It was a voice carried by the wind through the semi-deserted streets of a Norwich Sunday afternoon. A voice that sang not into your ear but into your heart. I started walking towards it.
He was standing outside NatWest Bank, on London Street. He looked about fifty but I suspect his weatherbeaten face was adding several years to his true age. The ruddy cheeks of someone used to being outdoors. Not the complexion of a man from the city. I wondered if he was a farmer. Or perhaps a fisherman? His jacket was threadbare in parts, and there were indelible stains on his trousers. Something that looked like an old anorak was spread on the pavement at his feet. A few coins were scattered on it. How else did this man make his living? I wanted to ask him why he was standing on the street corner. What had brought him into Norwich – or what had pushed him out of his home outside the city. Instead, all I could pluck up the courage to do, was walk up to him with a few coins, drop them into the palm of his hand and say, “You sing so beautifully.”
He smiled. “I’m glad you like it.”
I was angry with myself for having only small change in my purse. I stood for a while, listening to that voice. A voice with no training, no polish but which shone as clear and bright as the East Anglian sky. There was no artifice in his performance. He sang from his heart. A song as simple and true as the earth. It was a folk song – but not the kind you hear at folk festivals, with acoustic guitars and mic-ed up voices and deliberately uncombed hair. This was a song of the people who work with their hands and are true to their hearts. I imagined it must be a Norfolk song. It was so simple, so straight, so innocent and yet so full of strength. I felt my heart expand up to my throat.
A few days later, I saw him again. This time, he was standing on the corner of Castle Street. He was wearing a clean blazer. Once again, the anorak on the pavement at his feet, a few coins strewn over it. I opened my purse. With the excitement of a child, I walked up to him with a banknote. He looked at me as though he recognised me.
I stood across the street for a long time, listening to that voice. That simple, straight singing, as honest as the soil, and the wind and the East Anglian sky. My heart expanded once again. This time, it pressed against the back of my eyes, and I slowly walked away, trying to stop tears from dripping out.
I hope I hear that voice again.