I was travelling on the underground, after a couple of stops some passengers got off and I had an uninterrupted view of the young man, strap-hanging in the next doorway. I noticed his hat first, dark tan coloured felt, folded tight around his head. The unadorned, close-fitting hat set off his smooth-shaven chin and high cheekbones, his fleshy lips just a little blue at the centre. He made me think maybe he was Russian, perhaps a Cossack with his high-collared, double-breasted grey coat.
He was holding a long stemmed rose in his right hand, unwrapped and in full bloom, a bright orange rose.
It seemed odd that the rose was unwrapped, unprotected, surely not bought from a florist, had he picked it from a garden? unlikely as this was late December.
I pondered, whilst waiting for my stop, the young man’s eyes were fixed on the floor at his feet, his only movement a gentle rolling of the stem in his fingers. I wondered who he would be meeting, to whom he would present his vibrant flower, orange is a symbol of amusement, the unconventional and the extrovert.
He had dressed carefully, pressed his trousers, polished his shoes, he looked out of place amongst the majority of youths in their casual mismatched clothes, he must be meeting someone important. He seemed serious, perhaps a little anxious though not excited, eager or optimistic.
We both got off at London Bridge station, swept along by the surge of passengers eager to catch their connecting trains to Kent. I tried to keep him in my sights curious to see to whom the orange rose would be delivered, maybe here at London Bridge Station on the gleaming new concourse.
It began close to me, at first a quiet humming like the start of an overture then building into a full-throated a capella song. The young man, a few steps in front of me on the long escalator riding upward into the cathedral-like concourse, had begun to sing in a deep rich voice, a song of haunting melody, of love and warmth and joy, though in a foreign tongue the tone was unmistakeable. All around people ceased talking, stood still and listened as his voice was caught up in the atrium, echoed and multiplied as if in a great concert hall.
It was a Russian song, sung right from his heart to someone he loved.
As we rose up into the open space, the crowds parted letting the singer walk on towards the centre of the concourse where a tiny figure was waiting, dressed in an elegant fur coat and hat. He knelt at her feet holding out the rose as he finished his song. The woman smiling, took the the rose in one hand and his hand in the other and they embraced. My last sight of them was a glimpse of their backs as they made their way to Platform 2 for the 17.28 to Walmer. All seemed right with the world as the the young man slid a protective, guiding arm around the waist of his adored grandmother.