The first thing anyone noticed whenever he entered through that solid oak door was the scar that ran from right below the corner of his left eye, down across his cheek, ending right underneath that side of his jaw. It was like a tiny gutter specially made for his tears. But I heard he never cried. I’d stand transfixed among the tables I waited, looking at him settle down on his seat with his caramel classical guitar. Then he’d lift his eyes, and everyone forgot the scar. Those eyes…dark, deep, warm, carried smiles that told you he had to learn to carry on in spite of what life had dished out for him.
I had watched him for months…2 and a day, precisely; ever since he got that gig at the restaurant I worked at. Every weekday he was there. He’d settle, tune the stringed beauty, look up, pass his sharp gaze over everyone, and smile; a dimple interrupting the seamless scar – shockingly enrapturing. Then he’d strum, then hum, strum, then sing…and all night as he played one soothing piece after another, singing sometimes, or not, I’d be sailing round the tables, half there, partly elsewhere.
Everything about him seeped into me, leaving me drugged – dazed all the weeks he had been coming over. He’d finish and step into the kitchen, offer to help us clean but ended up playing us a few of his own songs; those he deemed not good enough for those bourgie diners he played for almost every night. He made us laugh – I laughed the hardest sometimes…other times the pain shot without warning through me, reminding me…and I’d wince, turn away to the dishes, and immerse myself in the suds.
The other guys were curious too. The girls especially. They’d ask him questions he answered freely, and piece after piece fell in place, adding to the pieces I had already gathered. His hands poised on the strings and how he worked them with fingers that had known the hard life; gently…reminded me of similar hands that handled a girl as tenderly as he did his classical guitar. His eyes, flitting open, then shut, then open; his lips, very much like mine, balancing teasing smiles all throughout his performances…he’d lift his head high, and work the strings with speed and ease sometimes, the crowd erupted in generous applause, and my heart bled with memories of such excellence carrying me, filling my head, merging with my child heart once upon a time.
His answers sent me back to 16, sent me back to crazy, sent me back to illicit engagements and gripping fear. Back to dark rooms and hushed voices; frenzied limbs and too little time. Back to oohs and aahs, and ‘oh please don’t leave me now, wait, wait till dawn’. To wet, sticky tissue paper left behind and sweet tingling in young thighs…
To disappearances, and guilty tears…
A bulging tummy and numerous lies…
A tiny bundle of golden brown and soft cries…
A child leaving a scar on a child because it was all she could think of to do…
A sorry basket and a long walk up that road, to that door….
A heart-wrenching delivery….
A back turned and feet running as fast as they could.
Back….back to all that pain and as I stared that night I knew it was time. He started the very tune that had captured me 23 too damn long years ago;
Me – – –
Ray – – –
Doe – – –
Tea – – –
La – – –
Sew – – –
La – – –
Tea – – –
And as I felt myself break down right there in the middle of the softly-lit restaurant, I weighed the words in my mouth;
My Son! Oh my sweet little boy!