The Power of Freedom by Sheena Billet

The early morning sun reflected off the carriages of the departing train, and I felt that something of me was departing with it. I watched as it disappeared around the bend and listened until the rackety sound had disappeared into the distance. 

Sighing, I picked up my duffel bag and guitar and headed for the station concourse. The morning rush hour was getting into full swing and everyone seemed to have somewhere they needed to be, in a hurry – except me. I had nowhere I needed to be and I wasn’t in any hurry. Was this what freedom felt like? 

It was the first time I had truly been on my own and responsible for my own life. The security of my family had disappeared with the train, taking my parents and sisters to a new life down south. They had accepted my decision not to go with them, but I knew they weren’t happy. Susie, my twin sister, had been particularly vocal about me letting her down, and ‘dumping her on Mum and Dad,’ as she put it. But I had stood firm and now here I was – free. The plan was to take up my place at the music academy and stay with my aunt and uncle – all my stuff was already at their house – but something inside me wanted to explore this freedom a little more. I had everything I needed with me, including my guitar, and the idea of busking, always in the back of my mind, could now become a reality – in the next few minutes. I knew that a licence was required to busk on the concourse so I headed outside into the busy Tuesday morning. I wandered about until I found what looked like a good spot, close to a coffee shop – always a good thing, and heart thumping, tuned my guitar. Not having an amp, it soon became apparent that my music was lost in the general cacophony of city sounds, and most of the people rushing past didn’t even notice me, never mind my music. Time to rethink. Not having any money to buy an amp – where would I even get one in this part of the city? I headed to a quieter spot in the park. There were still plenty of people around, but they weren’t rushing around, they were strolling or sitting on benches. I stayed well away from the kid’s play area – I really didn’t want to go there! I also ignored the occasional runner, earbuds firmly protecting them from the real world. I returned the guitar and got started with some Satie to calm myself down. Soon I was lost in my own world, and was surprised by the sound of applause as I finished. 

I opened my eyes to find an audience seated on the nearby benches clapping enthusiastically. An elderly man, obviously their unofficial spokesperson, stood up. ‘Thank you, young lady. You have given us so much enjoyment this morning.’ There was much nodding and a general murmur of agreement. ‘It’s so refreshing to hear the classical guitar repertoire played by such a talented performer.’ 

I closed my mouth, embarrassed at my childishness. ‘Ok, well, thank you so much.’ There was an expectant pause as they waited for me to say more. ‘Well, it’s lovely to have such a lovely audience. I clapped awkwardly in their direction.’ 

‘Are you done, or are you planning to play some more?’ 

‘Well, um, how about some Vivaldi?’ I had nowhere to be, and suddenly, I really wanted to entertain these people. 

‘There was more appreciative nodding as my audience settled themselves on their benches. For the next hour we experienced Vivaldi, Bach, more Satie, and even some Brouwer. 

When I eventually ran out of steam, I felt such a high as adrenaline coursed through my body. For the first time, I had been in control of my performance – I’d played whatever I wanted, however I wanted. No worrying about an adjudicator or judging panel, or passing an exam, and the experience of such freedom was heady. 

As the applause subsided and I gave an awkward bow, the elderly gentlemen rose to his feet. ‘I think I can say for all of us,’ he gestured around with his arm, ‘that we are truly privileged to have enjoyed an unexpected concert this morning. Thank you.’ 

Looking around, I noticed that my audience had almost doubled in size and some were even standing. 

As I was packing my guitar away, the older man approached me. ‘I’m Jim,’ he said, ‘holding out his hand.’ 

I shook it. It felt strangely old-fashioned, but in a nice way. ‘Alice,’ I replied. ‘Alice, could we find a way to make these concerts a regular event? We could club together and pay you,’ he added hastily, noticing my hesitation. ‘There is quite a gang of us who gather in the park in the morning. It breaks the day up for us, and gets us out of our houses, and we would love to hear more of your music.’ 

I took a breath and held it while I thought. 

*** 

The morning concert in the park became a thing, once a week, and I found a way to fit it around my academy studies. In the winter, we moved into the nearby library, and as time went by, some of my newfound friends came and performed with me. The pain of my lost baby soon receded to 

a bearable level as I found myself helping many others escape their own losses and problems for an hour or so. 

When I look back on my career, those people in the park were the most important audience I ever had. 

Published in Issue #18

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