The Busker

Struggling with her precious, cumbersome instrument, Lily catches a glimpse of herself in a store window under one of the covered passageways of Covent Garden Market. With long, curly, slightly unruly, red hair flowing down over the shoulders of her ankle length grass-green cape and a tall, slim figure, she creates a striking picture. Occasionally, someone turns to watch her as she passes. Lily is hurrying, desperately late again, and barely notices the people milling around her. Tonight’s concert is an important one for her, with the choice of soloist for the next series resting on this performance. Her failure to achieve absolute perfection last night won’t help either, Lily admits, as she reviews the musical composition in her head. This evening’s programme is so much more suited to her, with its youthful focus and ambitious range.
Breaking into her thoughts, the sound of poignant music, an unwelcome intrusion, diverts her attention. It is hauntingly familiar to her, that style of playing. Where is it coming from? What does it remind her of? She stops to listen and, turning her head inquisitively, tries to follow the path that will lead her to the person producing this distinctive sound. Guided by her well-trained ear, Lily weaves through the crowds, knocking a few legs with her instrument as she advances. She negotiates the labyrinth of corridors, harbouring numerous boutiques that display their wares to visitors and tourists. Lily circumvents the disorganized pockets of spectators who stand observing comedians, singers, and jugglers. Entranced by the sound she follows, she ignores the operatic performance of the duet beneath, projecting harmonious voices to the people hanging over the balustrade above that frames the square. She is not tempted by the myriad of smells; the ones emitting from cafes serving coffee, sweet pastries, pizza, and foods of a variety of international origins.

Accustomed to leaving a trail of destruction in her wake, Lily uncompromisingly forces her way through the crowd gathered around the lone violinist. Featuring in a corner, created by two walls forming the outermost perimeter of the square, she sways her body in time with the rhythmic movements of her bow. The image the instrumentalist portrays is at variance with the quality of the music she is playing. She is dressed in the ragged uniform commonly worn by performers on street corners and in underground stations. Layers of ragged clothing form her attire; the Army/Navy duffle coat, slightly moth eaten with worn elbows and missing buttons under which a thick misshapen jumper can just be seen; the long, faded, fringed skirt; a pair of old, worn Dr. Martin boots with thick, shapeless, woollen socks; the woolly hat; the fingerless gloves lying discarded on the ground; and the open case which invites her audience to throw in a gift of appreciation. The chin rest of the violin supports the thin face of the woman as her lacklustre, unkempt hair trails over the opposite shoulder. Chapped, weather beaten hands fly across the strings, the blue veins tracing a mottled path just visible under her translucent, dirt-tinged skin. As she lifts the bow high to deliver a faultless, passionate interpretation of the finale, the sleeves of her jumper and coat ride up, exposing telltale signs of punctured pathways on her arms. She is hypnotised by the magic of her music, and her bruised, sunken eyes are closed as she produces a rendition rarely heard outside of the foremost concert halls in Britain.

As Lily stands watching, Violet completes her performance, lifts her haunted eyes, and the horror of recognition strikes them both. Lily is taken back ten years to the roller coaster days of her youth.

“Hey, Lily. What’s up mate? Got time for a quick rehearsal session tonight?” Violet grabs her friend’s hand and pulls at it, trying to drag her towards the school gate.

“Ah, I don’t know Vi. I’m a bit knackered really. Besides, no one else ever seems to bother.”

“Come on Lil. I promise you it’ll be worth it. There’s a new piece we can try.”

“Well, maybe. Who’s coming anyway? Will Geoff and Bob be there? I definitely do not want to come if they aren’t going to be bothered, yet again!” Lily is tired of arriving at the ensemble practice sessions and discovering the others haven’t shown up. “We’ll never get any gigs if we don’t practice together.”

“I know, I know. Don’t be such a grump! You know those two; they just want to have a good time, playing their stupid ball games and stuff. But, they do want to play in our group. Really, I know they do. Bob was telling me last night that he thinks we could be really good.”

“I didn’t know you saw him last night. I thought you were studying. That’s what you told me! Bloody hell Vi; do you ever tell me the truth?” Lily shakes off her friend’s hand, angrily turning to walk away. Trusting Violet seems to be so much more difficult these days. She’s so secretive; as though she has something going on that she doesn’t want Lily to know about. And she and Bob are always whispering together, as though there is something mysterious happening between the two of them.

Violet chases after her. “I did study, Lil. But Bob called and wanted to talk to me about something, so I met him for a little while. What’s wrong Lil? I’m your best friend; you know you can trust me.”

“I know Vi but, oh, I don’t know, it just seems you’re not the same these days. I mean, you’re always off in a corner with those druggies from up Lavin Way, and half the time you don’t even seem to be on this planet! And, you know I fancy Bob, but you are always off in some corner with him, and I reckon you’re just… Oh I don’t know. Just piss off and leave me alone!”

“But Lily. There’s nothing between Bob and me. You know that. I would never do that to you! Please Lil, look at me, please.” The tears in Violet’s eyes seem genuine but Lily is not convinced, knowing her friend’s talents for performing. Not only the best natural musician in their chamber group, Vi is the one who can entice the audience to join her in feeling the power of the pieces she plays, mesmerising the spectators with her startling blue eyes. Lily keeps striding towards the gate as Violet runs alongside.

“Lil, please, please just stop. Look, I’ll tell you.” Lily slows and looks round at her friend, trying to decide whether this would be one time that the truth would be told.

“Lily, please. Please listen. Let’s go over there and I’ll tell you, but you’ve got to promise me to keep it secret! No, really. It’s terribly important! It could cause lots of shit if you say anything!”

Ten minutes later Lily is running up the street, unable to cope with listening to anymore. Everything she believed in is a sham! They must have been having a good laugh at gullible Lily. All this time, she thought that her friends were so loyal and honest, and instead they’ve been deceiving her. Well, she’ll show them. There is no way she is getting involved with that!

Watching Violet slowly lower her violin, Lily remembers the aftermath of the confession; discoveries in instrument cases, and the subsequent arrests. Bob never returned to the school, and Violet was moved to a young offender’s unit later that year. She refused to see Lily. In time, the hurt faded and eventually Lily made new friends. They didn’t think that she had betrayed her old friends, but had just tried to stop something illegal going on. An entire network was demolished and, for a short time, the local heroin supply chain destroyed.

Now, as a member of one of the foremost orchestras in England, Lily still thinks that she made the right decision all those years ago. Yet, it is depressing to see how low Violet has fallen. Her natural talent is so wasted playing to the market crowds for her dinner and drug money.

Dropping several pound notes into the case, Lily gives a sad, farewell smile to Violet and turns to head towards the concert hall. She knows that there is nothing she can do to help her old friend. The pathways of their lives are predestined, and Lily’s future can not include the encumbrance of a weak dependent. Why ever doesn’t Violet use something else? Something which will help her creativity, not destroy it! Lily cannot stop thinking, with regret, about how beautiful and talented Violet was when she was young.

She retraces her steps thoughtfully through the market. In her coat pocket, Lily can feel the weight of the full bag of white powder she collected earlier today. Something less damaging, that’s what Violet needs. There is so much good stuff available these days. She sniffs and wipes at her slightly decayed nasal cartilage. The buzz she feels increases as the substance continues to negotiate its way around her body. All of her senses are heightened. Lily knows that another line snorted later will definitely boost her performance tonight. That soloist position will be hers!

2 responses to “The Busker

  1. Alan Berry

    On further thought (overnight as I lay in bed) perhaps you were portraying two “dilusions” , just very different.

    I have also just completed reading The daughters Wedding. I note that my comments on that have similarities to this in that the ending left me wondering. If thats your intention then it works. If not, then I need a little more.


  2. Alan Berry

    I enjoyed reading it but felt the “punch line” was too quick. It created a good picture for me of the individuals and of the place. The pace was good and I generally like the way you write and think. This is no exception. Personally, I would have liked the last paragraph to have been drawn out a little more or have had a more dramatic/graphic illustration of the divergence.

    I still love you!


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