Round The Corner (Part Two)
I looked round the Square. They were all doing what they had been doing before - chatting, eating, drinking, rummaging. It didn’t matter. I couldn’t hear their prattle and the rattle of their bags. I could only hear the voice.
A girl was standing a little way behind and to the left of the singer, just on the corner where the Square narrows into Lendal. A girl with dark hair, and dark eyes not quite hidden behind large, red-framed glasses. She had an aquiline nose and full lips. She wore a red t-shirt and black jeans. She stood, just in front of the entrance to Jamie’s Italian, watching the singer as if the singer were the only person in the Square.
I started to get up, to go towards her, when a hand clamped on my shoulder and Tom, who serves at Pietro’s, boomed, ‘’Thought you might be here. I fancied a few choons before work.’
The world jangled and skidded. The prattle and rattle of the crowd crashed in around me.
I looked, and I desperately listened, but the singer, and the girl by Jamie’s Italian, had gone.
‘You all right?’ Tom asked.
I stood up. ‘Fine,’ I said. ‘I’m fine.’ I walked over to where the singer had been a moment ago, and I realised I’d known she would be gone. And that was fine. But the girl in the jeans and t-shirt…that wasn’t fine. That wasn’t fine at all.
I didn’t ask Tom if he’d seen the woman in the blue dress. I didn’t know if I was more afraid of him saying yes or no.
I turned in a good show, like I always do. I got them clapping and singing along, I did some schtick and made them laugh, the coins clattered into the box and a few notes fluttered alongside. A couple of little kids started dancing, which is always good. Parents love you if their kids love you, and other people go ‘awww’ and feel more inclined to give you money. I did a belter on ‘Stand By Me’, if I say so myself. If it had been dark they’d have been waving those mobile phones above their heads.
When I’d finished a couple of people came up and bought one of my CDs from the box, and one bloke said he’d message me about a private booking. All good. And it was like I was in a cocoon, a soft cotton wool blanket where none of this was real, all of it was just a pleasantly meaningless colour wash over the hole where the girl in the jeans and t-shirt and the big red glasses should be.
There was nothing else to do, so I thought about Pietro’s. Tom had already left to go to work, giving me a wink to say my all-day-breakfast might be cheaper still.
I didn’t feel like it, though. An all-day breakfast wouldn’t fill that space in my heart.
The singer was standing on the corner on the other side of the Square. She looked across, caught my eye, gave me no acknowledgement, then turned and began walking up the road. Towards Pietro’s.
I slung the guitar on my back, picked up my box and took off after her. By the time I’d crossed the Square there was no sign of her. I stood outside Pietro’s, scanning the pavement on either side. Nothing.
Tom put me at the table by the window, the one with space to stow the guitar by the wall. I waited for my heart attack on a plate while warming up with one of Pietro’s ‘extra’ double espresso’s.
Perhaps I’d inhaled too much of Mrs Lindsey’s possibly-tobacco. Perhaps I’d been espresso-starved. Perhaps I was just losing it at the thought of going back to me and my boxes sofa-surfing.
There she was, standing on the other side of the window, staring at me through the big red glasses perched on her aquiline nose. Her hands were clasped in front of the red t-shirt, bunching it slightly against the black jeans.
‘Who’s that?’ asked Tom, setting a heaped plate in front of me.
‘I have no idea,’ I said, nearly overturning the table as I stood up.
‘Where are you – ‘
‘Back in a minute,’ I said, with no idea if it was true. ‘Can you stash the stuff for me?’
I stood in front of her with the biggest and stupidest grin on my face.
‘Hello,’ I said. ‘You were in the Square.’
She looked bewildered. ‘What?’
A tiny grain of horror prickled my stomach. ‘You – you were in the Square. When the singer, that woman in the blue dress, when she was singing…’
The bewilderment increased. ‘What Square?’
Suddenly I was just an idiot on a pavement, scaring the shit out of some poor girl who’d probably just been looking through the window and wondering how anyone could eat an all-day breakfast in the middle of the afternoon.
I managed to croak, ‘St Helen’s Square…?’
‘I was in the Coppergate Centre.’
Now it was my turn. ‘What?’
‘And you, you were in Coppergate Centre. Outside Primark.’
‘The woman in the blue dress was singing. I thought it was a bit odd, because you don’t get many buskers there. The Jorvik museum people don’t like it. But she just sang. And there you were. Outside Primark. I saw you,’ she said, and looked as though she were about to cry.
‘You came here,’ I said.
‘The woman in the blue dress was in the crowd going out of Coppergate. I followed her, all the way down Parliament Street and Davygate. And then she wasn’t there. And I stopped, and I saw you. Through the window. The thing is,’ she said, after a moment, ‘I don’t think anyone else saw her.’
‘I saw her,’ I said. ‘Did something happen to you today? I mean, apart from – this. Did you…I mean, was there someone…’
‘I split up from my boyfriend at the weekend.’
‘Yes,’ I said.
‘It was OK,’ she said quickly. ‘It was overdue. But you know, even when it’s overdue, even when you know it’s right…’
‘Your heart aches,’ I said.
‘Yes. And then I heard the song. I knew it, and I didn’t know it. I never heard it before, but I knew every word.’
‘And your heart didn’t ache any more,’ I said.
‘That’s right.’ She looked at me, incomprehension and relief taking turns with her face.
I thought of Mrs Lindsey, standing at the bottom of the steps, with her cat that was just the right size for its skin.
‘I don’t pretend to know what’s going on,’ I said, ‘but I think you and I should go somewhere for a chat.’
Behind the red glasses, her dark eyes shone. ‘Do you think so?’
‘I do.’ I turned back to the window, where Tom was staring at me as if I’d grown an extra head. I gave a grin and a little wave, and stepped next to –
‘What’s your name?’ I asked, as I slipped her arm through mine and we started down the pavement together, past the comfortable tabby cat sitting contentedly in a shop doorway. It looked up briefly from licking its paws in the late afternoon sun, and the little bell on its sparkly blue collar softly chimed a tune for someone who might need it.