Claude Debussy’s Prelude to The Afternoon of a Faun.
Story and Illustration by ‘Shoe.
The Busker threw open a door he called it. His eyes had darted side to side.
“You’ll lose your job. Everybody will. The end will come. It’ll all fall down. I’ve got a room for you where I live. It’s next to mine. Let me know.” He leaned his head half sideways and peered at her. His eyes were pin point darts in a flood of light from passing traffic.
“Capitalism.” He made an intense yukking noise that was guttural laughter and rocked from side to side on his stiffly extended legs. His folded arms hugged his chest.
They met when she still worked at the newspaper. They were workers. She knew him sight unseen first. She heard the powerful sound of a raucous guitar and then his voice. He was playing an intersection. Night street lights flicked on. Street lighting was minimal. Some shop fronts showed no light. She stopped to drop a coin into his opened guitar case.
“Mark,” he said over the music. Yukk yukk.
“See you at 7,” he said the day his eyes darting they finally agreed they could meet and have coffee and cake if she wanted. He confided the address as if it was a front to a clandestine organisation. A haunt of down-and up-beats, a group of regular students playing Dungeons and Dragons, stayers commingling with models of insolence, young men or young women in single pairs or as alone and still as sculpture.
The Busker waved her over. He stood up from a bench seat at a long table. He was rocking and bounced towards her. He might off walls. Hair sprang free from between his fingers like wire as he grabbed and ran the length of his beard through his right hand. She was ushered.
“This one. Isobella Celente. Warren. We call him Hood. Isobella. Peter. We call him Peach. This Rita. Isobella. Georges.”
He was tapping his feet methodically. He introduced her to each of the customers at the table. The least hesitation he demanded response.
“She’s new here. Look after her.”
“Sure”. That was Georges in a grubby leather vest over a black t-shirt full of holes and his jeans legs folded into cuffs. He returned a few minutes later with a cup of tea sans milk he put down in front of where she sat next to him. “Gnome,” he said, “Call me Gnome. It’s ordinary the tea. Not fancy. Milk costs more.” His hands were soft and dirt under his fingernails was evident. The Busker made the yukking sound that was laughter meaning he was pleased. He thanked Gnome for his care.
“Does anybody want a tea,” he added. A murmur in the negative went the table length. He showed Isabella she could buy a slice of toast with a cup of tea. A well dressed man in a shining silver-grey suit came in and spoke to The Busker over their shoulders. He departed in a chorus of protest.
“That’s Reuben. He’s a bounce. He’s our friend.”
People came and left The Busker said were friends. When the others who were in that close company left that night, Isabella stayed to while time away. She was expected at midnight in her new office on Symonds only a quick climb up a grassed terrace and an adjacent park. Queen is the arterial heart of the city of Auckland from the wharf and its Harbour to K’ Road at its upper end. Symonds on its ridge that butts K’road and runs to the west through an older section was a literal High Street above it and a financial district of its own was consolidating in competition. A deregulated system was acting out a local land grab and assets battle. A nouveau riche risked money and these streets like careless fire.
A young man reading at one of the tables put down his book and came over. He offered to buy her a cup of tea. She agreed. They talked and drank tea with lemon slices they squeezed juice from no milk. He draped a satchel over his shoulder, hooking it with a grasp of fingers and gathered newspaper he handed to one remaining patron at another table. He announced he was going her way. Safer the two of us if you trust me and am I safe myself. The park was not lit. He was Hugh. She introduced herself. He had expected friends. They’re not coming. Isobella walked with him happy for the company. They crossed the exterior paving and street between the café and the dark city Art Gallery to access the edge of the park. He expected his friends to have come that night to play Dungeons and Dragons. Will we be safe walking up through this park he asked her did she think as they walked into its enclosure of sweet calm and only black shaping. The moon had no purchase on the park that night.