The Busker

Janet could hear the busker streets away.  She had already taken to walking a circuitous route to the office, one that took her along the side- and backstreets, neatly avoiding the homeless people in shop doorways, the charity collectors rattling their money boxes and above all the bloody busker.  He played – or, Janet sneered – attempted to play a grubby flute.  She shuddered to think of him, standing there, eyes closed as he played, a greasy hat like an artist’s beret lying hopefully at his feet. And it was always the same songs.  His repertoire extended as far as two half-remembered melodies.  One of them was Yellow Submarine and the other one wasn’t.  She could never quite place the other tune even though he was always playing it.  It had perhaps been a hit during her childhood, in those long days of summer when there was no school and she could lounge around for hours, collecting newspaper clippings of her favourite pop stars in her scrapbook with its green and purple pages, and listening to the radio.  She seemed to associate the tune she couldn’t name with those days, with that time in her life.

When do I get to listen to the radio these days?  I don’t – she answered her own question.

She turned down Short Street where some accountants had their offices.  This led her to Stone Road, where the back doors of department stores and restaurants could be found, far less appealing than their frontages and less well-kept.  Rubbish overflowed in wheeled bins like the stuffing coming out of burst upholstery.  Janet hurried up.  There were too many doorways.  The homeless could be lurking there.  Or muggers.  Or homeless muggers.  Or men with knives who would press you against the wall and lift your skirt.

At last she reached the office car-park.  A couple of cars were already in place.  The early birds who liked to be at their desks before the boss arrived.  Huh, thought Janet; probably facebooking each other pictures of their latest drunken night out.  She sneered again, despite her concerns of the lines that were coming at the edges of her mouth.  For her there was work and home.  And the journey between, avoiding people wherever she could.

Still, the shrill sound of the busker’s flute could be heard, cutting through the air, pervading her innermost thoughts.  That tune – the one she couldn’t name – it drowned out all other thoughts.  Oh, what the hell was it called?  Why was it so familiar and yet so strange?

Her legs buckled beneath her as an image flashed in her mind.  I’m having a stroke, she thought!  But she wasn’t.  She was back in her teens on a lazy summer day, in the garden with her scrapbook, when the neighbour had climbed over the fence, kicking her glue all over George Michael.  That song had been playing then.  It had been Number One.  It had been the soundtrack to the event she had blocked out of her mind all of these years.

“You okay, Janet?” said Beverly, dashing into the car park to assist.  “I only come out for a fag and I saw you there.  What’s happened?  Has somebody hurt you?”

“No,” said Janet, not wanting any fuss.  “I mean, yes.  Tell Henry I’m going to be late.  I have to go to the police.  There’s a man I should have reported years ago.”

Before Beverly could question her further, Janet strode away.  The police station was around the corner but Janet went the long way around.  She wanted to be sure to pass by the busker and drop a twenty pound note into his hat.



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