The Ballad of Jurgen Somerson the Busker
For my musician son, Kyall…
The chord, a G-major, fades to a thrumming silence. Next time I’ll add harmonic after tones to beef up the ending.
It’s not Carnegie Hall, but all I need is an audience. Shoppers rush past. Most ignore, but some glance and nod in appreciation. A blonde woman stops, smiles, and listens. Her head bobs with the rhythm. When she leaves, there’s another banknote, a Jackson, among the coins in the guitar case. I’ll eat well tonight.
My guitar, Genevieve, is warm and responsive in my arms. She shares my successes and failures. I’m nowhere without her. Destitute.
I flex cramping fingers. Three hours is too long to play without a break, but it’s warm in here and the acoustics suit our tuning. Playing in this cavern, we don’t need amplification.
The Mall is a cave of sorts, but one of light, not dark. Built with enough glass to allow the sun’s rays to illuminate the shop fronts and entice the punters. There’s magic here inside. I sing out:
“Drop money in the case, come hear me play.
I’m here to entertain for another a day.”
Crack, crack, crack.
One long, reverberating, dissonant cord. Three atonal notes ringing.
I fall. The polished floor rushes up to meet me. Blurry, fractured images swim around my head. Mirrored glass shatters and people run. One falls, and another.
A thumping booming silence, interspersed with the yelling, mocking calls of seagulls.
Seagulls in a Mall? Is that possible?
The stark brightness leaves no dark corners as hiding places. We’re all in the open, exposed and vulnerable. What’s that smell of copper and iron rust?
Oh God. Oh God. Oh God.
“Jürgen wake up, it’s time for school.”
“Not now Mother, I’m hiding.”
“Hiding from what?”
“Not what, who. I’m hiding from him. The man in the gallery.”
My eyes open to nothing but dark red blood on floor tiles. How much blood can a body lose before it fails?
Above and around, legs scatter into the distance, attached to people fleeing for their lives. Seagull cries transform into people—screaming. My hearing clears, but the relief is short lived. Pain replaces the dull, throbbing deafness.
Pain. Everywhere and nowhere. It pulses in my arms, stomach, head, and heart. I can’t isolate one pounding, throbbing ache from another.
Genevieve, my beautiful golden guitar, lies on the ground in front of me—out of reach. My girl rocks on the floor, uncovered and defenceless. Splinters in her body near the bridge, expose her white innards. Will she sing for me again? I lower my head to the tiles and weep. The stench of blood-iron and floor wax is nothing compared with the loss of my darling.
A running foot connects with my shoulder. A woman cries, trips, loose blonde hair flies around her head as she tumbles and slides across the blue-grey tiles in full view. A fallen target. Out in the open, she scrambles, searching for cover. I reach out.
Another crack echoes off hard surfaces. The woman jerks. Blood pours from a shattered leg. More shots. Someone’s shooting!
Oh God. Oh God. Oh God.
The woman stares at the bones sticking through her skin. Claret pumps out her life. Blue eyes turn to me, pleading. What use is her Jackson now? Her generosity might have put her there. Wrong place, wrong time. I hug the rough concrete trashcan—the only thing between death and me. I close my eyes and ears to her calls.
“Jürgen hurry, it’s time for your music lesson.”
“Five more minutes, Mother.”
“The lessons cost your father a fortune. Hurry, or he won’t be pleased.”
The woman’s voice cuts through the panic of a hundred terrified souls. “Help me, please.”
“Don’t move or he’ll see you. Play dead. The police will be here soon. I’m sure…”
Oh God. Oh God. Oh God.
“You left the Philharmonic?”
“My life. My choice.”
“You’re a disappointment, Jürgen.”
“Sorry, Father. But I must follow my muse and sing the Blues.”
Blue flashing lights bounce from reflective white walls. Sirens wail.
“They’re here,” I whisper. “We’re safe now.”
The flooring next to the blonde woman’s head explodes and showers her with chippings and dust. My ears ring and I hear her screams again. “Help me! Please!”
What can I do?
An inch closer and she’ll be gone. Is the sniper pausing to reload?
Prying cramped hands from the rough cement litter bin takes more strength than I imagine. Scratched fingers tremble, no strength left for the simplest chord. When I try to move, the pain pulls into a pin sharp, defined focus. A bloody wound at my side matches the damage to Genevieve. The bullet passed through her and into me.
There’s no time to wait for the police to set plans. I have to move now, before I’m too weak.
Gauge the distance between us to make sure there’s room to move and somewhere to hide afterwards. Yes, there! Another bin, ten yards away and closer to the wall. Can I make it? Have to. No choice.
Suck in a deep breath and hold it in. Ignore the pain. Clamp a hand to the bullet wound. Stem the blood flow. Focus on the route. Run through the rescue sequence in my head. Dive, grab, and pull. Dive, grab, and then pull.
Only one chance to get this right. Go on three.
Keeping the bin between the sniper and me, I unfold into a sprinter’s crouch. Left leg bent right leg straight and back, ready to push off.
“Help me.” The woman’s call is weaker now.
I focus on the target.
Go, go, go.
Drive off one leg, dive forward. Grab her. Trainers, slipping on the shiny floor, squeak in protest, but momentum carries us forward and we crash into the second bin. Safe. We’re safe!
Genevieve and me. We’re safe!