ONE EVENING WALKING IN LONDON, DECEMBER 2002
Just off Oxnard Street (littered with last minute shoppers
two days before Christmas), an old man decked out
in a ragged trench coat and a torn stocking cap
played a slow mournful jazzy interpretation
of “Time after Time” on a battered flute.
The flute echoed through neighboring streets,
drawing a few pedestrians here, a few more there,
who joined a crowd that materialized from a nearby bookstore
and from a small eatery on the nearest corner.
The old guy never looked up, never acknowledged
the presence of anyone or anything other than the music
he was playing as he swayed side to side, back and forth,
and shuffled a few slow dance steps that were slurred in time
to certain notes he was bending. When he finished, one last
long phrase hanging in the chill night air, the crowd silent
and still, he gingerly slipped the flute into a deep coat pocket
and hobbled off, indifferent to slowly building applause rising
behind his back. As the crowd dispersed, a few voices
could be heard humming the tune; one or two knew the lyrics.
I sat down on a chair outside the bookstore and quietly laughed
at startling discoveries available in the most unexpected places,
and realized I was humming the tune and running my own
semi-musical riffs on the melody. A bookstore clerk leaving
for the night listened to me for a second, and tossed in a few notes
of his own improvising before vanishing into a suddenly empty night.
Michael L. Newell is a retired secondary school English/Theatre teacher who has lived one-third of his life abroad on five continents. He is passionate about a wide range of music, jazz being a particular favorite. He now lives on the south-central Oregon coast.