One… two… three… one… two… three….
Keeping in perfect time, my fingers struck the strings of my guitar as though it was the most right and natural action in the world. In fact, from what I can remember, I’d never played better. And I guess the people walking past would have thought I did okay, too. They didn’t seem to notice anything amiss about the girl busking in front of the shopping mall. They still smiled at me as they went by. Some of them still dropped coins in my guitar case.
One… two… three… one… two… three….
I thought about when I used to busk with my younger sister. We’d spend hours poring over songs, trying to choose the right ones. We always fought over it… and yet, when we finally made a deal to choose half each, it always seemed to work out better.
I miss her so much.
A horrible ache which had been steadily growing inside me suddenly increased its intensity. I felt like I was being eaten from the inside out. My fingers froze. I couldn’t remember which bar I was up to, let alone which song I was playing at the time.
I can’t do this anymore.
I escaped out of the guitar strap and (rather haphazardly, I’m afraid) deposited my instrument in its case.
“Why did you stop for?”
I turned around to see a little girl, no more than eight years old. She had long brown hair that framed her round, inquisitive face. She stood there, patiently waiting for an answer.
“I’m finishing up for the day,” I said, and hoped that there wouldn’t be any more questions. I bent over to shut the guitar case.
“Don’t you normally finish at four?”
My head jerked up. How did she know that? I hadn’t thought anyone would have noticed or even cared about that.
“Not today.” I tried to give her a friendly smile, while I quickly thought of a way to steer the conversation away from myself. “Where are your parents?”
She played with the hem of her school skirt. “Mum’s shopping. She said I could go to the toy place… over there.” She pointed. “But I wanted to find out why you weren’t singing today. You always used to.” Her brown eyes watched me intently.
What on earth does one say to that?
“I didn’t feel like it.”
“Oh…. What does that ‘C’ mean?” was her next question.
I looked down at the gold letter ‘C’ hanging from the thin chain around my neck. “Candace… but I get called ‘Candy’ a lot.”
“‘Candy?’ Like a candy cane?”
I smiled. “Yeah, like a candy cane.” To most people I knew, having the nickname “Candy” was rather un-Australian. But I was as Aussie as they come.
She looked like she wanted to laugh, but she didn’t. “Where’s the other girl who was singing with you before?”
The awful ache returned. “She… she’s…” I couldn’t bring myself to say the word “dead,” especially to a kid. “She isn’t here anymore,” I finally replied. The lump in my throat made it almost impossible to swallow.
“Is that why you don’t feel like singing?”
“Yeah,” I admitted.
“Would you let me sing with you?” she burst out. “I always see you here when Mum takes me to the shops with her. I want to be a singer like you… and play guitar,” she added quietly.
Suddenly, I felt extra defensive. “I don’t know….” The thought of another person taking my sister’s place irked me.
“But, what would your mum say?” I argued. “I doubt she would approve of it.”
She shrugged. “She wouldn’t mind. Please?”
I couldn’t take it anymore. “I can’t! I’m sorry!”
Hurriedly, I picked up my guitar in its case and walked away without a backward glance. My chest was so tight with pent-up emotion that I could hardly breathe. Self-pity set in.
Who did she think she was, asking those questions? She has no idea what I’m going through. My conscience gave a sharp twinge. I realised it was rather silly of me to blame a total stranger for accidentally hitting a raw nerve. A little girl, at that. Guilt was added to the mixture of emotions churning within me.
She knew so much about me… but I didn’t even ask her for her name.