You Can't Go Back Again

When I got off work yesterday, this guy I know was standing out in the wet snow playing his saxophone. He stood out under the eaves of this brown brick bank blowing on the instrument over his hard-back case.

Tim saxamaphoning 1

I waved as I crossed the street, but, instead of turning right in his direction, I turned left to walk away from him. There is a whole world of people I met at the pub I drank at for nearly a decade, and I don't know what to do now when I see someone from that period, one that is at once not very long ago and a lifetime away, so I walk left and try to think about what meal I'm going to eat next or what pictures I would like to take. I distract myself with sundries to avoid thinking about beer.

I got about a block away from the guy before I realized that I had to turn around. I wanted to take his picture. I so rarely interact with people who aren't my co-workers or my husband these days that I wanted to take his picture, and so I stopped to fumble with the change in my wallet. I felt like I couldn't just walk up and start shooting without throwing some change into his saxophone case. It would have felt rude.

When I'd counted out a few coins, I started walking back. It seemed strange to me and far more awkward now that I was throwing money into an old acquaintance's instrument case as payment for some photos I wanted to take in lieu of proper conversation, but there I was doing it, throwing a few quarters onto the royal blue velvet lining and bending down to get an upshot of his face.

Tim saxamaphoning 2

I took the photos too fast for them to be any good. He was moving with his saxophone and I was taking the photos while still dropping to bend at the knee and it was a public corner and I felt uncomfortable about the quarters and the pictures, and then he poured on some schmalz for my camera. No sooner had I bent down than I was rising up again and turning to leave. I didn't know what to say. I wasn't even sure why I had turned back. I was a block away before I realized that I hadn't even said so much as hello or goodbye to him.

Afterwards, when I was about halfway home, I suddenly remembered the first time I met him. He was busking for beer money at that pub, or at least he was wanting to busk, but he couldn't afford to fix the pads under the saxophone's keys. We gave him matchbook covers and bits of cardboard torn from cigarette packages, which he jambed under bits of the instrument, and then he let loose with some old school jazz, and we all threw coins at his case where he played on the wooden boardwalk that was constructed just for the summer to extend the patio. Some of the coins missed, tipped and fell through the wooden slats, and they were found later that fall, dark with spilled beer and cigarette ash, when they tore up the walk to make way for winter.

Jamaican beer

For a moment I could taste the buttery last heat of late afternoon summer sun cutting across my mouth, and I knew, really knew, that I would not be there in that place to feel that again, and I wished I hadn't stopped to go back and throw money into his case, because it's true what they say.

You can't go back again.

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Grace in Small Things: Sunday Edition #56