A pockmarked red headed man with a leather case in hand hurried along End Street, humming.
Endell Street used to be the Tin Pan Alley of London. It is short, drab and quiet. The trade has drifted away and expanded into a corporate universe. A few small music publishers remain, and one private recording studio.
Two men emerged laughing from the studio, John O’Neill and an American musician from New York named Shirman. Both winced at the daylight, though the sky was Gray.
The pockmarked red headed man passed in front of them and stopped humming.
O’Neill took a toothpick from his mouth and described a little circle in the air. “Hello, Harold,” he said. Harold shifted his eyes and quickened his pace.
O’Neill turned to the American. “He’s a clarinetist, Harold is. I gave him his first job in London five years ago. Now he won’t even say hello on the street.”
“Did you have a fight?” said Shirman.
“Fight? No. That’s just the way of them over here. He don’t mean any harm. The English are an inscrutable lot.”
“I know,” said Shirman. “I’ve been in London two years and haven’t made a friend yet.” He watched Harold turn the corner and disappear.
“Lad, let me tell you something,” said O’Neill, placing the toothpick between his teeth. “It takes twenty years to get to know an Englishman and when you finally get to know him, you find out there’s nothing to know.”
Shirman laughed. “How long have you lived here?”
“Twenty-five years last March. I visit Dublin once every few years just to remind myself that I don’t smell so bad as the English want me to believe.”
“How come you stay?”
“The money, lad. Better chance for work. But exile’s a penance, no question about it. Take yesterday. Yesterday I walk into the pub and the first thing that’s said to me is, ’Two English soldiers were killed last night in Belfast’. And the fellow looks at me like I did these killings personally, you see? So I say to him, ’Listen, Garvey, I paid my taxes in this country for twenty-five years’. Well, he just turns his back and won’t give me the pleasure of an answer. Garvey’s a trumpet player. We used to work together. They give me a laugh, the English.”
Suddenly O’Neill paled with terror. He touched Shirman’s arm.
“What’s wrong?” said Shirman.
“Don’t turn around. Just follow me.” O’Neill flung his toothpick into the gutter and hurried down the street. Shirman followed in bewilderment.
At the corner O’Neill took Shirman’s elbow, pointed at a shop across the road and said, “Let’s have a coffee in that place.” Then he broke into a run, dodging traffic adeptly.