Travelers Welcome

Travelers Welcome

Thursday, March 29, 2012


by Bryan Murphy

He knows she is there.

The air is heavy with the aroma of coastal flowers and the Pacific humidity he associates with Dolores. The guitar awakes to Hamish's touch as he tunes it. The audience looks bigger than those he is used to.

Hamish felt very lucky when the leader told the band they would be playing the Jazz Festival at Zuntema, just along the coast from Playa Chisme, where he had met Dolores. He was sure she would come, for the rare treat of live jazz, if not for him. She had captivated Hamish by her easy sociability, by her height, which matched his, by her being at home in her own skin even amongst the lost souls of Playa Chisme.

Hamish, though, failed to prise Dolores away from the surfer. Four long months have passed since then: plenty of time for Dolores to have grown out of him, or tired of him.

The act before the Oaxaca Jazz Ensemble is playing. Its music barely creeps into Hamish’s awareness. He thinks of the music the Ensemble is to play, and suffuses it into his mind with the essence and the allure of Dolores.

Now it is they who are playing. Hamish produces his allotted notes. He would love to follow the tenor sax beside him into the heights and beyond them, but his instructions are to stick to the score and not try to show off his technical skills. Those skills had brought him invitations first to jam with the Ensemble and then to join them, an honour for a musician barely out of his teens that recognised his Oaxaqueno status despite frozen-north birth and features. Hamish is happy to do what they tell him.

At the end of their second number, he catches sight of Dolores. Has she changed? Her hair has bleached to a lighter brown. She is as self-composed as ever, at ease in town clothes. She slips out of his vision amongst the families replenishing plates and glasses.

Into their third number; his playing takes on an urgency. He is playing for Dolores, of course, calling to her, urging her into his orbit. By the fourth number, he is not showcasing his technique, he is his technique. Dolores is forgotten. The drummer starts to play off him, echoing Hamish’s chords in new riffs. Expectant looks are exchanged amongst the band, though Hamish is oblivious to them. They urge each other on with flickers of improvisation. The tenor sax dives deeper into the music and leads it in a new direction. Hamish follows him and then is following no-one, rearranging the tropes of the genre to outline new possibilities and then explore them. This is no longer technique but raw feeling.

The music stops rather than ends. Applause takes its place. The band stare at each other, exhausted, elated, astonished.

Hamish is back in his own head. He remembers Dolores. Now is the time to find her. He sets his instrument down at the edge of the stage and takes the steps that lead off it. High-fives and back-slaps mark his passage through the crowd. He has never experienced a reception like it. But where is Dolores?

The next band is tuning up when he spots her. She is not alone. Hamish recognises four of the group from the Playa Chisme summer. The surfer is not amongst them. Tomas waves him over. Greetings are effusive, congratulations sincere. But it is an age before he can get Dolores to one side, out of earshot of the others. He asks her to come to Playa Chisme with him, alone, now. She can’t. He insists. She won’t. He cannot believe her reluctance. He entreats her.

“Look, Hamish, you’re a nice guy but you’re just not my type.”

Hamish’s world stops turning. His blood has frozen in his veins. His liver has turned to lead. His head hurts.

The figure of Julio comes into Hamish’s peripheral vision. Now he is going to get hell for his disobedience. Julio nods at Dolores.

“Hamish,” he says, “we have to talk”.

But the band leader is beaming.

“Let’s get some beer and fix you some solo time for the gig in Puerto Desaparecido.”

Hamish is back in a turning world. He is starting to feel good.

No comments:

Post a Comment