I noticed him standing in front of me in the checkout line of the supermarket. He was buying some bread rolls and a couple of cans of catfood. As the cashier scanned them the prices flashed blue across the display. Fifty-nine cents, fifty-nine cents, fifty-nine cents, eighty-seven cents…
I recognized his face. He’s a street musician who often stands at the crossroads near the market square. He plays tunes on a standing bass, mostly golden oldies and folk songs. The enormous instrument sways gently to and fro as his hands carress the strings and neck, almost as if he is dancing with it. He stamps his feet on a wooden box for a beat. His voice is hoarse, the words almost shouted.
The man is an absolute gentleman, always dressed in a dark suit with polished black shoes. But his trademark is the hat, which he raises or at least touches for every donation, no matter how small. He does this without exception, regardless of whether he receives a single donation or ten in a row – he will raise his hat for every single person, continuining to play the bass and muttering “thanks, thank you, thanks” to each person individually, with a smile that betrays only gratitude and grace.
He works the bass, and the bass works him. Sweating and singing, he bangs out basslines, day in day out, raising his hat and smiling his smile.
And now here he is, with the same smile, the same gentle demeanour, the same suit and hat, buying bread rolls and catfood.
I wondered about the catfood. I had never seen him with a cat, or any kind of pet for that matter. I had a hard time imagining it – this man was so humane that there seemed something inappropriate about the image of him roaming the city with an animal in tow. It just seemed … below him.
Then I realized the catfood was for him.