Harold and the band
Harold’s leg was hurting him as he stumped along the high street. He scowled and tried to ignore the new stabbing sensation in his stomach. It was nothing, probably something he ate - even bread and butter gave him the trots these days. It made him long for those long gone days when he could neck six pints and a chicken vindaloo on a Friday night and never feel a thing.
And then he heard them and rage drove him onwards. He thought he’d made it quite clear last Saturday; no more of that sort of thing in town. It wasn’t appropriate. He didn’t mind the Sally Army at Christmas. That was respectful. Traditional. But this? This was just a racket and they had no business inflicting themselves on the high street.
He could see them now, the winter sun glinting off the metal bells of their instruments, the smart red and black of their matching T-shirts. The way they danced about to the strange rhythms and discordant squawking.
Everything about them enraged Harold.
He stormed over to one musician - a young lad, maybe in his twenties - and without really thinking about what he was doing he tore the instrument from the lad’s lips and hurled it to the ground with a clatter.
The music stopped. Harold was aware of a deafening silence broken only by the sound of his own furious voice. “I thought I told you…” and “absolute disgrace…” and “total racket - ashamed…” but he was watching the scene at a distance, from behind the burning pain in his stomach and the throbbing ache in his leg and the desperate unhappiness roiling away in his chest.
And then nothing. Blackness.
The next thing Harold knew, there was something soft under his head and he could hear the quiet beeping and pumping of machinery.
Slowly, Harold peeled open his eyes. He felt like he’d been hit by a truck. He was in a hospital bed, wearing one of those open-backed paper gowns. As he tried to sit up a young nurse bustled cheerfully in.
“Oh Mr Jones, you’re awake. How are you feeling? Your visitors will be glad to know you’re up”
Harold muttered something under his breath.
“What was that?” she said, fiddling with the tubes and wires that surrounded him.
“I said that I won’t have any visitors. They must be here for someone else. There’s no-one left to visit me anymore.”
But then, just outside the room, Harold realised he could hear the rustling and stifled breathing of a great many people trying not to make any noise and in trooped thirty people - from teenagers to pensioners, all wearing matching red and black t-shirts...
Before Harold could articulate his horror that even here he couldn’t escape their cacophony, the musicians began to play a soft, sad, slow piece, just for him. He remembered it vaguely - a tune from his childhood, perhaps.
“We thought you might not be feeling your best,” said the man conducting. “So we pulled together a bit of music that you might like a bit better than our usual racket to cheer you up.”
And instead of the rage he had been expecting, Harold felt an unexpected warm glow beginning in his chest as he lay back in his hospital bed and wasn’t alone anymore.