The table lamp created a warm pool of light on the surface of her writing table. Her Moleskine was open on a blank page – the same blank page from two hours ago. Not a single sentence, not even a word. The prose that usually flowed like a nightingale’s song from her pencil kept eluding her. She was beginning to feel the start of a massive headache caress her temples. It was no good. Though she had kept thoughts of Azhar locked away in the remotest recesses of her heart, Sarah had never really succeeded in keeping him there. On the occasions that he broke free – like tonight – he would make it clear that he was never ever going to go away.
She had met Azhar two years ago when she went to Tottenham Court Road’s celebrated Randy’s Guitar Workshop to buy her first guitar. She was surprised to find a Malay sales assistant attending to her instead of some Caucasian who tried his best at looking like his favourite rock-star guitar-hero. However, it immediately became clear to her that the Malay sales assistant was very polite and extremely knowledgeable about guitars. But more importantly, he was genuinely interested in getting her the guitar that suited her requirements best. In fact, he had spent a good part of twenty minutes just talking to her about her requirements, expectations, and of course, budget. When he was satisfied he had all the necessary facts, he picked out a rather odd-looking guitar (one with a curved back) from the shelves. He expertly tuned it by ear, and handed it to her. As if by magic, it fitted her like a glove and played like a dream. She was sold.
Looking back, she shouldn’t have asked him for a demo. It was perhaps the biggest single mistake she had ever made. But when she persisted, he led her to a quiet corner of the shop. He cleared his throat, asked to be excused if his performance was not up to par, and began his version of James Taylor’s classic, ‘Fire and Rain’.
That was when he stole her heart.
It was unlike listening to any other song she had ever heard before. Her ears played no part in the listening process. Instead, his voice, the lyrics and the harmonies created by the guitar’s six strings congealed into a fiery spear of the sweetest smelling roses and jasmines that went straight to her heart. It stayed there, never to be dislodged – even to this day.
His playing touched her in places where no one had ever touched her before; places where no one ever will again. For the entire duration of the song, she had felt as if this guitar wielding stranger had somehow learnt of all her deepest darkest sorrows – and was intent on chasing all of them away. It was as if – in another time and place – they had known each other since time itself began. It was frightening how, in her heart, she knew that every song he had ever sung, he had sung only for her.
But did he know it as well?
She was still in a daze when he finished. A gentle, “Are you all right, ma’am?” jolted her back to reality. It took a few excruciating – and slightly embarrassing – seconds for her to recover. When she finally regained her composure, she declared in her usual business-like manner, “I’ll take it”. She paid for the guitar at the cashier and left; the entire time wondering if she would ever hear him sing for her again.
She didn’t have to wait long. On one of her infrequent trips to Malaysia Hall, she saw him again, busking at Marble Arch station. With his army surplus M65 field jacket, shoulder length pony-tail and distinctive guitar playing, he appeared to her almost larger than life on that glorious spring day. And though he was far from any popular notion of what handsome usually meant, there was something appealing, almost ethereal about him: A lost and comically stoic samurai curiously caught in the wrong historical era. But she knew, beyond all knowing, beyond all doubt, that he was her samurai.
Despite a group of adoring female Italian tourists who were obviously flirting with him, Sarah felt it all over again: That undeniable knowing that when he sang, he sang only for her. And when their eyes finally met, in that instant frozen in time, his eyes told her that he knew it, too.
When he finished, she summoned all her courage and walked up to him. And when he saw her, his face lit up like the horizon at the break of day; full of life, full of promise. The way he looked at her made her feel as if she was a vibrant, carefree teenager again. But most of all, it made her feel as if she once again mattered.
“What are you doing here? Don’t you already have a job at Randy’s?” she asked casually
“Beer money, ma’am.” he replied with equal casualness.
“Listen, if you’ve got the time, I’ll buy you all the beer you want; but only if you’ll tell me who you are.” Sarah couldn’t believe she had said that.
“Very good, ma’am. But only if you’ll tell me who you are, too.”
And that was how it all began. Now, although she had not met him in over a year – not since she had moved to Manchester – she wondered if it would ever end.
The door opened slightly and sent a sliver of light into the darkened room. She turned to see her husband’s familiar face in the narrow crack.
“You’re not sleepy yet, honey?” he asked with a hint of playful mischief in his voice.
“Good! Could you be a darling and maybe pop into the bedroom? I’ve got something to show you. It’ll only take a few minutes.”
She knew what he wanted to show her and what exactly it was that she would have to do. After all, it usually did take only a few minutes. Sarah closed the Moleskine and switched off the table lamp. As she closed he door behind her, she prayed that the chains that held Azhar in his prison would keep him there – at least, for the next few minutes.