Cheap Champagne

I’ve been taking this particular route once a week these days, usually to go see my two friends, Margaret and Amy. We make dinner together and talk about how fast, sweet and hard “real life” is hitting us. On this particular night, we planned to make breakfast for dinner, complete with homemade bread French toast, Margaret’s contribution of course, and mimosas. Being tasked with purchasing the mimosa ingredients, I stopped by Target after work. I felt young and naive walking through the alcohol aisle, looking for cheap champagne. Will my friends prefer dry or extra dry? What exactly is Prosecco? After confused deliberation with no knowledge on which to base my decision, I grabbed the cheapest option and quickly sauntered to the checkout line with my head held high.

The store was packed with tired people who had just gotten off of work and were desperate to go home, myself being one of them. When I got to the front of the line, I realized that I wasn’t the only one who felt embarrassed about being young. My cashier was clearly in her teenage years and was unable to sell alcohol to me without her manager’s approval. So when the cashier turned on the blinking lights to signal the manager’s attention, I sighed inwardly thinking of the inconvenience she was causing me. After 3 minutes of waiting (or what seemed like 10), the manager finally appeared and typed in a necessary code. I quickly purchased my ingredients and went on my way to the Blue Line.

I descended the stairs into the rumbling dungeon that is the CTA and noticed that the next train would be arriving in 10 minutes. No sooner after I inwardly groaned at my “lengthy” wait time, did I hear a sweet, pure voice singing, “If blue birds fly over the rainbow, why, then oh why can’t I?”

It stopped me at the bottom of the stairs. It made me look, really look, for the first time all day. For the first time that day, I actually saw another human being, and that human happened to be a man singing “Over the Rainbow” in an echoey CTA tunnel, eyes closed, hitting all the right notes with ease, and wearing a red beanie.

It felt something like having spent hours in a hot, sticky room, when suddenly, someone flings open a door to the outside and chilling air sweeps in, almost knocking you over with sensation. I wasn’t aware of the stuffy room at all, until I felt the cold air hit my face and remind me of all the self-absorption.

This man’s voice is the purest I have ever heard. So effortless and lovely. He moved on from “Over the Rainbow” to “Stand by Me” and I couldn’t help myself but to inch closer and closer to him. Soon I didn’t want my train to come; I only wanted to stand and listen, eyes closed and really listening, with maybe a few tears sliding down my cheeks. I haven’t had a good cry in a while.

I looked down and saw the orange juice and champagne in the big Target bag and realized that I had nothing to give this man. Nothing would be good enough. He had given me so much: his pure voice in my ears, the cold air on my face. He also gave me a sense of my own humanness. He reminded me of my cashier and her teenage years and how I want her to feel bold and unashamed of her youth, and how I’m really not that much older. He made me feel more like myself than I had in a while.

Finally the train pulled up and I reluctantly stepped on whilst throwing my last glance at the man with the pure voice. And then I wrote this.

Thank you, dear man with the purest voice. Thank you for singing and for flinging wide the door in my stuffy room.

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