Old Man

He wasn’t all that shabbily dressed, just not too tidy, a bit neglected maybe. His hair had turned to silver so long ago that he had forgotten what colour hair the youth in him used to wear, it badly needed a cut, but it was clean.
He shuffled slowly into the music shop, it was far too painful to walk these days and he couldn’t abide to be seen using his walking frame – it had been gathering dust at home for many a long day, neglected and unused. And unwanted – too proud to be sensible, his son had told him.
He removed his spectacles and held them towards the light, endeavouring to see what was blurring his vision. He breathed over the lens and wiped them carefully with his handkerchief, clean and neatly folded after being ironed.
A slight smile brushed his lips as he again picked up the CD that he had been examining, vision restored he was able to read the list of song titles. He turned it over and looked at the photograph of the artist on the front cover. Closing his eyes for a moment he could almost feel the atmosphere of the London Palladium, he had once witnessed a fantastic performance there. When was it? Did it really matter when? It was the magic of it all that counted.
Funny thing about memory, it sometimes plays tricks on an old brain. Like this morning when he had boarded the wrong bus, the driver had been kind enough about his confusion, but the embarrassment of listening to the taunts of those kids, who gave them the right to…? A sigh escaped his lips.
He replaced the CD in the rack and looked around the shop. Neat bins full of brightly covered CD’s, hundreds of them.
‘78s were good, no pictures on ‘em, just coloured labels…’ The sound of his own voice startled him, he hadn’t meant to speak out loud, it was just that sometimes thoughts became words without him realising what he was doing. He glanced towards some other customers, if anyone had heard him they weren’t letting on. He flicked through a few of the CD’s in an adjacent bin, covering his self-consciousness.
Music was playing in the background, a bit too noisy he thought, he didn’t recognise the tune nor did he like it very much. Loud music was all right if it was good music, but not this modern muck, no real singers anymore. He picked up a CD, not really seeing it. His mind once again at the Palladium – funny theatre, sort of stuck in a back street in the West End somewhere – he only went there the once, sat up in the gods, too far from the stage to see all that much, but it had been worth it. No giant banks of ‘speakers in those days, no pyrotechnics either. Just a man on the stage, wearing a suit and tie. He had an accompanist on the piano, there was an orchestra in the pit of course, but Mr. Rhythm could have filled the place without any help from anyone.
‘Can I help you?’ The voice had a hard edge to it. He looked up, feeling quite startled. She would be pretty if she smiled, he thought. Pretty, in a pimply sort of way.
‘I…’ He cleared his throat. ‘I’m right thanks miss.’
She held his gaze for a few seconds and then after pointedly looked at a large sign extolling the shop’s policy on shoplifters, she retired behind the counter.
A rather plump woman entered the shop; she was pushing a supermarket trolley laden with food. A sniffing child was in the trolley seat, sticky face, sticky hands, sticky red lollipop ready to be dropped. The old man watched her slow progress between the bins of CD’s, and shuddered as he saw the child’s trailing hand leaving sticky red goo on the plastic covers.
The girl came out from behind the counter and hurried towards the plump woman. ‘This should be good.’ Thought the old man, expecting a sharp confrontation.
‘Hello mum… Cindy.’ She said to the pair. The child held out the lollipop for her to suck. The girl bent down and smacked her lips, but – sensible, thought the old man – kept her mouth well clear of the offending object. ‘She bein’ good today mum?’ Enquired the shop girl. They walked towards the back of the shop, the music drowning any further conversation from the ears of the old man.
He returned to his browsing, making a mental note to keep well clear of the red snail-trail left behind. A poster caught his eye – Specials, 2 for the price of 1 – it stated amongst other things. It was attached to a brightly coloured cardboard bin. He shuffled over and glanced at the contents. Nat King Cole. Louis Armstrong. He read. He picked up the Louis Armstrong CD and read through the list of twenty song titles. ‘Beats me how they can get twenty on a thing this size.’ He thought. ‘A 78 was three times the size of this thing and only one song fitted on each side of it.’
He glanced up at the counter and saw that the shop girl was still talking to her mum and her sister. ‘Or could it be the girl’s daughter?’ He mused. ‘She looks a bit young to have a kid. But then everyone looks young these days.’ He chuckled to himself. ‘At least she’s not checking on me at the moment.’
He looked down at the CD in his hand. ‘Basin St. Blues.’ He read, as he listened to the sounds of the music playing in his head. ‘Funny thing about music,’ he thought. ‘Doesn’t matter about race or colour. A black singer or a band could be the star attraction in a top hotel. But let them ask for a drink at the bar or want to stay there, and they would have either been laughed at or thrown out in the street.’ He shook his head.


© Peter Ryan 03/05/1999

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