Snow was just beginning to drift in transparent layers of soft minuscule flakes, immaculate dust that settled on the world as it rushed by to finish preparing for the holidays. He watched the people around him hurry to procure that last coveted gift, run home to start decorating the house, pull their children by the hand to break their spell and jerk them into a reality grown-ups have created. He had been so busy during the last month of the year that he was gratefully thinking of its end. Just one last event and he could go home to his family.
He turned away from the office window, stepped closer to the door. In the mall, the commotion was turning into havoc. He wanted to ignore the tension which was building inside him, but the whirlwind of human bodies was overwhelming. It was the last night before Christmas, the busiest day of the year everywhere. It was why they had chosen that specific day for the free concert; the more heard him, the better the sales. A small sacrifice to clear up the big picture, they told him. He wanted to remind them that their big picture was totally different from his, but exhaustion pushed him into a resigned state and the hope that once the show was over, he could be free for a blissful three weeks before the rat-race would start again.
It was time, so he stood in one place to let them arrange his hair, make-up, shirt and what not. The microphone in his hand, the songs on his tongue, it would be an easy job, quick, painless. He knew he should have felt happy: performing live meant the world to him, a way to connect with his audience. The best part of his profession. But it was late, people were tired, and so was he.
At first, hardly anyone listened but his hardcore fans. However heavy a burden they were sometimes, he was grateful they were there to cheer him on and scream. It was such a familiar setting (him singing, them screaming his name) that very soon, he mustered some of his usual bravado and the show he put on for them and himself became reality. Comfortable in his safe zone, he relied on the feelings he had always had for his old songs and tried to express those. No one wanted to know what he really felt, anyway. Not on the day of miracles. If there were to be sparkles, they would have to be told through something he had long ago left behind.
After a while, the crowd grew bigger and bigger, until the entire third floor was one giant human traffic jam. The toy shops and lingerie section would guarantee the largest audience possible, they predicted. They were right. He wondered how the cheering could get louder after each song, he tried to keep smiling and forced himself to only see the happy, shiny faces. He didn’t feel up to commiserating with anyone or patting anyone’s shoulder. Thankfully, the Christmas songs he had been given to sing were significantly lifting his own spirits and soon enough, the third floor became a large mass of exhausted, but happily partying people.
During the short break that he and the musicians took to drink some water and wipe their faces, he noticed the handful of fans gathering like patient vultures, ready to wait out everyone else. They were part of the deal and he would sign their CDs, T-shirts, whatever, he would smile and be polite and ask them questions he forgot the moment he uttered them. It was all right; they were his soft place to fall, his safety lane. He needed them as they needed him. This bitter-sweet liaison had been going on for years and years, the inescapable symbiosis between a singer and his audience. Sometimes he wished he could turn a new leaf, but the thought scared him as his actual change would have scared and disappointed millions. Perhaps a gradual change, that could be made possible. That very idea was what had kept him going for the past year or so. The hope that one day, it was all going to be different.
The respectful crowd was for some reason breaking up, there was quite some movement and there were sounds people made, voicing indignation and disgust. Security guards were approaching and by the time they got to the safety line, the reason for the commotion was standing on his own in the centre of the crowd. There was space between the young man and everyone else, people were stepping back, wrinkling their noses, yelling for security.
It was a matter of seconds before it ended but the weight of truths waiting to be grasped slowed down time, which froze with the happy blinking Christmas lights and the deafening buzz of human voices and the demanding complaints of the queasy-minded and the multitude of grimaces and in the centre of it all, the face of one single joyful person, his eyes twinkling under unruly brows and his lips creasing his skin around his toothless smile, his dirty-red coat reeking of the street. Security people were reaching for him, fingers were pointing at him and yet he was standing there like the statue of bliss on his own private island. In his eyes promises became reality, hopes became facts, future plans became the present lived without fear. His face mirrored what should have happened a long time ago. He was a reminder, an exclamation mark, the scream inside the heads of those afraid to live their destiny.
After the intruder was taken, the crowd took their time resuming their places. Squeamishly waiting for the stink of truth to dissipate, they unwittingly gave the singer time to catch his breath. He looked around like someone struck by lightning. His thoughts were running amok inside his skull, his heart was drumming over the deafening voice of pressure. He took a few steps toward the railing and leaned over to see where security people were taking the homeless man. They were at the entrance, pulling the obedient stranger after them.
The singer knew he could have run for it like some movie hero, jumped over the railing and landed without breaking his ankle, or he could have slid, carefree as a teenager, elegant like Fred Astaire. Predictably, his inner programming only allowed for the safe way, but even that seemed outrageously unlike him. When the mere thought shaped itself in his mind, freedom covered him in a sweet fragrant veil of intoxicating bliss.
‘Stop!’ he blasted into the microphone, so that every single head in the mall turned to see what caused the sound explosion. It was what he needed, there was time and space for him to adopt a light jog down the first flight of stairs, along the shops, down the second flight of stairs, across the richly decorated marble ground floor. As he approached the group of three, two security guards and one very smelly homeless person, he slowed down a little, deeply ingrained inhibitions causing him to start thinking, his reasoning making him start to feel like an idiot.
Just as his common sense was beginning to break the spell of magic, the toothless smile spread itself once again, two brown eyes narrowed into a slit and the sigh of happiness erupted in the singer’s heart. He stepped to the homeless person and locked his dirty-coated frail body in a hearty hug, the sense of liberty reducing the stink of the stranger to the acrid but welcome scent of change.
‘Merry Christmas’, he said, and stepped back.
He did not expect anything to happen. Nothing did happen, really, at least not on the outside. No one said anything, no one clapped, or cheered, or started weeping like in the movies. The security guards did take the stranger out, the door did close on him, and everything went back to normal within seconds.
But the winds of change are invisible at first: if they blew harder, there could be no progress, only destruction. Countless lives underwent a barely discernible change that day, one that shifted destinies into their proper, previously avoided course. An expensive toy placed back on its shelf or a loosened tie are hardly earth-shattering revelations, but for some people, it all starts like that. A very distinguished tie was loosened and an upbeat, easy-going singer walked up the stairs, resumed his place and started singing again.
And his changed heart went on to change the world.