To Answer

                          The Peacock

Below is an excerpt from an exciting instalment of the adventures of our busker Alex Fraser

....I played.  The case filled quickly, and the fact obviously had nothing to do with my music; I was a fixture, a talking point, just like the wares in the windows.  To some of the women I was an excuse to peruse the shoe shop beside me, to others the shoe shop was the pretext, and I was the object of scrutiny.  I could see them speculate, trying to classify me.  What was I?  Just another beggar, or something more exotic, a fin de saison special offer?  Worth a closer look?  The ones who decided I was used my case to get it -and to buy themselves a few coppers' worth of admiration at the same time.  A franc for the chance of showing off a pretty pair of ankles, a neck as yet unlined by age; it was a bargain with flirtation thrown in free.  Once it was done they smiled with satisfaction at their own daring, snapped their handbags shut, and went on their way.

         I didn't mind.  It was harmless, and as the perfumed coin rained down into my case, I enjoyed them in my turn, and not just for their money or their looks.  I liked the care with which they took their expensive ease.  They were painstaking in their perusal, unhurried in their search for a lavish bargain, sure in their judgment of what suited.  Older or not, they were no less devoted to fashion than they'd been ten years before, or twenty -but it was all less frenetic now.  They'd learned discrimination, and this clever little corner knew how to help them exercise it, how to emphasise the fact that there was as much to look forward to as to look back on -plenty of well-tailored elegance to show madame how striking she could still look; cashmere, silk and lace to promise her tomorrow's finesse, but no jeans shops to remind her of yesterday's waistline.  The single dress in the window would make her ten years younger if she wanted to surprise, or ten lives older if she wanted to seduce.

         I played, I watched -and wondered what the men made of it all.  The odd briefcase went by, but hurriedly, as though its owner knew he had no place here without a chaperone, and when the waiter I'd seen earlier passed me again, en route to his home base at the next corner's cafe, he frowned, as though he held the territory's sole franchise for unattached masculinity.  But a few signs of male independence did exist, albeit with suitable discretion.  Brass plates announced the presence of M. le notaire or M. le medecin in the sober grey upper storeys.  Did they only come out after dark?  I smiled at the fantasy as I looked up into the first floor apartment opposite.  Through the open window I heard a man's voice answer the telephone and saw a striped cuff reach up to draw the blind.  It lingered long after the job was done, and I wondered; was I being listened to, or were the women being watched?