The morning dawns in a thick cloak of fog and I’m glad to be wearing snug winter boots and my favourite soft sweater, as I make my way across the road for tea.
Rafi welcomes me at the door. Pictures of his son and grandson pepper the walls, and the patterned throw rugs, pearlescent lamp shades and brown couches give the room an 80’s feel. But the sound gear and musical instruments strewn about the room are the latest models on the 2019 market.
Rafi, originally from Malaysia, is a computer programmer. “Most boring job in the world,” he informs me drily. But his hobby is music, and he is now preparing to play at an upcoming wedding gig with his friend and music buddy, Derek.
As I seat myself at the small window table, Derek welcomes me warmly, apologises for his need to concentrate, then turns back to handwriting musical notations onto a crumpled page.
Derek, like Rafi, has spent most of his life in New Zealand. This gentle Chinese man has the accent of a 65 year old Temuera Morrison but dresses like a 65 year old Sherlock Holmes – or how I imagine an older Sherlock would dress.
The first thing I notice is Derek’s navy jacket, to which he has pinned a yellow cloth badge – it depicts the New Zealand flag and the infamous Buzzy Bee toy. He wears a royal blue necktie on his white shirt, and a pink tartan scarf over that. A pink cord is tied to an old watch face which peeps out of his lapel pocket. A few stray pages with extra music notes and random scribbles are packed into the same pocket.
Derek’s trousers are a clean grey, their smoothness broken only by two mismatched waist pouches bulging with unseen treasures and tools. A jaunty cloth cap completes the look, and I half expect him to pull out a pipe with a whispered “Elementary.” Instead, he smooths the page on the table, hums a few notes, and sits back satisfied that his music arrangement is complete.
“Derek can play anything by ear,” Rafi smiles as he sets steaming tea in front of me. “We’ve been playing together for years, but I still need proper music.” He is downplaying his own effort and skill; it turns out Rafi taught himself to play guitar as a teenager.
“But I wasn’t a very clever musician,” he winks. “I played guitar for years quite happily, until I began to play with a band and realised there was this thing called timing.” He and Derek laugh uproariously at the thought of a musician who doesn’t know about timing. “Anyway, I took drum lessons to learn how rhythm works,” Rafi continues. “And after that the band was strangely happy for me to play with them again.”
We drink tea out of heavy ceramic mugs and swap stories of chugging through life in old, decrepit manual cars with gearboxes threatening to give way. Every now and then Derek scratches another notation onto his paper. His sheet music looks more like a treasure hunt map, rather than an organised score, but I don’t have time to question this Sherlock on the inner workings of his fascinating brain.
“We’ll play you a few songs before you go,” Rafi suggests. They rise from the table, seat me at a good vantage point, and begin to flick on mics and set up instruments.
Derek seats himself at an electric keyboard and fiddles with the sound box beside him. Meanwhile, Rafi pulls out a gleaming electric guitar. It’s glossy black and white appearance is in stark contrast to the stained felt-trousers and blue-checked pullover of the grandfather who holds it, but he caresses the instrument with the care of a musician at home with his creative craft.
“We still have two weeks before we perform,” Rafi tells me as he carefully tunes the strings.
“Oh yes,” Derek agrees, adding yet more scribbles to his long-suffering page. “We’ll be well ready.”
And then they are away.
Derek’s fingers fly over the keyboard, Rafi strums and taps his guitar, and together they croon Uriah Heap’s “Easy Living”. A brief pause and then they’re jamming to the Beatle’s “Treat Me Like You Did the Night Before”.
I am enraptured.
What an unconventional pair, and yet what joy and talent they carry in their music. There are a few mistakes and stumbles, but Derek has an art for smoothing rhythms back into place, and Rafi has such a warm voice that the songs feel all the more pleasing for their imperfections.
I am sorry when it’s time to leave. My imagination has been sparked and my spirit has been sent soaring by these two charming friends who were, until that morning, strangers to me.
You see, before I wandered across for tea, I had met Rafi only twice and Derek not at all. Yet even people with no obvious connections can find common interests and shared ground together. It all starts when one human being decides to extend friendship to another, as Rafi did to me.
My innate appreciation of music and my glad awareness of my own humanity has been stirred by their unabashed welcome and the artistry of sound they so graciously shared with me.
I will be thinking of the electric guitarist Grandfather and the musical genius Sherlock for quite some time.
Emma is an Italian-South African with a New Zealand passport and an international heart. She spent years running a puppet ministry and directing student choirs, before working for a humanitarian organisation in New Zealand (7 years) and Papua New Guinea (3 years). Currently a nomad living between various countries and towns, Emma's deep joy is in writing, music, cooking up an Italian storm, and taking time to listen to people’s stories.
Read Emma's creative expressions at http://www.girlkaleidoscope.wordpress.com
Emma’s previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/emma-mcgeorge.html