She only screamed as a little girl, never sang, till they made her once in music class. Everyone went silent in a way she could never provoke with mere tantrums. The way they looked at her was a memory that followed her into puberty, into adulthood, across the ocean to another country- the memory shifted slowly, her constant companion, sometimes a mocking, jeering thing, sometimes the sweetest lover, and on the worst days- hope, the last thing that kept the balcony door of her tiny apartment shut.
She spent blood, wrung out of her by abusive boyfriends, and tears, that dripped slowly onto sodden pages full of what she thought of as pastiche-ridden lyrics, on fighting her way to the top of her mountain- a gig at a hotel, where she spent most of her first paycheck on a dress deemed barely acceptable by the pretentious manager that couldn’t keep the disdain out of his voice.
She kept something else in her own voice. A memory of friends and enemies captivated, taken somewhere far from the now, then.
When she was given notice during budget cuts she cried in the staff bathroom and rushed to re-apply her mascara before her final performance in front of indifferent lounge goers eating overpriced food bearing a poor approximation to the salty, home-spun fish dishes of the country she left behind so long ago.
She asked the entire lounge if they could paint with all the colors of the wind. She muttered “and for once never wonder what it’s worth” into the mic, embarrassed, and too aware of the relevance of the line.
When she finished the only person that applauded was one, lone boy of ten, who stood transfixed.
Later she became a waitress and never again sang to a room of more than fifty.
Before the boy clapped he had been running between adult’s legs, straining against his ridiculous dress shirt- all ten years of him aghast at the pomp and ceremony involving the ludicrous buffet. He pestered waiters and defeated his parents attempts to restrain him as he was deeply dissatisfied with the seriousness around him.
The voice of the saddest lady he had ever met stunned him, as she sang his secret- his favorite song from his favorite movie, stolen from his sister’s bedroom and watched after midnight whilst his parents were at a party. When she finished he clapped as loudly as he could manage, slapping his hands red.
He would not stop singing the song in the car ride home till even the chauffeur began to mutter imprecations. He had to Google most of the words, as he did not know what blue corn was, or how the fenced in trees with the laminated labels could have spirits.
Maths and science and his father’s position as vice president of something held little appeal, and could not sway the boy from the path set for him by a wayward song.
So he disappointed everyone who pretended to care about him as he bucked his inheritance and moved to a third-world country after failing his expensive high school education to sing in a small bar near a resort, where he met a beautiful woman who taught him Tagalog and how to fish.
It was sometime after that that he finally thought he understood the lyrics to his favorite song.