All that identified her was the sound of the penny whistle. It glided through the air, tickling the tips of ears, pulling at the corner of mouths, but there was no source, no presence that helped us discern its point of origin. It was too beautiful a sound, too mischievous and playful to be the result of modern music. It was too pure a sound, too wholesome and fruitful to be the expression of electronic devices.
There was something incongruous about that lilting melody. As we trudged down the street, conversation flowing, fingers dipping into salted chips and vinegar ladened fish, the bright lights of shops created an artificial luminance to the winter evening. In the shadows of chain stores, on a filthy worn mat, sat a beggar, warmed by the heaving sides of a black labrador. Her nose was pierced, her unwashed hair hung in mangled, tattered plaits under a worn hat.
You know bagpipes. Those irritating, annoying musical british heirlooms that encourage wincing, cursing and ill will when played. They whine like a petty child with a snot filled nose, they wheeze like an elderly asthmatic too stubborn to accept their lungs have reached their expiry date. You never expect anything beautiful to come out of it. They are just part of the grand picture of British History and Archaism. Once in a while they shimmer from the mundanity of their background position, at a royal parade, wedding, maybe even New Years Eve, before melting back into obscurity, shunned into silence.
It was an incongruous sight. Seeing mottled, chapped fingers flying over the holes of that pipe. Gaunt cheeks were sucked in, eye lids half closed as the penny whistle blew, sang, its melody soaring, limitless, unbound. To see so much beauty emerge from so much dirt. To imagine that a human, because it was a human, like you and I are, or claim to be, could produce such harmony effortlessly, was incongruous. But like that ill-fated bagpipe, its potential was often ignored, censored.
How many of you even noticed her sitting outside Sainsbury’s, caressing your hearts with her vagabond arts of music?