Sweet, Sweet November (The lady on stage)

It was a Thursday evening. I had clocked off from work a little earlier than usual. And so with that little extra time on my hands I decided to go to a bar for a drink or two. Somewhere different from my usual local selection. Somewhere not too far out though, I had a long Friday ahead of me and wanted to keep the bar visit fairly brief. I hailed a taxi.

“Do you know any decent bars somewhere away from this area? Say, a little further north perhaps?”
“Hmm, up north… up north.” The taxi driver gave it some thought with his hands gripped firmly to the steering wheel.
Half turning back to me, he said, “Ah! I know, there’s one I like to go to in Brent Cross. About 15 minutes’ drive from here. That’s a fairly decent joint.”
“What’s it like?” His face became smirched with a utterly reflective expression. “Umm… Well, it’s nothing fancy, I’ll tell ya that. It’s convenient, though. Reasonably cheap, and it shouldn’t be too packed on a night like this.”

I had no idea what a “convenient” bar was supposed to be like. But as he hadn’t mentioned anything notably terrible about the place, I checked my watch and decided to give the bar a chance.

The bar, named ‘Arthur’s, had a very hollow feel to it. The lighting was dim, and not in a relaxing sort of way. Just dim. It was as if a few bulbs had died out a while ago and the owner had no intention of replacing them. The carpet was dull and plagued with spill stains, decorations were minimal, and very few souls occupied the building (of which hardly any looked as if they even wanted to be there – like attending the bar was some kind of duty they had to serve).

Removing my thin scarf and jacket, I ordered a chilled brew and pondered why anyone would name a bar ‘Arthur’s’. Unless of course the owner’s name was Arthur, which would prove Mr Arthur to be a very drab and unimaginative individual, much like his bar setting. I sipped slow while surveying the interior of the building. Then I retreated my gander and noticed my fingers tapping against the counter to a Radiohead song which hooted unfittingly in the background.

I didn’t stay for very long. I downed the beer and left the bartender a £5 tip beside the almost empty pint glass. When the frigid winds outside struck me I buttoned my coat to the top, burying my chin inside my scarf. The beer had left a grimy, salty taste in my mouth. I had to wash it down. So I began to amble through the unfamiliar streets, hands shoved in pockets, searching for another bar. One characterised with a little more ambiance, I’d hoped.

Five minutes’ walk down the high street, I strolled into a bar which enticed me for reasons I couldn’t give. I mean, it didn’t look all that great from the outside for one. It may have been the faint noise that was coming from inside. It sounded like a live band performance.

The inside was fairly large. An impressive-looking bar stood at the far right of the room, a smallish stage was directly opposite the doorway, and there were tables scattered in the centre of the room. People chattered, laughed, watched the live performers, and drank. But even with all this going on, the place held quite a relaxing air.

I took a seat at the bar. The young blokes who were a few stools away gulped down beer after beer and undisturbingly cheered on the performers. The couples and individuals and groups who loosened up around tables sipped away at their various beverages. The atmosphere was loose, a pleasant energy filled the bar. And the jazzy performances complimented the mood, too. It seemed as though local artists and bands were invited to display their talents on stage at the bar on specific nights. I’d happened to stumble in on one of those nights.

“Welcome to Blues Ariawhat can I do you for, sir?” My fascination with the lady on the stage delayed my brain from computing what was said to me.
“Umm… uh… I’ll have what they’re having.” I replied, gesturing to the lads on my left.
“Coming right up!” he said, disappearing gleefully.

The lady on the stage couldn’t have been any older than 22. She had on grungy boots, dark clothes, and had long braided hair, black with midnight-blue streaks in. Her lips were coloured in a bright pink, which I thought was ill-fitting with her tender cinnamon brown complexion (but what do I know about all that).

She sang over an enchanting blues melody. It reminded me of Paul Desmond’s ‘Glad to Be Unhappy’ collection. Cool and dark. Her emotionally fuelled voice gave the number something more though. It was somehow like a graceful butterfly’s reflection on a still, forgotten pond. She would occasionally face the trio supporting from behind her. Then she would turn back to the audience, giving us an intense, meaningful look whilst clutching the mic close to her lips and swaying in motion to the music.

Once the song was done, the lady thanked the audience for its’ round of applause before exchanging a few unheard words with the band, and they geared themselves up for the next number. I recognised it almost immediately. It was a jazzy rendition of SZA’s ‘Sweet November’. The lady on the stage sang with such striking passion and with a certain bounce to it that didn’t do away with the elegance the original carries.

Our eyes met at one point. It was strange. I got one of those weird little sensations you can never quite put into words. I was so caught off guard my stomach sank a little. And it was like in that very brief slice of time, the pace of everything changed and grew unclear.

I stood motionless, beer in hand, taken aback by the brilliance of it all. When she and the band were through with her set, they waved thankfully at the applauding audience and took a bow. The lady on the stage blew kisses to audience, the band behind her, and exited the stage while the applauds still reigned.

Thanks for reading! This is a revised piece from roughly two years ago now. I wanted to continue it, but thought I’d better redo this part first. I didn’t really have a particular focus with this one, simply just writing. Criticisms and feedback are always welcome. Also, let me know if you’d like me to read and give feedback on anything you’ve written, I’m more than happy to.

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