Monday column: The melody from the past

Opinion Sunday 10/March/2024 19:31 PM
By: Saleh Al-Shaibany
Monday column: The melody from the past

It is funny how far the mind travels down the passage of time. Even funnier that a momentary whiff of smell or a familiar sound can trigger off memories of long forgotten events.

I guess we become vulnerable to nostalgia when we feel sorry for ourselves. I am more exposed during the night then the day. It is something to do with the quietness and the complete darkness. Maybe because there are not supposed to be any sounds in the stillness of the night. But when this particular night dictated its own terms, I had no choice but to respond. The music floated amicably and in perfect variation with the airwaves. It was a woman’s voice singing and I strained my ears to catch the words.

Photo - Saleh Al-Shaibany

It was sad and full of grief. At times, as the wind changed direction, the music would fade and disappear to create a void in the atmosphere. It would float back but this time hauntingly and yet mesmerising. The best part of it was that I recognised the tune. As I lay in the darkness, listening and watching the shadows shifting on the ceiling, I was transported back in time. The song sent me back a considerable stretch of time. As a child, the radio repairman blasted this music in full volume. It did not please everyone in the neighbourhood but he had a lot of men who crowded outside his shop to enjoy what came out from his rattling speakers.

The funny thing is that, the song did not mean a thing to me those days. I was busy rolling marbles on pavements to listen to old singers complaining about their love affairs. It meant a lot to the old folks and they never got tired of it. The old record never gathered dust though the scratches grew deeper. I never remember the door of the shop being shut, except in the night. And one morning when it shut, they came through the back door, up the winding stairs to get his body down to the burial place.

I was there watching but could not understand what the fuss was all about. When you are 10, the world never stands still. It moves on even when old people drop dead in your neighbourhood. But one thing left a life-long impression. That music from one old man held the community together. And the silence that followed after the shop had closed was felt by everybody. The men dispersed and they had to find other places to hang around. Eventually, the shop was rented to a much younger man selling sweets. Unfortunately, he lacked the charisma the old man commanded in the neighbourhood. The place lacked warmth and so the charm that attracted people.

In other words, looking back now after all those years, the neighbourhood lost its soul.

The new sweet shop never took off. I guess people dismissed it immediately and never gave it a chance. It closed just months later. Every attempt to set up business there collapsed. Soon, the owner of the building decided to convert the shop into a sleeping accommodation. When the song stopped that night, it was never followed by another one.

It was as if the old repairman came back to play it for me one more time. When I woke up in the morning, I raised enough doubt in my mind to convince myself that it was nothing but a dream. Who else would play just one song in the dead of the night and loud enough for me to hear? Strange things do happen and they only turn up when the shadows grow longer.