August 2009 Archives

The Voice

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It was a recent Saturday in July when I heard it for the first time.

The mid-afternoon, pale winter sun was slanting through the half-open wooden blinds covering my bedroom window. I was standing near it, the rays drawing stripes of light and shadow across my body. I was getting ready to go to a party, and at that instant, the top half of me was almost entirely enveloped by a vapour of perfume.

I once read that perfume should never be sprayed directly onto the skin, but instead, upwards into the air. Then you are supposed to walk through the cascading mist so that the aroma can subtly, seductively, cling to you. Of course, I always forget to do it like that, and usually end up heavy-handedly dousing my entire neck and both wrists, as I did that day as well.

I was flustered, rushing to get ready before my ride to the party would arrive, yet also somewhat distracted by the show playing on the radio. The programme diverting my attention from being fully absorbed in the act of applying my mascara was Weekend Edition on NPR. National Public Radio, my favourite American talk radio station, which I’m still utterly amazed and thrilled to hear all the way on the other side of the world, thanks to the miracle of modern satellite radio.

Suddenly, I heard a gorgeous, male voice launching into an aria. Now, NPR is definitely what one could call a 'cultured' station. It caters to a diverse, discerning audience, and although the programme line-up mostly consists of talk shows and news, there are regular music shows too, devoted to an array of musical styles which includes jazz, blues and classical. But in that particular segment of the show I was listening to at that moment, the interviewer was chatting to an author about his upcoming novel. There was no music playing – not even in the background – but just to be certain, I muted the radio anyway. And sure enough, the rich baritone timbre still sounded. Until it abruptly stopped.

I waited in silent anticipation, hoping that it would start again so that I could figure out where exactly it was coming from. But the only singers willing to keep performing were the birds enthusiastically chirping outside. Other than that, the immediate vicinity was completely quiet. After a few silent minutes had passed, I pressed the mute button again, and - just as I was getting engrossed in the still-ongoing author interview again - the singing resumed. I dove for the radio once more, muting it for a second time.

Prompting the singer to immediately stop again.

“You must’ve imagined it!” was the general consensus when I later told people at the party about the mysterious voice.

“A ghost!” A champagne-toting guest volunteered.

Luckily no one was cheeky enough to proffer the possibility that my particular strain of insanity now apparently included operatic voices in my head, solely present to serenade me. I began to consider the idea of a ghost. It was a rather romantic notion. Perhaps my former sweetheart – a talented tenor – was haunting me? After all, hearing his perpetual, cheerful singing throughout our shared Baltimore rowhouse is one of the things I still miss the most about him. So maybe he was the ghost? Of course, the only extremely large hole in that theory was the fact that he is still very much alive, kicking (although, not the bucket) and performing with an a cappella group in Washington, D.C.

Over the following days, I kept my radio’s volume turned down, hoping that the voice would come wafting through my window or walls again. To no avail. The prolonged silence made me wonder whether the whole thing hadn’t just been a figment of my imagination – as so many of the party goers had claimed. Or perhaps I had been tripping after inhaling all that perfume I had drenched myself with that afternoon?

About a week later, I ran into my landlady. “I’ve heard the most amazing voice…” I said.

“Oh, yes, I’ve been meaning to tell you,” she replied. “The place next to yours isn’t vacant anymore. The new tenant is a student at the Conservatory.”

And just like that, the musical mystery was solved. Even though the shroud of secrecy had been lifted, I still wanted to hear him sing again.

One night, while I was watching television, he unwittingly answered my wish. This time, I waited a while before slowly turning down the sound on the TV. Since his bathroom window is situated right next to my bedroom window, I could tell that he was testing the acoustics in the shower. (Yes, I was really putting the ear in voyeur!)

Despite sharing a courtyard, our schedules are so different that we didn’t bump into each other for the longest time. I did see him, fleetingly, out of the corner of my eye once while standing out there, chatting to my landlady, but he literally sprinted by in a blur on his way to class.

And then, the Saturday before last, we finally met. I was on my way out, locking my door. It was a beautiful afternoon. He was sitting in his lounge, the windows flung wide open. When I closed the door, the sound drew his attention and he turned around. As I looked over, he gave a little wave and came to the door, where we finally shook hands and introduced ourselves.

After going through the preliminaries, I said: “I don’t mean to embarrass you,” (and as soon as I said that, I ended up doing precisely that, of course) "but I just have to tell you that you have the most AMAZING voice. Please sing often and louder!”

The poor guy immediately flushed crimson. “I’m so sorry…”

“No, seriously! Please! I lived with a tenor for years, and I miss it.”

He shyly brushed his fingers through his short, blonde hair. “I wasn’t sure how loudly I could practice,” he said. "So if you're sure..."

Ever since then, every night at around this time, he hops into his shower and works through some of his repertoire. When he does, I immediately mute my radio or TV, sit back, close my eyes, and enjoy the show.

Because these days, he doesn’t stop when he hears that everything has gone suspiciously quiet on my side of the wall!

is a South African girl living in South Africa. That doesn't sound very original, we know, but you might find it remotely interesting when you learn that she has only recently returned to South Africa for the first time after a nine year, one month and two week (non-stop!) stint in the United States where she accidentally became an outlawed alien (also known, especially in immigration circles, as an 'illegal immigrant.' We prefer the term 'outlawed alien' ourselves). During her reversed exile from her homeland, she kept herself occupied by winning this website (but only after shamelessly bribing the judges) and thus being unleashed on the web where she slowly, leisurely became the World's Laziest Blogger; by being a nanny and by attending sci-fi conventions in search of other aliens. In the US, she also made her sailing debut, her international acting debut, tried and failed to learn the piano, and never learned to cook. She is hopelessly addicted to coffee, dogs (especially Labrador Retrievers), how-to books (with a particular fondness for her copy of the Time/Life A - Z Medical Encyclopedia), and she tends to grossly overuse parentheses (we're not kidding) during her attempts at writing, which you may - if you really have masochistic tendencies - subject yourself to by reading the words to the right of this column. If you REALLY and truly STILL want to know more, you can read her C.V. here.
Or you can stalk her send her some love via e-mail at: redsaid[AT]gmail[DOT]com

The Wish List (Because yes, she really does need more how-to books. Honestly!)


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