On the subway a woman suddenly opened her mouth and began to sing. Her voice was tentative and good. She had a little loudspeaker rigged up through her mobile phone and had set herself to perform some songs in her own native Spanish. She was rugged up like the rest of us in a puffy blizzard jacket, was in her late middle age, and shy: and I would be willing to bet this was her first day out busking.
She sang, Kiss me… kiss me all over, or as it renders in the Spanish, kiss me a lot. Her voice trembled with nerves but she kept going. She tried to set up a swing with her hips, stiffly, appealing to the stony crowd with outstretched hands. “Music?” her voice, her hands, her eyes seemed to be saying, “remember music?”
I got up and went over to be nearer. She was standing in the doorway with her back turned to the glass doors. She smiled shyly at me and I smiled shyly back, nodding encouragingly, clinging to the yellow pole and hanging my head against it as though it were a mother.
Shyness in public. It makes life so much more challenging. A little way into the song she switched up the tempo and the backing music began a familiar rumble. “Bamboleo,” she sang, wistfully but clear, “Bamboleah…” A moment later she was saying, thank you, danke schön, and pulling out of her jacket pocket a crumpled waxed-paper cup. It is easy to fall on hard times so rapidly. Well-dressed people are begging and collecting bottles for the deposit all over the city. I gave her two euros saying, Sie haben solch eine schöne Stimme, eine echt schöne Stimme. You have such a lovely voice, a really beautiful voice. This was perfectly true and she knew it. We thanked each other bashfully and she went off down the swaying carriage where to my surprise people pulled out their wallets and broke the fourth wall. I, too, am afraid to sing in public; I, too, have a voice. Her courage by this stage had moved me to tears and when the door at my station opened unexpectedly a second early, while the train was still moving, I stood back saying, “Whoa,” and smiling with surprise. German trains are seamless. The man waiting outside the doors stood facing me as the platform slowed. He smiled back. We smiled at one another. In the stairwell a man with his face turned to the wall was shooting up into his elbow, bared in the literally freezing grey cold.