There are still places under the parasol. I take my large cappuccino and place myself facing the street. As I start to write the short story I’ve been desperate to write all week, I hear David Grey’s, Sail Away with Me sung by the mesmerising voice of a twenty-something year old, with his hint of a beard, jeans slung low from his hips (but no sign of any pants, thank you) and guitar strap relaxed around his neck as though it’s part of him. The case is open on the ground. People are filling the base with coins and notes. He’s good. He smiles at every passer-by as they drop in their gratitude and respect but he doesn’t miss a beat.
He sings another busking favourite of mine, Hallelujah, Leonard Cohen style. I smile at the scene in which I find myself. It doesn’t get much better than this.
There’s a different voice now. I stop writing and look up. It’s deeper with an African tinge – Bob Marley with slightly more attitude. The hair suits the voice: slightly dishevelled Rastafarian, chin length curls, greying in a ten pence piece size spot on the crown of his head.
I notice that my young busking friend has taken a step back, is leaning against the wall with one knee pulled high. He’s strumming an accompaniment quietly; the other man is singing. Because the other man can sing. It’s the slightly predicatable, No Woman, No Cry but it’s got passion and a rawness which mean I keep listening.
It’s a warm September day and this man is wearing a brown Paddington bear type coat. I gasp: it’s Rudi. Everyone knows Rudi. He’s to be found every Saturday, and other days as well, wandering through Harrogate. Generally he carries a megaphone to convey abstract messages of learning and joy. ‘We all have the power to be nice,’ he shouts. He was perched on the top of traffic lights when I heard that one. ‘Your daughters are beautiful,’ he proclaimed another time, much to one of said children’s delight, after her dad had simply passed the time with Rudi.
But I didn’t know he could sing.
No Woman, No Cry finished. Rudi’s whole face smiled in response to the applause. He turned and shook the guitarist’s hand who motioned Rudi to the coins in the case. He should take some, after all people had specifically left money while the duet took place. It was only right that Rudi should earn something for his trouble.
But Rudi didn’t touch the money. There was more gesturing. But he simply dipped his head, shook the guitarist’s hand again, beamed as he turned and went on his way. The guitarist watched him leave, nodded sagely, then turned back to his music.
Judging by the fact that Rudi has been wearing the same black cotton trousers and that brown duffle coat, whatever the weather, for the entire eleven years I’ve lived here – and sometime prior to that too, no doubt, I do not think Rudi has much spare cash. Couldn’t he have just taken enough for a sandwich?
Rudi just wanted to sing. And that was enough. And so he did. He’s a singer, an entertainer, certainly but entrepreneur, he is not. In that moment, however, hearing him chuckling into the distance, I thought that Rudi probably understood the world better than the rest of us and was certainly happier than many.
Most days I don’t feel confident calling myself a writer. I say that ‘I write’, when people ask, but the official title of ‘writer’ seems too much like ‘author’ and I’d feel a sham without my name to accompany it, on the front of that book. But today, watching this exchange, two strangers simply enjoying their mutual love of music and song, enjoying the simple pleasures of life without having to communicate a single word about it, I felt so happy to be someone who loves to write.
I have the picture of the guitarist and Rudi firmly in my mind now. And I have a scene, perhaps, or at least two characters who will appear in a book somewhere. They will jam. They will understand each other, they will know what’s important and then they will go on their way. I don’t know where I’m going to put them yet but whether it’s next week or when my children have left home, there’s a story about them sharing something, I know it.