The Singer of Les Marolles

Marching carefully so that I don´t step on an item somebody wants to trade for 5 euros or 50 cents: happy trash scattered all around the square doesn´t fascinate me anymore as it once did. Nevertheless, I drag my visitors to the Place de Jeux de Balle because it’s a Brussels must: You must see this open air flea market. Then I usually let them stroll, wandering myself, observing people, flipping through a stack of old postcards or a rag of old coats.

Drizzle and rain might spoil business a little, but people draw collars closer and hats lower and continue. Business cannot depend on sunny weather in this town.

It´s a crisp windy early spring to-day, when I catch a sound of mouth harmonica followed by a soft but sure voice rising above the shouts and laughs of the market. A lean face, silver hair, a man sitting on a stool continues the song as I approach:

If you ask any girl from the parish around,

What pleases her most from her head to her toes;
She’ll say, “I’m not sure that it’s business of yours,

But I do like to waltz with a log driver.”

The song goes on, a girl loves going down to the river watching young men at their dangerous work. Logs used to be driven down the wild river of Dunajec in Slovakia, too. Nowadays, it´s a tourist attraction mainly.

When the singer finishes, he remains silent, not expecting compliments or money, just being aware of my attention. After a while, he starts talking:

“I am from Canada myself, though not a log driver. I met my girl in this town. Back in the 60s. I travelled to Europe with friends, we stopped here for a weekend. Went out for the night. And I stayed.”

My friends are gesturing to me to come over. Enough of happy trash browsing, time for a coffee somewhere warm.

“Thank you for the song, and have a good Sunday.” Since always I have a difficulty to part with an interesting company. Is this man still happy with his girl? Living in a town when the river has been buried under the bitumen?

He nods to me and brings harmonica back to his lips.

Log drivers, tight-bummed, sun-tanned, river-knowing and risk-taking lads of Canada or Slovakia, for that matter.

About writingbrussels

Seven Writers. Three Languages. One City.
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