Photography courtesy of William Wright
Christina stumbled out of the Cimmerian shadows. It was 7:30 P.M. and we were busking on a luminous tract just off Government Street, a picturesque roadway situated in the downtown district of Victoria. Government Street is an unwrinkled postcard of billowing patriot flags, flower baskets hanging from lamp posts, giant concrete flower pots hugging the curbs, pubs, dance clubs, theaters, and coffee shops. The shop window displays along Government Street are a European spectacle of English woollens, Irish lace, and Scottish tartans, and every now and then, the anomalous mercantile of First Nations fashions and jewelry.
Singing Summer Wine, a 60's song by Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood, is when Christiina came along. Christina was a bag lady, complete with a shopping cart full of bags, bottles, and cans. Moving directly beside us, right between Baron and myself, Christina joined us in song. When we sang Ian Tyson's Someday Soon it could have been Ian's sweet Sylvia joining us with her vocals. She didn't know the words to The Weight by Robbie Robertson, but Christina hummed along anyway.
Christina was scruffy. A soiled yellow bandanna was tied loosely around her head, the strands of mousy nut-brown hair still hanging over her drooping eyes. In another life her face might have been pretty, but her smirk and distinctive beer breath made it difficult to venerate. As if in uniform, she wore a small tight cotton t-shirt tucked into her tight fitting rayon pants, both of which might have been a crisp white at one time. Had it not been for Christina pushing her shopping shopping cart of belongings, she may have passed, on first glance, as a commonplace worker just off the late shift a laundry mat, a bakery, or a fast food kitchen.
After we sang The Weight, Christina went back to her cart, dug around a bit for some coin, then tossed nineteen cents, a dime and nine pennies into my guitar case. She told of us of how her husband had stolen her last beer, and then she sat down on the curb and cried. A lady passing by stopped, chatted with Christina, and handed her ten dollars on the promise that Christina would use it to buy food.
Beer is food, isn't it, Christina stated once the lady had walked out of sight.
Baron and I played a few more tunes before rolling up our mat and moving along, mainly to get away from Christina. For Christina, now, had decided to join us, her cart parked beside her, between Baron and myself. All the passers by, I am guessing, were believing the three of us to be a sort of busking trio, shopping cart filled with clothes, bottles, and cans included.
Imagine that! A busker worried that the people passing by may think he is nothing but a cadge!(Knowing what I know about the public status of both buskers and bag ladies, it very well could have been that the people passing may not have wanted to be bracketed with either one!)
At the time I was embarrassed – today I am ashamed that I was embarrassed! Christina, if ever you are reading this, here is a song I wrote just for you, and what might have been had we met elsewhere, an alternate history perhaps, a middle class misadventure -- in a downtown office on Government Street.
And, dear readers, on a social strata I did believe, in those musical moments, Christina to be beneath me – oh how could I have been so benighted! The epiphany of this essay is ironic, strange, and funny. It is ironic in the sense that I, a lowly busker, had somehow socially risen above a paying customer in the apparition of a bag lady. It is strange in the surreal sense that a bag lady stumbled out of the shadows to enlighten my life. And funny – our judgment of others is really a rather focused projection of ourselves. A social stratum is a social psychological stratum, nothing more, nothing less. To dare compare Christina's worth to my worth is not to imagine us being on even ground. We were, and still are, on even ground. I was to her as she was to me, nothing more, nothing less. Have a good night, Christina, wherever you may be!
[chorus – hum only]
[F]I only go to work so I can take another look at sweet [Em]Christina
[F]And every time she passes by she’s sure to always act the perfect [Em]stranger (stranger)
[F]That’s okay because tomorrow we’ll be together [Em]forever
[G]In my dreams
[F]Ooooooh sweet [Em]Christina (3x)
[G]In my dreams
With wanton eyes I stare each day at every move she makes my sweet Christina
[F Em]And every day she gives her raven hair a flick I know she knows I see her
[F Em]But that’s okay because tomorrow we’ll be together forever
[G]In my dreams
[BRIDGE]accented singular down strokes --Female singer for verse 3
[F Em]I only go to work so he can see me
[F Em]But I’m so shy when he’s nearby I act the perfect stranger
[F Em]That’s okay because tomorrow we'll be together forever
[G]In my dreams