There was a special pocket on the inside of his frayed backpack. It contained two bent cigarettes, a box of matches and folded sheets of song lyrics.
Many years before, Gabe’s song ‘Just Looking for Love’ had played on the radio. He stood at the kitchen window holding a sponge as the riffs sent waves of bliss through him. The bubbles in the sink gleamed, rainbows on their curves. The words caressed, the voice of the singer mellow and rich. As Gabe remembered, he sang under his breath– ‘I’m just looking for love, that would be from above, to come and love us as we are…’
The record company had written a check for five hundred dollars. Gabe’s eyes shone as he signed the contract. He skimmed over the words, looking for the horizontal line at the bottom where he signed with a joyous flourish. The executive ran his fingers through thinning grey hair and shook Gabe’s hand. His pebble-like eyes were impassive, his lips bared in a smile.
‘You’ve done the right thing, Mr Holbrook. ‘Just Looking for Love’ will be a hit, I’m sure.’
The man was right. The song made it to number one in a week, and went on to win a Grammy. Yet Gabe’s name was never attached to it, and he didn’t receive any more checks.
Gabe had a straw mat he rolled up at the end of each day. He washed his face in public restrooms. He barely recognized himself in the mirror, his hair as wild and matted as a scabrous dog, his lips cracked and pale against dark skin. He blinked at his reflection, hoping someone else would appear when he opened his eyes.
Cross-legged on the mat, he held out a green plastic mug. It was late afternoon, the shadows of buildings cast long stripes on the pavement. A young girl walked by with her father and brother. She glanced back at him several times, then leant up and spoke in her father’s ear. She was lithe yet hunched in the awkward way of preteens. Long chestnut hair swung silken at her back.
Gabe had two dollars in his mug, collected over two days. It helped to have some money inside. People were encouraged by the generosity of others. The girl approached and beamed, met his eyes and pressed five dollars into the mug. He smiled back with his mouth closed, worried he would scare her with the brown stumps of his teeth. She turned to leave and he held out his palm.
‘Wait, thanks kid.’ His voice wavered with disuse. ‘I have something for you.’ He rifled in his bag and pulled out the lyrics. ‘I wrote this song. It even played on the radio. Maybe you could take it to some music people, get it played again.’
The girl took the piece of paper and examined it. ‘It was really on the radio?’
‘Sure was. Happiest day of my life.’
‘That’s so cool. I have to go now. Nice to meet you.’
Gabe nodded, waved and watched her skip away. He would buy a hotdog and some cigarettes. Maybe a coffee in the morning to warm his chest. He returned to his memories, his fingers strummed the mat as he sang the final words.
‘And when you fall in love, remember that you was with a pretty girl, your wife, and your kids. To be glad, that you was a good Dad. Just looking for love…’
Dedicated to the homeless man in San Francisco, who gave my daughter his song lyrics.