I was having a discussion at work with someone who doesn’t believe that even fleeting moments can be monumental. He believes, as is his right, that we only remember the epic. I told him even fleeting moments can be epic. And then I told him this story.
When I was in London before I moved to Saudi (you can read about that here), I had a moment. The kind of moment that you wish you could bottle up and keep for a rainy day because it makes you feel so good. The type of moment that movies win academy awards for. The type of moment that defines a lifetime, or doesn’t depending on how said moment is handled. Well, I had a moment. It was fleeting, but it was unforgettable and true.
Ever hear the song You’re Beautiful by James Blunt? It’s about a decade old now, very slow, and about a moment. Actually, the moment he describes is being on the subway and seeing a girl with her boyfriend/husband and they share a smile, the stranger and the girl. Of course he doesn’t get the girl, but relishes in her beauty nonetheless, and that makes the song that much more romantic. She’s beautiful, they shared a moment, and they’ll never be together. Tragic and wonderful all at the same time.
Surprise, surprise, but I was on the London Underground the day of my moment. I guess it isn’t too hard to fathom really when you consider the countless millions that ride the underground on a daily basis, Londoners and foreigners alike. The underground, with its many lines, is the perfect way to get around. You can go from one end of London to the other, and back again, for around 6 pounds; an absolute bargain in Britain. I became very familiar with the underground system, knew which stations were connector stations, which stations closed after 8 pm, and which stations to keep my wallet close to my chest in.
Anyways, I’m getting off the underground at the Green Park station, a few blocks from my hotel, and, ta-da, right across the street from Green Park. I spent a lot of time walking in Green Park when I was in London. The park leads to Buckingham Palace, and they have a nice paved trail that winds through the trees that they renamed the Princess Diana Walk. I’m not sure if the late Princess used to make this walk, but dare to dream I say.
I’m walking along the myriad of corridors to get ti the exit I need that will take me to the main street and the mere 42 steps to Henry’s Restaurant where my South African friends Ross and Justin are working. Henry’s also serves some fine ales and lagers and allows me to mingle with the locals (women) while maintaining the façade that I am here to hang out with my mates (a delightful ruse I might add).
Perhaps I didn’t go to the right locations in London, but I didn’t encounter very many buskers, or street performers if you will. My city back home is teeming with them. And teeming with absurd buskers as well. We have the standard guitar players and people painted in metallic colors pretending to be robots (when did that become an art? Try that on a dance floor and women will know you still live in your parents’ basement and read 20 year old Hustler magazines). But we also have unusual ones too, none more so than the Push-up Guy. His name is Dougie, and Dougie used to get beaten up all the time because he would walk around and preach to all the sinners, myself included, about how everything in the world was bad. The chocolate bar I was eating would keep me out of Heaven. Dougie was a bit strange, and now, he’s in the Guinness Book of World Records for most one handed push-ups. The guy is shaped like a turnip now, but I wouldn’t want to mess with him. But enough about Dougie, let’s get back to my moment.
I’m walking through the corridors and I can hear the strumming of a guitar coming from around the corner. My parents bought me a guitar for my thirteenth birthday and I never picked up after I unwrapped it. In hindsight, this is one of the few regrets in life I have. I desperately want to learn to play the guitar now, and when I think I could have learned and had lessons over 20 years ago, I want to kick myself. I’m sure I’d be mega-famous now, or at least playing in some coffee shop in a town of 47 people somewhere. Ahhh, good times.
The guitar riff isn’t anything tricky or intricate, but you could tell that this was second nature to the player. Even amid the chaos of a busy station, it is easy to hear a missed note or the striking of a second string. There was none of that; just a steady, rhythmic pulse.
Just as I went to round the corner, I picked up the tune, Wild Horses by the Rolling Stones. I’m not a big fan of the Stones, except for a few of their original (60s) stuff. However, I love this song. And when the vocals started I stopped from singing along myself when the woman’s voice funneled through the corridor.
I paused as I rounded the corner to soak up the lyrics. I slung myself back against the wall, watching people shuffle by at various speeds, each one with something more important to do or someplace infinitely more exciting to do. I could hear the obligatory sound of coins hitting the velvet lining of her guitar case, a few cat calls from those who didn’t approve of someone “begging for money”, and the odd whistle or two.
I so wanted to just close my eyes and let the music, her voice, take me away. I forgot about the countless masses that forced their way through the same corridor that I had commandeered for my resting spot. When I looked up, towards her, she was watching me, her hands gliding across her guitar with a grace that seemed unnatural. Women are very catlike. The way they move, the way they are built, the way they know men are supposed to worship them and praise them; all very catlike. And this one was no exception.
Her lithe arms moved effortlessly, but the undertones of power added to the mystique and feline quality of her. I tried to look away, but I couldn’t. I wanted to do anything but look at her; but I couldn’t. With her head tilted over her right shoulder, her expressive face and wide eyes made it impossible for me to look away. I had a sense that this was her preening. While my cats at home would sit up on their hunches and bathe themselves slowly to gather attention and get it, this girl’s preening came from the subtleties of motion, and the caressing aspect of her voice.
One of my favorite bands is a group called The Sunday’s. They formed in Oxford, England in the late 80s and put out a great album in the early 90s. The singer, Harriet Wheeler, has a voice that mesmerizes me. I had a reaction all-too-similar in that corridor.
I know it is silly, but I swear to you she was singing to me. You might believe I think that too because I’m not exactly lacking confidence, but at that moment, at that time, in that corridor surrounded by hundreds of people, the only two things I noticed were her and the goose bumps on my arms.
Her voice brushed the walls around me; lingering like that first kiss after someone tells you they love you. It holds you, that brief, beautiful moment, and there is nothing else. And as much as you want it to last, you hope it doesn’t because the weight of it is too much, too heavy, too much like drowning within yourself until you are completely lost. I was lost. I had no sense of direction or time. My eyes never left hers for the entirety of our eternity, a finite moment in an infinite universe. And then my vision wavered.
The bustling crowd ventured on, the wind kicking up the frills of her skirt, exposing the gentle curves of her calves. She shuffled, drawing the skirt down again, a shy smile cutting across the softest face I’ve seen in years. I smiled back, amazed. Amazed at what I don’t know. Just amazed is all.
The song ended just as the next train unleashed the latest onslaught. I was whisked away, forced down the corridor, looking over my shoulder in hopes that I would catch her again. But she wasn’t there when I could finally see. The guitar still played, still steady and true, but it was all just a distant hum.
I could have gone back, should have gone back, but I didn’t. I could have told her that I wanted to tell her all my deepest darkest secrets the first moment I heard her voice. I could have told her I wanted to tell her my dreams and aspirations the moment the promise and compassion I saw in her eyes rendered mine shut. But I left the station, and London but a few days later.
I want to go back and tell her that her voice still haunts me; a warm shiver inspiring haunting that leaves me wondering. Wondering about where I’m going, who I am, and what I have done. I want to go back and tell her that the soft and gentle lips, the cheeks, red with passion and a bit of embarrassment, and the sweeping bangs are but a pale version of the beauty of her voice. I want to, but I can’t, I won’t.
Sometimes a moment is all we are allowed.
So, care to share any of your finest fleeting moments?