The train of her black gown
trailed softly behind her. The room droned with chatter and the polite meeting of cutlery and crockery. They paid her no mind as she made her way to the dais and she didn’t fault them for it. Engrossed in conversation or the contents of their plates, the evening’s patrons were the usual clientele; the ones who wouldn’t mind giving an extra coin to impress their dinner date.
They paid for ambience. They paid for understated style. They paid for the waiter’s shirt to be a little whiter, for his English to go past the kindergarten ‘Jambo’. They paid for the lights to be a little dimmer and for a candle to light the space between their laughing gazes. They paid for her.
Yes, her. She, in the black gown that kissed every curve, scheming over the contours of her body. They paid for the red rose at her ear,where her upswept hair was held in a neat bun. They paid for her blood red lips, but most of all, they paid for her voice.
Carl, the night’s pianist, played a smooth ballad on the keys, the music, a perfect backdrop to titillating chatter. He nodded politely as she approached and blew her a kiss without missing a beat of the bluesy sonata. She smiled. Carl always made her smile. At 68, he’d been entertaining since way before she was born. She didn’t know how he did it!! Night after night his fingers danced across the keys, creating a masterpiece but no one even raised a head to see the man behind the music. Carl was the reason she still did what she did. Sometimes, she would glance behind in the middle of a song to catch a glimpse of his encouraging eyes just to go on.
Carl had listening eyes. Sometimes she thought he could hear what she wasn’t saying.
Carl played the last notes with flair, plunging the restaurant into the curse of silence. Uncertain eyes sought the dais, as though robbed of the cloak that had covered the torn fabric of awkward silence.
She held the microphone stand with both her hands, feeling the familiar unease of nerves in her belly. She took in a deep breath before letting it out slowly. She knew of artists who pictured the audience naked so as to gain confidence, but she didn’t have to do that. All she had to do was see them for who they really were.
She saw the man at the corner who glanced at his watch every five minutes. She saw him pull a blue box from his jacket and look into it’s contents before putting it back in the left-side pocket of his jacket.
She saw the couple who couldn’t seem to stop smiling into each others eyes. She saw the elderly couple sharing a table with a younger couple. She envied the glow on their faces.
Carl and the band fused their magic into the introduction and then… her lips parted.
Carl watched as conversation died down . He watched as everyone turned to listen to the source of that captivating sound. Night after night, he watched them be mesmerized by her voice. Her voice had a somber quality that begged all within earshot to listen. But it wasn’t just her voice that enthralled them. It was her. How she poured her heart into the song.
She didn’t just tell a story of love and loss but in that moment, she lived it. As the words of pain passed through her lips, Carl mused over what kind of man couldn’t see her for the gem she was.
She told them the story that was familiar to everyone. The story of love and loss and loss of love. But that night, that was her song. Her story. She would not get to tell him, so she told them. She closed her eyes and saw his face but when she opened them, she saw them. She felt the sting of tears at the back of her eyes as she sang the last line. It
was over before it even began.