Music to me

Vesna Cvjetićanin was born in Yugoslavia in the 1960s and never imagined leaving it.  However, in the early 1990s, she found herself moving to Australia with her young family, and has been living in Canberra ever since.  A lawyer by profession, and formerly a public servant, Vesna now spends her time working as a mediator and interpreter, writing poetry, running two radio shows on Canberra’s 2XX FM (Mediation Today and Srbija u Mom Srcu [Serbia in my Heart]), and enjoying time with her children and grandchildren – not to mention her dear pup, Rikki the Whippet.

It was an ordinary Singaporean morning for all those rushing into the new day in their set ways. Not for me, though. I was walking energised by the bright morning and hot sun, which already shone strongly – although it was only around eight in the morning – and I loved it.

My only aim was to find a quiet spot where I could sip my first morning coffee while checking any new Facebook posts at a relaxed and leisurely pace, and take every breath with a calm feeling of uninterrupted freedom. It was the first day of my three month-long holiday and I was one happy woman, innately determined to smell the roses as I went.

Curiously, the first such opportunity presented itself very quickly – literally in minutes.

At a corner I had to pass, was a grey-haired, slim-built, smiley-faced man probably around 75 or so years of age. He was sitting on the ground, playing a huqin, a traditional Chinese stringed instrument. He was strategically positioned so as not to obstruct the pedestrian traffic – as it was a busy intersection with many people passing through on their way to work or nearby local shops. The man played the huqin with a bow, rather than plucking it, producing smooth, high-pitched sounds, familiar to those who have been exposed to traditional Chinese music.

I first passed him by and then turned around, remembering that I had a few coins in my pocket.  I went back and dropped them into the little box that had been carefully placed on the ground close to his feet. He was watching me and after I left the money, we smiled at each other and I waved at him, to which he put his right hand up in the air, palm towards me and said ‘high five’, which I accepted, returning the friendly gesture.

After my coffee time, I walked back towards the hotel down the same route and soon could hear the sound of the huqin, which was becoming more prominent as I approached the old man’s corner. To get there, I had to walk up a pedestrian ramp, which was not very wide –  maybe a meter and a half or so. As people were using the ramp in both directions, and I happened to be the only one going up at that time, I stood at the bottom to allow several people to pass first.

The last two people were an older man and a young fellow – they looked like a father and son, with the same long bony faces and same blue eyes. I could immediately recognise their Australian accents as they walked towards me. Not that I had any interest, but they conversed fairly loudly and I could not help but hear what they were saying just as they passed me. The older man observed, seemingly grudgingly, eyes rolling in the direction of where the music was coming from: “This is like pulling a cat’s tail…” The younger man did not say anything, but gestured in the air confirming – or not? – what the other man had said.

I had already started walking up the ramp and, surely, the huqin player met my gaze with an open smile, and I did the same towards him.  I treasure such little exchanges between strangers. He nodded and continued playing as I turned the corner.

Two worlds. And their different sounds. To one set of ears, it is beautiful, gentle, soothing music… to the other, an unpleasant squeak… 

But do they have to be so harshly judged?

© Vesna Cvjetićanin, 2022