“I am Alex,” he said quietly. Mairead had to believe him. “Alex Kian Robson. Is that what you wanted to know?”
“No,” said Mairead quietly. “But it will do, for now. Just one tune.”
“Just one tune,” Alex agreed. “And then I’ll let you go.” Mairead put her rucksack on the floor and hunted through it until she found the whistle. Thank goodness her incriminating items of clothing were in the pocket, or she would have been showing everybody in the vicinity her underwear.
It was eventually extracted and she put it to her lips, looking at Alex expectantly. He smiled softly and began to play: Drowsy Maggie. Mairead almost burst into tears. This was the song that had started everything, after all.
But she controlled herself, and waited for the right place to come in. She knew a counter-melody to this one, something so beautiful it brought tears to her eyes. Now all she had to do was keep her nerve and remember the long-forgotten notes, and Alex would soon make enough money to have himself a feast. Though, she thought ironically, he didn’t appear to be doing half badly already.
The tune grew in beauty until it reached its climax, petering down to something so soft and minor that people paused to listen. The audience by now was large—far larger than it had been when Alex was alone. Money rained down into the fiddle case until it was full. Someone even dropped their change at Mairead’s feet, since she did not have a case to put it in. She tried to smile but it was hard while playing, and instead settled for a variation or two. Of course, they loved that. They didn’t realise she had done this before.
At last, it ended. She took the whistle from her lips and took a deep breath, filling her lungs with the fresh but polluted air of the town around her. Alex took his fiddle from under his chin and smiled.
“You’re going to have to help me,” he said to her.
“I can’t put my fiddle in its case without taking the money out ... but I can’t carry all that lot myself. Half of it is yours, anyway.”
“No, it’s not,” said Mairead, protesting. She had managed this long without money and wasn’t about to start earning now. “Most of it was there already.”
“Yeah, right.” Alex looked closely at her. “Are you okay? You look ... scared. Hunted, almost.” Why did he have to be so perceptive? Mairead cursed her open face, which gave away her every thought, and stared at him in turn.
There was something funny about his eyes. Maybe that was why he saw so much.
“No, I’m okay.” In an undertone, she added, “I ran away from home. I guess I keep thinking that if my parents hear about this they’ll know it’s me and they’ll find me again. That’s why I didn’t want to play...”