CHASING THE SHADE
Hiding in plain sight under a Cherry Blossom tree isn’t easy to do when they come into bloom. Cultural ignorance? Horticultural ignorance? For me the tree was much needed shade on an unusually hot Spring day in the heart of Sydney’s west.
Being a street performer has its downsides. You’re in trouble if you go into it with any sort of ego. I sing and play guitar to a mostly oblivious audience. The odd person tips you. I get thanked sometimes. Abused other times. The elderly like the music I play. Occasionally you’re asked if you’re homeless (even wearing a nice dress, a full face of makeup and a $1000 worth of music equipment at your side).
Under the shade of the cherry blossom someone offered me a half eaten cheeseburger. I politely declined.
5 minutes later someone told me “With a voice like yours you should be on a stage”.
No thanks. I’m just chasing the shade. Hear me. Don’t see me.
A guy came past with a labradoodle. Furry gentle beast tied up to a pole right near the tree. The dog sat there like a good girl while her human did a shop. I was singing “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Mis. Fitting.
The few people who were watching me turned their attention to the dog. “Oh my god” a teen girl screeched.
“And they turn your dreams to sha-a-a-a-a-m-e”
Several kids started patting the dog. The teen girl was kneeling beside it, gently needling her fingers through its puffy mongrel coat. Wouldn’t it be great if we could breed all our human imperfections away? The perfect obedient person who is aesthetically pleasing, easy-going and uncomplicated.
Okay that borders on fascist eugenics and I take that back. Problematic.
But a simple life would be nice right? To feel open to someone touching you and knowing they’re doing so with good intentions. To be reassured you’re good on a regular basis so long as you follow some simple commands.
I’m not religious due to a basic lack of belief in God. But I envy those who are. It must be wonderful having a list of rules and commands to follow and know you’ll be loved and appreciated by your deity and community if you’re a good girl.
I don't know how to write my own rules.
I was jealous of the dog. Damn that fucker for upstaging me.
But I won’t want to be noticed right? The Cherry Blossom gives me shade.
“I had a dream my life would be
So different from this hell I’m living
So different from -”
I cut the song off abruptly when a startled, strangled yelp escaped from the inner depths of my damaged psyche.
Something had fallen on my shoulder. Was it a bee? A bug? A butterfly? The latter is pretty but still scary. If it’s a bee then Jesus... I’ve never been stung before. What if I’m allergic? There’s no shade when you go into anaphylactic shock. Everyone would notice me then. The fear of death versus embarrassment skates on a very thin line.
A flower. A beautiful pink flower.
I heard a voice: “The tree is starting to bloom”.
An older man with a reassuring smile. “A good thing” his face said. “Nothing to fear. You’re safe”
I took a breath and laughed it off like I usually do in a moment of panic.
“The tree will look very nice soon,” he said. “Beautiful with your voice. Please keep singing”.
He patted me on the shoulder and a small part of me wanted him to say “Good girl”.
A southerly hit a few hours later. The heat dissipated and the air became cool and crisp. I no longer needed the shade but I remained in it.
The weeks passed as they do. It was a pleasant Spring leading into October. It’s the Labradoodle of seasons. Pleasant is the right word. Good weather.
So I found myself sitting under the full bloomed Cherry Blossom. I was initially confused why so many folks were getting their phones out. Oh god please don’t film me while I’m singing. Listen. Don’t look.
I soon realised it was the tree they were filming. Of course. Now upstaged by my shade.
The flowers continued to fall. Sometimes onto my head. Shoulders. One little bastard fell into my cleavage. Awkward.
But for the shortest of periods my fear abated. As much as it can for someone like me. The distraction of music was interrupted not by anxiety or danger. But by something beautiful. It’s hard to catastrophize a shy flower. It hides itself from the world for most of the year. When it blooms it escapes the shade.
What if I gave myself three weeks a year to find the sun? Is the sun a stage? Or is the sun just living?
The guy turned up again with his labradoodle. People were more interested in the Cherry Blossom this time. A couple of flowers rained onto the doggy mongrel fur as the animal sat there oblivious. I stopped singing. It was time for a quick break. I got up and gently removed the flowers from the dogs coat. She stared at me with a docile joy.
“Good girl,” I said, patting her. She'd done nothing to be congratulated for other than just existing. “Good girl,” I repeated.
Existing. That’s what dogs do. They exist. But do they live? Sure. They live for a frisbee thrown at the park. For mealtime and treats. For pats and attention.
And they deserve all the love in the world for that.
But they know nothing about climate change or geo-politics. They don’t hold their breath if they feel Western democracy teetering. They don’t have to pick through outfits in the morning and wonder if showing some cleavage might make them a target.
But they also don’t get to experience or appreciate the fleeting beauty of a tree that blooms for 3 weeks a year. They also don’t have music.
We fall in love and we fight and we fuck and we cry and we struggle and we hide in the shade to avoid those things. But you can’t see the tree if you’re sitting under its shade.
I walked into the sun. The tree looked magnificent. The shy flower was living.