smudgy voice, the perfect timbre of the thirties, like a ghost.  She had to be illegal:  the licensed buskers all have amps, they have assured performance and repertoire.  Some have real talent. Other just have loud.  No wheedling here.  This lady rambled—not quite like an un-self-conscious child with her mind elsewhere, but like the woman in the corner after closing time, conversing with the past:  here I am.  Here we are. You couldn’t tell whether this were a sad song in a hopeful voice, or a cheerful one sung poignantly.  Actually, I couldn’t recognize her song at all, neither mumbled words nor tune. Yet everything about her style said remember, which gave it all the oddest air of alien nostalgia, like hearing the old standards of an alternate history

She turned out to be a short ashes-of-roses bundle of a woman, with a cart full of other bundles, and one of her hats turned upward for the coins.   “Lousy day, innit?” she said.  I agreed, and fed the hat paper.  Stepping away as she went on, I caught a clearer word or two, and suddenly realized what she’d been singing all this while:  “You Are My Sunshine.”  

I turned round, and as if encouraged by the recognition, she began “Over the Rainbow,” in a haze of feeling, a light-dividing mist.  Again, not a note fell where it ought to—she didn’t even follow the contours of the tune—but every scattered note was pretty-ish.  They had a sort of smutched purity, like raindrops on a drooping clothesline.  I applauded.  And as if she’d conjured them, down the platform came two young bearded fellows from the Outdoor Church pulling a neatly-made, well-laden wagon.  They offered her (and a sudden small cluster of other homeless folks) a choice of sandwiches (I liked that) and no sententiae.  I hope there was coffee.

Then the train arrived.



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