It’s five in the morning and a grey light is starting to pierce the air. The frost melts beneath its touch. Trains begin to rattle down the line, their carriages empty, the platforms still and bare.
You stand upon that same spot where you first saw her. No-one passes you at this hour. And even if they did, they would think nothing of you.
One more thin gypsy thief, as the song goes.
You hold your battered guitar and begin to play. The notes dance upon the winter air, filling the silence, and for a moment you can almost see her there again, dancing, across the street which now feels like an endless river.
Her red dress sways and flows, the fabric fluttering around her as she spins. She steps to the rhythm of all your songs. Two separate acts playing out in unison. Every day you came and played. And every day she came in her red dress and danced barefoot on the pavement.
People always left their coins to her. You guessed they thought you were a single act, and though she took all of your earnings, you found you didn’t mind it very much.
You watched her as you played, and she smiled when she saw you.
That single smile cut right to your heart like a flame that cuts a path through the darkest night.
The next morning you came knowing full well you wouldn’t get a cent playing here again. But that didn’t matter. Not when her eyes sparkled with such life whenever she met your eyes. It’s been so long since anyone who looked at you truly saw you, which is why she took you by surprise.
She knew that.
Morning after morning you came and so did she.
When you finally approached her, your heart threatening to gallop out of your chest, she took your hand in hers and spun as though it was all part of the dance.
The more you saw of her, the closer you became, and the less troubled her eyes began to look.
So you spent all your stolen coins on a single rose for her. She pressed it to her lips, and then tucked the flower away in her dress, right next to her heart.
Then she gave you a lock of her hair tied with a ribbon the same colour as her dress.
The next morning she arrived late and her red dress was torn at the waist. She wouldn’t tell you why or how, she only pulled you in to dance with nothing but the noise of the busy street as your melody.
As the world turned around the both of you, you saw him. Her husband, she had said. Watching at a distance, holding a cigarette between his thumb and forefinger. She laughed carelessly, but something in her voice quavered. You both pretended it was all part of the act. You thanked her for the dance then returned to your side of the street to play your battered guitar while she danced.
But now it’s six in the morning, and she’s still not here.
Your tune emerges, empty and sad. People begin to fill the silence with the noise of an ordinary day. You stand there again the next morning, and then the next, and the next, playing and waiting, but she doesn’t appear. The sky remains heavy with the promise of a rain that never comes, while down below the city lies in shades of grey and black.
Your heart sinks a little lower each day. You grow thinner, more tired and ragged, as your eyes are slowly stripped of all their hope.
And then, one morning, a scrap of red fabric rises in a gust of wind and catches on the branches of a tree. You instantly recognise that shade of red. In your mind, you can see exactly where it would have sat on her famous red dress.
Softly, gently, you pluck it from the tree and press it to your lips. Then you tuck it safely into your pocket next to some stolen coins and a lock of her hair.
Your heart doesn’t break the way it might once have broken. It keeps beating the same way the hands on a clock might keep ticking, controlled by gears that force it to move despite time having stopped.
You don’t look at her smiling husband smoking his cigarette, his arm around another woman in another dress. You can’t bear to.
Laying down your battered guitar on the pavement, you walk away without looking back.
Just one more thin gypsy thief, as the song goes.