I heard the Rastafarian play many, many times. He would play between 2 and 6 songs each time, up to 5 nights a week (sometimes playing at 2 venues in a night). He recycled songs, obviously, but most weeks he would have at least one new song, as a result of ‘jamming with the brothers’. But given that I heard him play many, many songs in the time I was with him (and the months previous to that, when I was watching him without knowing him), it is worth noting that I heard him play only 2 covers. Both were Bob Marley: one was ‘Three Little Birds’ and the other was ‘Mr Chatterbox’.
I hated hearing him play the latter. I pulled him up on it afterwards. You don’t normally play covers, I queried. They requested it, he explained. He was right; a chap next to me had nominated the request and someone else had seconded it. For the reggae novices, the lyrics describe Mr Chatterbox as ‘always to receive, never to give . . . Mr Chatterbox, you are a big disgrace’.
I watched the Rastafarian sitting on the stool, with that warm, inclusive smile, singing about this disgraceful character and I marvelled at how he could brazenly sing about himself. I actually started to wonder if he had a personality disorder. You can only sing about disgraceful people if you acknowledge their disgrace, surely? Yet he was Mr Chatterbox!
He knew most people in most pubs we visited. Women were ‘sisters’ and men were ‘brothers’. He was gentle and quiet and everyone treated him gently and quietly. To be fair, much of the respect he was shown was probably due to his musical talent and I would not wish to question that. But these relationships were superficial, as he gave so little of his personality to these ‘friends’. He would quietly ask me to buy him drinks, which I did, if I had money. If I didn’t have money, he had a subtle knack of procuring drinks from others. Sometimes, he had money and he would buy drinks for both of us. Despite my pleas for him to stop throwing money at the gradual destruction of his liver and to start repaying his debt to me, he mumbled incomprehensible arguments and my money went to the upkeep of local hostelries every time. As I started to realise that I needed to employ new tactics for the return of my money, I also started to realise that I may as well accept drinks from him, because at least I was receiving something.
The adoration he received was totally incongruous with how deserved it was. His audience was enchanted by his playing and believed that the beauty of his songs was a reflection of his persona. I longed for just one person to witness The Angry Rastafarian, The Manipulative Rastafarian, anything other than this sweet, sycophantic lie. I have to admit that resentment was creeping up on me. Maybe it wouldn’t have if he hadn’t attempted such control within our relationship. You don’t smile enough while I play, he complained, everyone in the pub talks about it. I doubted this, but nonetheless I made an effort to smile more next time. Why did you shout at me about going home, he asked, everyone heard. I never shout, I replied, I simply said that I was going home because we had agreed on a time yet you wanted to stay. There was no agreement, he said . . . He was paranoid. And not forgetful – just a very spoilt man who resorted to lying to get his way.
There is a saying that ‘you can’t pour from an empty cup’ and he was that empty cup . . . a broken, empty cup because no matter how much I poured in, whether it was financial or emotional help, it was never enough; it was seeping out through a crack. He was broken and I admitted defeat; I couldn’t fix him. And I was becoming an equally empty cup.
One day he said to me: ‘Honey, I want you to bring your troubles to me. Never suffer alone.’
So I did.
Bear in mind that I had listened to his troubles, helped him financially, massaged his tense shoulders and neck and never once cried on his shoulder; to be frank, I had doubted his shoulder could cope with anyone else’s troubles; not even a tear drop.
And it would seem I was right. Now, just to get things into perspective, I realise, in the big scheme of things that my woes are not in the league of living through a genocide or never seeing my children. Also, as previously stated, I do realise that I have never suffered either of these things and so I didn’t need to be told. However, I do believe that people are allowed to feel a little self-piteous from time-to-time about things other than surviving a genocide or not seeing their children. (And I would like to add that as regards the latter, I was very concerned and arguably more pro-active than he was.)
I didn’t intend taking my troubles to him; I was just feeling a little down and he noticed, so, recalling his offer, I confided in him the source of my upset. His reaction was bizarre; he became cross and shouted, to the effect of ‘you don’t know how lucky you are’. In a horrible, twisted way, he managed to quell my upset because I was fascinated with his absolute inability to cope with someone else’s troubles. Wow, I mused, this guy is completely egocentric. I stared at him, the narcissist, and then my phone made a noise.
He had taken centre stage and so, whilst he delivered this remarkable, improvised soliloquy to me, his only audience member, I took my phone out to read the message that had just pinged, happily, onto my phone.
His voice became white noise and as I read the message, I could feel the colour leaving my face to make that white too. The words on my phone seemed to be moving around against the white background and my hand shook as I turned it round to show him.
‘What’s going on?’ my voice was small but as he saw the words too, on the screen, he stopped ranting so he heard me clearly.
But he wasn’t quiet for long. The message infuriated him. The message that told me that someone else was the Rastafarian’s girlfriend and was there something going on between the two of us?