Out and About Is Where It’s At

I’m two weeks in to a two month contract, which, against trend for a short term contractor like myself, will see me working through December and most of January.

I’m glad to be back at work after such a long break, and loving the contract for many reasons, but unfortunately I’m still having difficulty achieving a work/life/writing balance, a problem I first encountered (and wrote about) earlier this year.

That’s the only downside, really. The rest is all positives. The work is interesting and challenging, the people are great (you know who you are!) and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t happy to see some income again, especially so close to Christmas.

Then there’s the incidental positive, the one I wasn’t expecting. I’d gotten so used to being mostly shut away in my own home, at the computer, or in my car, or helping my mum settle into her new home, that I’d forgotten about the kind of experiences you can have when you’re out and about, interacting with your community. Mostly this involves seeing familiar faces on the way to work, or on the train during the daily commute. Experiences that make you feel connected to the people around you and become a welcome, expected part of your day.

Sometimes, though, the experiences can be completely out of the ordinary and completely unexpected.

I had an experience just like that the other morning. I was walking to the station when I saw a young man walking towards me about 50 metres away. He was a man I’ve seen many times before, though not for several months. He’d be in his early 30s, I think, though he looks older.

He has schizophrenia, or at least I assume he does. Every time I’ve seen him in the past he has looked lost in his own world, tormented by his demons and has usually shouted aggressively at the people, cars, dogs or anything else that he passed on the street.

Once I looked up and saw him walking towards me I started psyching myself up. I was thinking, ‘It’s okay, he may yell at you but it’s okay… just be prepared for him to yell at you.’ That sort of thing.

He came closer and closer and then, when he was directly in front of me, instead of yelling at me he said, “Excuse me, madam, would you like me to sing you a song?”

He was polite. He spoke articulately. There were no demons.

I was totally caught by surprise and stammered, “Oh um…um…” and he continued, “I realise you’re probably busy, on your way to work or something, but I just thought that perhaps for a few dollars you’d like me to sing you a song.”

I looked into his clear hazel eyes and said, “Do you know what: I’d love you to sing me a song. But I’m on my way to work, so can you walk with me and sing?” and he said yes, changed direction so he could walk with me and instantly burst into song.

He sang a few lines of what seemed to be a folk song about a blue-eyed girl while I fumbled in my bag for my wallet.

And his voice…his voice was strong, and beautiful and full of warmth. It was husky and smooth. It sounded like velvet.

It was the kind of voice that, had he been on a talent show on television, would have left the audience with mouths gaping open and tears welling up in their eyes because they just weren’t expecting a voice like that to come out of a man like him, and in the end they’d have given him a standing ovation.

I gave him three dollars and he instantly stopped and said “thank you very much” and that I was “very generous” and I said, “It was worth it! You’ve got a gorgeous voice!” He said thank you again and turned and walked away, heading in the opposite direction to me.

I looked back and called out, “You know what: you’ve got really beautiful eyes!” and he turned around, his face beaming, and yelled out, “Thank you!” I was smiling, too.

Exhilarated, I smiled all the way to work. It was an utterly extraordinary encounter. The kind you don’t have when you’re sitting at home alone, on your computer.

The kind you can only have when you get out and about in your community and start interacting with real people.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go out.

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