I met Declan busking in Camden High Street. I came to London just to walk around the city, maybe rent a Boris bike, have a look at some clothes offerings from a nearby market and maybe have a Chinese from a stall.
I was walking from the tube station, heading towards the Camden market, when I stopped suddenly as I heard his voice. I looked around to find the source of the song playing and I saw Declan. Right now I cannot remember what he was singing that day, under the grey London summer sky, among tourists, and locals, but I guess it caught my attention for a reason, as I usually walk past so many musicians, and I don’t stop for every single one.
So many people were just gliding past me, as I was standing still, listening to him, not being able to leave. I was honestly surprised that I was the only person hearing him. Did everyone suddenly go deaf?
I was standing across the road, took my camera out, and started recording. He noticed me as he kept playing. People seeing me with my camera, started acknowledging the music and paying attention to him. I only smiled at them, silently approving of their choice.
I stopped looking at my camera screen, and was just enjoying music, whilst daydreaming of something specific and nothing in particular. The last few chords played and faded away. I switched off my camera and decided to walk up to this scruffy looking guy.
– Hey. I loved your voice! And the song! – I said.
– Thanks! What’s your name? – he asked.
– Olga, from Russia – I said, not knowing why I actually added “from Russia”. Another year will pass and I would hate people asking me where I originate from. He laughed and extended his arm for a shake.
– I’m Declan, from Ireland. – He said smiling and still laughing a bit.
I went red, and shook his hand, repeating his name again. It was awkward enough, but he didn’t seem to be fazed by it. And let me say, I really like guys, who are brave in their interactions with me. Most of the time anyway.
He apologized for his voice today, he said the night before he went to a big party, where he had a few drinks, so he felt he didn’t sound his best. I never heard him before or after any alcohol parties, so for me his voice was just fine.
He took out his business card and presented it to me, from it I learned that he and his friends had a band, and they played music in London pubs, bars and night clubs. I was pleasantly surprised, when he invited me to their gig that evening in London, I secretly wished I wore something a bit nicer, a cute dress maybe?
I kindly declined, because I had, in fact, to take a train back to Norwich, but I said that I would add his band on Facebook, and we said goodbye. I thought I would never see Declan again, as it sometimes happens when you meet people in big cities like this. Sometimes, that’s the beauty of it – a chance encounter and then the wondering about all the what-ifs. I headed to the market and Little Venice as he started playing another song, after which he said he would be leaving. I went on about my day, enjoying London and then returned to my student accommodation on Bluebell Road. I opened my Facebook and searched for The Band Name. The page opened and saw the familiar face and the bright smile next to his mates. I left a comment on the photo, praising Declan’s musical skills. The next day I had a friend request from him and I clicked “Accept”.
We met again in winter. I completely forgot about Declan and The Band, but an invite for the upcoming gig popped up on my news feed. I sent him a private message, saying that I might show up, but wasn’t sure, as I thought I’d bring a date to that. You can see how smart I always was. I showed up alone that night, paid a fiver on the door, in an old traditional pub somewhere in Camden. I thought I’d listen to one song and go back home, to Wimbledon, where I was living again after a year in Norwich.
I sat down at a dark wooden table in the middle of the pub, there was lots of free space, I think I arrived on time. There were dimmed green lanterns on the wall, and a chalkboard above the bar, with all the drinks listed on it. While I was contemplating whether I should get a drink, or pretend that I forgot something and leave at once, I noticed him. I think we saw each other at the same time, but he walked up to me first, looking happily surprised. I tried to remember what he looked like, and if that was in fact him, as he was moving towards me. An awkward kiss on the cheek and a warm hug, awkward on my side, of course. I had no idea how to behave with a total stranger that I met six months ago. Why was I here? Maybe because I was stood up a few hours before that? “Fair play”, my flatmate would say.
We started chatting, I gave in and ordered myself an Aspall’s. He introduced me to all the band members. The gig started three minutes later and I loved everything the guys played that evening. By the end of it, I didn’t feel alone, I knew everyone, including a couple of girls, that Declan also introduced me to. One of them seemed to talk to him a bit more than others. I felt weird because I didn’t like it and so I took another sip of my cider, nervously looking around.
Then he started buying shots, and I knew I had to jaegerbomb it. What a great British tradition! Chaos ensued and everyone went ecstatic. We all went out for a fag, British boys roll the best ciggies. We talked about everything and nothing. We laughed a lot. It was too late to go somewhere for food or another drink, and the boys suggested we go to their place. I hesitated for a second, but then saw that other girl said yes, so I shrugged my shoulders and we went up the High Road to catch the night bus going North.
It was about two in the morning when we arrived, and twenty minutes later, the second girl decided to go home. I thought to myself “what the heck, I’m staying”, and actually stayed. We kept talking, watching Declan’s favourite music videos on YouTube, I asked for a glass of water.
The atmosphere was calm and felt normal. We watched videos for a few more minutes and then everyone fell asleep at the same time, on the same bed, fully clothed. Before hogging the blanket, I put the glass with water on the window sill. For that I sat up and looked around. For a moment I thought about how I got here, found it entertaining, I smiled with some disbelief on my face but then I bit my lip, because I didn’t want to wake the guys up with my giggles. I didn’t feel any danger even for a second, although I was in one room (bed) with three Irish guys. We fell asleep at about four in the morning, after Declan’s music suggestions ran out and everyone was tired. I had to wake up at 8 to go home and continue living a normal life, and not one of a musician’s, although I must admit, I started missing it the second I got on the bus. Declan needed to get to his day job, so we took a bus and then the tube together. I was completely puzzled by the events last night, as was he, it seemed, but I played it cool, so did he.
I mean, I don’t often stay with a whole musical band for a night of YouTube marathons.
I said goodbye to him on the train and went straight to Wimbledon village for some breakfast. I walked into The Light On The Common and ordered scrambled eggs with chorizo off the menu, and asked for a tea. I took out my phone and started looking at photos from last night. I was smiling and suddenly the image in my mind appeared.. of Declan’s face sleeping right next to mine, on the same pillow.
I shook my head, frowning at the same time, not understanding what my thoughts were about, and waited for my food to arrive.
Later that week we exchanged a few messages with him, laughing about that night’s events, and how great the story would sound in a few years, or even tomorrow. Today?
The next day I met up with my date, and forgot about everything. I left for Russia two weeks later.
Encounter 3 (last one)
I met Declan again in summer, when I was, again, seeing someone else. I came to see him perform somewhere in Brixton, it was just him this time. I really couldn’t tell what he felt for me, if he felt anything at all. I was overthinking, as always, sitting on the sofa for the VIPs of the pub, feeling front row important, he was singing, being his usual cheerful self.
We said our final goodbyes the next day, when the awkwardness was unbearable, I felt some things were left unsaid, or was it all in my head?
I couldn’t read his mind. I thought I saw something in his eyes, and the way he behaved with me, but from my observations he behaved like that with all the boys and girls. I couldn’t ever be straightforward with him. I couldn’t just walk up to him and, I don’t know, kiss him? Could I? How strange would that be! It always looks so good in the movies though. However, the last time I was straightforward with a guy, it didn’t work out well for me. I mean, does it ever?
I never saw Declan from Ireland again. But me, being me, still thinks if I have lost something that could have been there all along? I will never know. I don’t want to know.
*Names and locations have been changed.