Friday, June 14, 2013

The Songstress

The way New Yorkers are in subways - reticent and distant like an island unto themselves - makes it difficult to see the next passenger sitting or standing beside you. Yet I noticed her. For, the invisible dot staring grim faces or the inclined heads, reading or the erect ear budded heads rarely move. But she was moving. After a few minutes I realized that there was a pattern in her movement, and eventually I looked up from my book and surreptitiously glanced at her. She was smiling to herself as if reminiscing some fond memories and, moving her neck and slightly gyrating her body while snapping her fingers and humming silently a song, of which, I only heard, 'Radio oh oh oh oh oh Radio'.

She wore a dirty green LL Bean fleece jacket zipped to the neck and a retro 70s flared grey cotton tartan plaid trousers and running shoes - her elegant height accentuated with the big top knot bun of auburn hair. 

Then she started fiddling with something and I realized that she was balancing a Multi Loader Amplifier Trolley with one feet. There were three boxes stacked on each other, one black with gauged front and knobs that looked like typical speaker or an amplifier and one opaque, may be a battery pack, and the third onewas open at the top to collect the donations. I thought she was waiting for something but no, she was warming up.

Coming across so many performers in the Metro, I am always amused as to how one starts a gig in the subway. There were Mexicans who always entered in full regalia; The Terylene studded shirts, the bell bottom trousers, the gold laced Mexican Sombero tied with a lace at chin and colorful pointy shoes also studded with silver nails and an inch of heel - as if the dress would make-up for the song that you will not understand. And of course what with the stone face immediately breaking in a shrill chorus of a Spanish song on tambourine while gazing in infinity! Then there were old black folks who traveled in group and would announce cheerfully how they are going to entertain people who are on their way to do important work. They would smile forcibly and deliberately greet anyone who accidentally looked at them. They would go ahead and start conversing with kids if there were any and make a jolly scene of a family get together. While other less confident meek solitary singers would quietly enter as if they have come to a funeral assembly and start playing their instrument or just sing. There were few hobos who mixed songs with bawdy jokes but they always entered with a bang.

But this woman was different.

She was warming up for something that she liked! She took it as one takes up a job; it had a method, a ceremony. She didn't look at anyone, she didn't need any approval or confirmatory gaze or smile from would be audiences. She believed in her work so much that she knew it will be liked, if not for its quality then for its sincerity. And I am sure the sincerity with which she was preparing herself to sing must have been noticed by most stern and inert subway rider of the City of New York. Were these commuters - who left home in leisure or in hurry, with a loving kisses or fight or just the blank walls of their apartments, passed empty lobby or the ones that are attended by a doormen, who were going either worried of happy about what they did for living, dreadful or expectant of their bosses and colleagues - who wanted just a peaceful ride are going to be assaulted by a singer or going to be lulled? Didn't MTA betray its customers by allowing nuisance to creep in and forced them to go through an act that was not sold with price of the ticket? No! I was sure they are going to be lulled, there is going to be an extension of the sweet sleep that they had left few hours before, and no, they are going to get more than what they paid.