Shortly after I arrived in New Zealand and my husband started showing me around, I would always notice buskers in big and small cities and sometimes even in small towns. I was curious about them and they never failed to fascinate me. On occasions when David would go to the capital city for business meetings, I would sometimes tag along and he would drop me off to where there were shops I could indulge in my "retail therapy". I would just walk in and out of shops or observe people moving about, birds on parks and everything around while he was having his meetings with clients.
One of my favourite hang-outs was Cuba Mall in Wellington. It seemed to be one of the favourite places in the city for buskers. Let me tell you first that Cuba mall was not like the SM malls of Manila which were huge, multi story buildings full of shops and people. Rather,Cuba Mall was a stretch of road where there were lots of shops on both sides.
I remember an instance when my eyes caught sight of something new in that spot of the mall where there used to be an empty space. There stood what looked like a newly-built monument. The 'statue' was that of a young man, tall and lean, donning a suit and a hat that I recalled seeing from pictures of men from a generation ago. The whole thing was the colour of bronze-y, muddy brown and was glistening under the mid-day sun.
Seeing that there were a handful of people milling about it, I took a cursory look, then a second glance. It was then that I noticed something unusual about the 'new monument'. The 'statue' in it was standing on a one meter by one meter platform and at the foot of the 'monument' was an opened overnight bag (containing some tools used by a builder or a carpenter) with the same bonze-y, muddy brown colour. When somebody from the crowd waved his hand on the face of the 'statue' some of the girls around started to giggle. A cheeky bird perched on his hat and other passers-by started doing their bits to distract the 'statue'. Another woman readied her camera and shouted, "Smile please!" That was when I saw his eyes moved! He was not a statue! He was alive! A real person busking as a stone monument! When onlookers started clapping their hands, I also clapped mine. Why, he was able to deceive me for a few minutes! Unbelievable! He looked like a real bronze monument to me! I was kicking myself though, for not bringing my camera and not being able to take a photo of that amazing busker!
I have since then made it a point to always bring my camera whenever we go out of town. But it was always awkward approaching buskers and asking them if I could take their picture while performing. The few shots I took of them, I would say, were not as satisfactory as the talents on display.
Another one that really captured my fancy was a young girl we saw at Alexandra in the South Island. She must be around 10 or 11 years old and she was making really beautiful music with her violin. Written on a piece of paper on the violin case at her feet was her reason for busking-'fund raising for a school trip'. After dropping two gold coins on the violin case at her feet, I asked her if I could take her picture. She didn't mind. An elderly woman who just could not keep her amazement to herself dropped two or more gold coins onto the violin case before giving her the thumbs up sign.
I would say, my fascination with buskers started when I was just starting as a beat reporter for a weekly tabloid in (sigh!) 1982.
On the right side corner at the entrance of the Santa Cruz Church in Manila (where I used to go to hear mass on Sundays), I would always see this man dressed in white shirt and khaki shorts with a white 'good morning' face towel on his shoulder. He was propped up on a square piece of wood with rollers underneath it, that enabled him to move around. He looked clean despite the fact that rain or shine, he was always exposed to the fumes and dust and grime on the streets of Manila. He had no hands and no feet. Birth defects, I learned later when I had the chance to talk to him. He suspected that his mother tried to abort him while still a foetus. But he never voiced out his suspicion to his mother, he said. His lower limbs stopped at his mid-calves and looked like stumps where legs were supposed to be. His arms were stumps from one or two inches from the elbows down. And to make matters worse, his empty eye sockets were mere slits on his face. It was a tough role assigned to him by our Creator. But he refused to be a burden, he said. So at a young age, he started to look for ways he could earn a little to get by. He learned to play the harmonica by pressing the instrument in between his stumps of arms and bringing it to his mouth. An empty tin can encased on his left leg stump was used to tap on the ground as accompaniment to his harmonica music. Church goers and passers-by would drop coins onto his second tin can that was conspicuously placed in front of him. Some other days when he felt like the people giving alms were tired of him, he would stray from his favourite post and would play his harmonica within the vicinity of that area. He could not stray far for obvious reasons. With the kindness of other people and his music he managed to get by on a daily basis. The second time I talked to him, I was with a photographer who took snapshots of him while performing. Pity that I did not keep any for myself. To this day, I am reminded of him whenever I see buskers around. Whatever happened to him after my interview with him, I have absolutely no idea. But one thing I was sure of, he was a brave man who lived to the challenges of his role in this world.