I stared down at him from the first floor window while I ate my crisps. Salt and vinegar I think, though that’s not important. Accordion Man was playing some romantic old standard that made me feel instantly plucked up from my setting. Romantic. Wistful. Exotic. Not Essex.
He’s been there for years. For as long as I can remember. Playing his accordion in the high street. He usually takes up his pitch outside Marks and Spencers, and his music floats in and dances on top of the music we’re playing. Close your eyes and you can be in Paris or in Florence or in some tiny little village in a country that doesn’t even have a name in your head. You can be any person, of any age, in love with anyone, anyone’s family. You are taken to something that’s not your own life; feel nostalgia for things you have never had.
On days when I can hear him I tune in to him over our easy listening loop. He’s as much a part of the bookshop as the books sometimes, though I’ve never seen him come in. Until yesterday I don’t think I could tell you one thing about his face. If I had walked past him while he didn’t have an instrument hanging round his neck I would never have recognised him as Accordion Man.
I watched him as he beamed through every song, turning towards each passer-by, and cocking his head in hullo. Out of dozens and dozens of people, only one man stooped to flick a coin in the accordion case.
Then, as suddenly as if I’d thrown a pebble at him, he turned and looked up at me. Our eyes met, he smiled, and waved. I smiled and waved back, and filled with a profuse shyness at having been caught staring at him, I turned slowly back round, waited a few seconds, then sank to the floor like there was something important there that I had to pick up. I sat there for a bit smiling. Accordion Man had waved at me. He carried on with his song.
I realised that in all the years of hearing him I had never made the effort to go out and put money in his case. I felt suddenly sick. All those hours of listening to him and we were like strangers, I’d never acknowledged how much I liked his music by giving him enough for a beer or a paper. It didn’t seem right. I probably owed him a small yacht by now.
I hurriedly wrote a note, grabbed all the coins out of my purse, and walked hurriedly through the bookshop, down the stairs, and out into the street. I don’t know why I was hurrying. I knew he’d be there all day, but I was afraid he’d break his routine and leave.
I weaved my way through the stream of people, placed the messy contents of my palm in his case, did a weird sort of mini head bow, and went to leave. He stopped playing. I’m not going to lie – it was awkward. I filled it by asking him his name, and discovered he couldn’t speak much English, he was from Romania, and would ask his daughter to read the note to him. To my horror, he asked me if I’d like him to move. “NO! GOD, NO!” I made a big show of saying I loved his music. Enthusiastic flappy hands, patting my heart. We gave up on words and just smiled at each other. Then I left and he carried on playing.
I felt Romanian for the rest of the afternoon, though I’ve no idea what that feels like, but it doesn’t matter. I was transported because of him.
His name is Vassily.
I just hope I haven’t bloody scared him off.