Mairead smiled, pushing her way through the crowded street at her local shopping centre. How long had it been since she last heard that tune? Far longer than she had ever intended, certainly. She should never have left the town where she grew up, but it had been necessary.
Keeping her head down and her walk slow—which was difficult, as a dancer—Mairead walked towards the teenage boy standing, as he always did, on the corner of the street. His fiddle was tucked under his chin; his mouth lifted unselfconsciously. It was obvious that he was doing what he loved. Timidly, she dropped a coin into his fiddle case and was about to walk away when the tune ended.
“Wait.” He could have been talking to anyone but Mairead knew the boy was addressing her. “Don’t leave—play with me.”
She stopped, shocked. How did he know? The whistle was pushed down to the very bottom of her crowded rucksack, beneath her clothes, food and laptop. There was no way he could have seen it and Mairead definitely hadn’t spoken of it. She hadn’t said anything at all.
“I ...” She began to talk but never finished her sentence. He was playing another tune. This one, a hornpipe. She had danced to it, all those years ago. And how old had she been then? No older than ten, certainly. Her father had been watching. She missed him, and his old, scruffy beard that he only had because he had forgotten to shave. He always forgot to shave. The music that he played in the mornings for his daughter to dance to was far more important than that.
The tune ended too soon and Mairead realised she was still dithering near the fiddle case. The audience clapped but she blushed scarlet, about to move away in case they thought she knew the boy.
“Please, Mairead. Just this once.”
He knew her name. The boy knew her name.
Mairead moved away instinctively, frightened. He shied away, too, realising that he had scared her. “I’m sorry!” he whispered. People were starting to move away, not interested now that there was no music. Soon the audience had thinned out considerably, and people returned to their shopping.
“I can’t,” she told him. “Not here. It’s too...public.” For a moment she thought he knew what she was talking about, his face was so knowing. But moments later he had carefully erased the emotion and stared, confused, at her.
“It’s just a high street. Please, Mairead, for me.”
“Who are you?” she asked. That was what she really wanted to know. Who was this boy, that he should know her name and who she was? Where did he learn to play so well; where was it that his strong brown fingers were taught to move so quickly, and with such skill? Questions plagued her mind but only one thing would answer them: “Who are you?”