The 49 finally had the grace to appear, five minutes later than the website had predicted. At this stage, my cheeks were raw from the wind’s persistent buffeting, and my lips had started to crack. I wasn’t in the best of humours, and I didn’t even look at the driver as I scanned my ticket.
It was then, in the most unlikely of times, that it happened. Above the squeaking of the doors, the hiss of the releasing brakes and the rising rumble of the engine, some faintly plucked notes greeted my ears, and seemed to heat them up. They were accompanied ever so sweetly by a voice, not pure in technique, tone or diction, but pure in the emotion it conveyed. It was simple delight that was carried upon those notes, delight at life and music. I made my way down the bus aisle, until I discovered sitting in the back seat, ukelele in hand and song in mouth, a young woman who looked to be in her early twenties. From her appearance I could tell she was foreign; what nationality I couldn’t say for certain, though she obviously came from warmer climes than Ireland. A smile was upon her lips that I felt had been there since the day she was born, and her eyes shone with life.
I sat on the opposite side of the bus, but facing her, my back to the road ahead. I was half terrified, half fascinated with this woman. I looked to the woman who sat beside her, a middle-aged woman and undoubtedly Irish, and saw my own emotions reflected in her. The bemused smile and the wide-eyes, silently commending our musical companion, but also betraying a bewilderment, the unasked question of “what in the name of Jaysis is this young one up to?” Naturally, it was also a question unanswered, but like I’ve said before, the answers aren’t important. There was only this one moment, when this woman seemingly decided “Screw society, screw the norm, screw how people think others should act. I want to play.”
I watched as her right hand flew back and forth, strumming the four high pitched strings of the ukelele, while her left made odd chord shapes I’d never seen before. I listened as she sang songs I’d never heard before, and I don’t think I’ve heard since. Songs I never really caught the words of, and that I’m not entirely sure she knew herself. This was music as I’d never seen it before. This was not the triumphant rock band on its stadium tour, determined to put on the best damn show the world has seen, though it remains one of the most memorable performances of my life. This wasn’t the bland pop artist miming the words of a song they never wrote or never understood, though as I’ve said, this woman may not have known what she was singing. Nor was this the heavenly church choir, determined to raise spirits in the darkest of times, though I was certainly uplifted. This was music in its truest form, emotion conveyed in notes, chords, and occasionally lyrics. No grand audience or record deal or pyrotechnics. It was the root of music, and it was bloody beautiful.
It then occurred to me, a short time after taking my seat, that I was now faced with a magnificent chance. The choices we make usually have a huge impact on the world upon us, and in the past few weeks and months I had made momentous decisions affecting everyone and everything I knew. The weight of these decisions would rest heavily on me, no matter what course I had chosen. We all encounter these decisions, and they are rarely if ever pleasant. But I had grown tired of the life-changing and life-destroying moments. I was sick to the stomach of trying to calculate every variable, trying to second-guess peoples’ actions and reactions. I was the cliché of the seemingly world-weary eighteen year old, and I was done with it.
But in that moment on the 49 bus at a quarter to six on Saturday 6th October 2012, I encountered a different type of choice; a inconsequential choice. Not inconsequential in the manner of the unimportant decision you take when choosing what biscuit you want to eat first or which pair of white socks you happen to take in the confusion of a bleary-eyed Monday morning. It was inconsequential because it would affect just two people, and minimally so, at that.
I admit I was afraid. Afraid of what expression the older woman’s face would display when next I saw it. Afraid of what laughter I might hear from the seats behind. Afraid of what my suddenly nervous hands might do to ruin an instance of pure beauty. But I looked once more at this embodiment of music and hope and those fears were lost. She didn’t give a damn about consequences, why should I?