So you see why I got so excited when I recognised him, barely six metres away. At first I couldnt quite believe it, and I might have been a beat late with a chord change. Tony Gardner! What would my dear mother have said if
shed known! For her sake, for the sake of her memory, I had to go and say something to him, never mind if the other musicians laughed and said I was acting like a bellboy.
But of course I couldnt just rush over to him, pushing aside the tables and chairs. There was our set to finish. It was agony, I can tell you, another three, four numbers, and every second I thought he was about to get up and walk off. But he kept sitting there, by himself, staring into his coffee, stirring it like he was really puzzled by what the waiter had brought him. He looked like any other American tourist, dressed in a pale-blue polo shirt and loose grey trousers. His hair, very dark, very shiny on those record covers, was almost white now, but there was still plenty of it, and it was immaculately groomed in the same style hed had back then. When Id first spotted him, hed had his dark glasses in his hand I doubt if Id have recognised him otherwise but as our set went on and I kept watching him, he put them on his face, took them off again, then back on again. He looked preoccupied and it disappointed me to see he wasnt really listening to our music.
Then our set was over. I hurried out of the tent without saying anything to the others, made my way to Tony Gardners table, then had a moments panic not knowing how to start the conversation. I was standing behind him, but some sixth sense made him turn and look up at me I guess it was all those years of having fans come up to him and next thing I was introducing myself, explaining how much I admired him, how I was in the band hed just been listening to, how my mother had been such a fan, all in one big rush. He listened with a grave expression, nodding every few seconds like he was my doctor. I kept talking and all he said every now and then was: Is that so? After a while I thought it was time to leave and Id started to move away when he said:
So you come from one of those communist countries. That must have been tough.
Thats all in the past. I did a cheerful shrug. Were a free country now. A democracy.
Thats good to hear. And that was your crew playing for us just now. Sit down. You want some coffee?
I told him I didnt want to impose, but there was now something gently insistent about Mr Gardner. No, no, sit down. Your mother liked my records, you were saying.
So I sat down and told him some more. About my mother, our apartment, the black-market records. And though I couldnt remember what the albums were called, I started describing the pictures on their sleeves the way I remembered them, and each time I did this, hed put his finger up in the air and say something like: Oh, that would be Inimitable. The Inimitable Tony Gardner. I think we were both really enjoying this game, but then I noticed Mr Gardners gaze move off me, and I turned just in time to see a woman coming up to our table.
She was one of those American ladies who are so classy, with great hair, clothes and figure, you dont realise theyre not so young until you see them up close. Far away, I might have mistaken her for a model out of those glossy fashion magazines. But when she sat down next to Mr Gardner and pushed her dark glasses onto her forehead, I realised she must be at least fifty, maybe more. Mr Gardner said to me: This is Lindy, my wife.
Mrs Gardner flashed me a smile that was kind of forced, then said to her husband: So whos this? Youve made yourself a friend.
Excerpted from Nocturnes by Kazuo Ishiguro. Copyright © 2009 by Kazuo Ishiguro. Excerpted by permission of Knopf. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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