I don’t write very many short stories, and have never had one published. The nearest I’ve got is reading them out at the Broadway Cinema in Nottingham. Also, they are not poems. Go to attach one here, though, because although it’s not a poem, it’s about a poem being written. (Or actually a song.)
By the way,the story has no basis in reality; it’s a kind of fantasy really. And a sort of homage – TheGirl from Ipanema has always been one of my favourite songs.
I set myself a particular task when I wrote this. I had to include the words of the song in the story. I think I managed it. What do you think?
Tall and tanned and young and lovely.
Ipanema is at the top of a hill, and the road from there to the beach doglegs steeply down through a jumble of crowded flats and garish, tatty shops. A constant blare and rumble of traffic swirls noisily past pavements lively with people. Radios and TVs boom from dim interiors. Women peer through windows or stand gossiping outside shops, chivvying the kids who hang out on every corner. Men in vests slouch in doorways, or lounge on balconies, dragging at cigarettes and watching as the world goes by.
Jiao sits at his first floor window, the shutters thrown open to let the sun stream in, and watches the scene, as he has every day for a week, waiting for the girl to go down to the sea. Half-heartedly, while he waits, he attempts to pick at the beginnings of a new song. He loves writing songs, and he’s good at it, but his gift has deserted him since the girl appeared. He strums a few desultory notes, and then, in frustration, strikes a loud jangling discord and lays the trembling guitar aside. He swears under his breath. It just won’t come. He knows a song is out there; but he can’t find it. Usually, it’s easy; he fumbles around, trying out riffs and phrases, and the song just emerges. It’s fun – like a treasure hunt, with chords and lines of lyric hidden in unlikely places. One by one he stumbles on them and brings them triumphantly out into the light. But not this time. Since the girl appeared he hasn’t managed to string two notes together, and all his attempts to pin down a song have ended in frustration.
The truth is she has him in a whirl. He aches for her. He can’t think of anything – or anyone – else. He’s obsessed. He spends hours at his window, watching out for her, waiting to see her each day when she walks to the sea. But every day, as she passes below his window, she looks straight ahead. ‘Not at me,’ he moans. And every day he falls more completely, and more hopelessly, in love.
He stares up the street, impatient, darting angry glances at the passers by. He is sure that everyone in the neighbourhood watches for her like he does, and he resents them all. For him her progress down to the sea is an event; when she passes the whole street holds its breath; every one she passes goes aaah! Even the traffic noise fades away, and cars slide soundlessly past. Engines stop revving, horns fall silent as she flows along. Men on balconies forget their cigarettes and beers, and crane their necks to see her, sighing their regrets and longing as she passes them by. Kids gawp, and mothers tut and mutter, glancing angry daggers at their silly, self-deluding, ogling husbands.
Jiao glances up at the clock on the building opposite. After one o’clock already. She’s late; perhaps she isn’t coming. He can’t bear the thought. Suddenly he hears a hush. It’s the hush he hears every time the girl from Ipanema goes walking. He turns and stares up the hill. There she is, making her insouciant way down to the beach. He watches her so sadly, all the way. She’s a dream, so tall and tanned and young and lovely. All along the stunned street heads turn to watch her pass. She takes his breath away. Every day she blazes past him, only metres below where he is sitting. And every day she passes without giving him a second glance. It’s breaking his heart. How, he wonders, will he ever summon up the courage to speak to her? How can he meet her? How can he tell her he loves her? It’s impossible.
Sorrowfully, he watches her as she comes towards him, and, hopelessly, he smiles at her as she passes him by. She never even looks; she just goes straight on down to the beach, oblivious.
“Aah!” he sighs, his heart broken again. “When she passes, I smile, but she doesn’t see. She just doesn’t see.” He’s in agony. “She just doesn’t see,” he moans, over and over.
“There he is as usual,” Astrud giggles to herself, as she turns down the hill towards the sea. Every afternoon he’s there, at his window, the sun shining in on him, as he stares out at her. And every afternoon she sails past him without glancing in his direction, never giving him the pleasure of knowing she’s seen him sitting there.
“He must think I’m blind,” she says to herself, “If he thinks I can’t see him.” She wonders why she always looks out for him, but can’t pin it down. There’s just something about him, something endearing about the intensity of his stare. He watches her so sadly. There’s no doubt about it; he’s smitten. Yes, he would give his heart gladly. She can tell.
Of course she’s used to it. Men are always falling in love with her. She feels them watching her. She hears them sighing as she passes. They’re so silly. One sideways look from her and they’re at her feet. One small smile and they’re lost. On the beach they pose for her, showing off, desperate for her admiration. For an approving glance from her they dash into the sea, and race each other to the little floating raft. From there they wave, willing her to wave back just at them. Then they plunge gracefully in and splash back through the tumbling sea, running up the beach to flop bronzed, wet and beautiful in front of her. They buy her drinks. They flirt. They try to charm her. She loves it all.
But somehow, all the time, at the back of her mind, she finds herself thinking about the boy at his first floor window. The beautiful young men on the beach cavort in front of her, and she smiles and laughs. But a corner of her thoughts holds a little picture of him, staring hopelessly at her as she passes him by.
“I wonder what it is about him?” she muses. “There’s nothing special about him, really. He’s not handsome. His hair’s a mess. He’s just a boy, like lots of others.”
She mulls the conundrum over lazily.
“Maybe it’s his eyes, those big, mournful eyes. Mm. Or it could be his mouth. Today he smiled, which was sweet. He has a nice smile. Maybe that’s it. Mm, yes, maybe it’s his mouth, his lips.”
She shrugs, an unselfconscious movement of her lovely shoulders that causes a seismic ripple amongst the men around her.
She asks Maria to find out about him for her.
“He’s called Jiao,” her friend reports, her eyes flashing mischievously, “He’s a singer at Gilberto’s. Not bad too, they say.”
“A singer,really? I’d never have guessed.”
“But, Astrud, why are you bothering with a shrimp like him, when you can take your pick of the gorgeous hunks on the beach. That Carlos is twice the man Jiao is, and ten times as handsome – and he’s crazy about you, naturally. I know which one I’d choose, if it was me.”
“But it’s not you, Maria, is it?” she answers, smiling. “It’s me. And that Carlos is only in love with himself. He wants me as a reward for being perfect. If you think he’s such a catch, I’ll make you a present of him. He’s yours.”
“Jiao”, she whispers to herself. “Nice name.” Is he really a good singer? she wonders. What kind of stuff does he sing? Is his music as timid as he is? She sighs. There’s only one way to find out; she’ll have to go to Gilberto’s and hear him play. She shrugs once more, devastating yet again the little crowd around her. She’ll go tonight, she decides. Men are such fools. If she waits for him to make a move, nothing will ever happen.
Jiao watches her till she disappears round the corner, out of his sight, down to the beach, away to her cluster of beautiful people. The street noises reignite, horns blare, radios boom. He feels deflated, as he always does. It’s all so hopeless. He’s invisible. She passes within feet of him, and doesn’t give him a glance. He even smiles at her, and she ignores him, leaving him grinning into space like an idiot.
He pulls the shutters to, and bangs the window shut. He needs to be alone. It might ease his heartache to spend an hour or two trying to cajole a new song into being, though he doesn’t hold out much hope of it happening. His songs have dried up since she appeared. He swears under his breath. It’s all so maddening. So wrong. He worships her; she should inspire him to write beautiful music, not block and frustrate him.
“If I can express even half of what I feel for her, the song would be sad like me and beautiful like her. It would be the perfect expression of my pain.” Jiao mutters to himself. “But it won’t come, and I’m stuck here dying of sorrow,”
The song lurks reluctant at the back of his mind, just out of reach, like the girl from Ipanema herself. He slumps down on his bed, his guitar cradled in his arms. He caresses the frets, shaping chords, and reshaping them, seeking out elusive harmonies. Suddenly his fingers tingle and a rhythm emerges. A samba.
“Of course,” he says to himself. “What else could it have been? When she walks she’s like a samba.” He laughs, delighted. In his mind’s eye he sees her, dancing, graceful, down the road. “That’s it, she’s a samba. She swings so cool and sways so gently that no other rhythm in the world could do her justice.”
He laughs again. The song is emerging from its hiding place at last. He closes his eyes and reaches down inside himself to coax it free. Released, the music slips gently, serenely, into existence.
Jiao smiles ruefully. It’s ironic; his newborn song is glad, it seems, to be released into his hopeless, melancholy world. He adjusts his guitar on his knee and starts to play. The words flow from him, effortlessly.
© Chris Pearson. 23 March 2011 [Originally 16 November 2004] 1848 words
The girl from Ipanema
Written by Jiao Gilberto
Tall and tanned and young and lovely,
The girl from Ipanema goes walking,
And when she passes each one she passes goes “a-a-ah!”
When she walks she’s like a samba
That swings so cool and sways so gently ,
That when she passes each one she passes goes “a-a-ah!”
Oh, but I watch her so sadly,
How can I tell her I love her?
Yes, I would give my heart gladly
But each day when she walks to the sea,
She looks straight ahead, not at me.
Tall and tanned and young and lovely,
The girl from Ipanema goes walking,
And when she passes I smile, but she doesn’t see,
She just doesn’t see,
No she doesn’t see.