Some people seem to carry their past in the way they walk. It’s all there on show. In a shuffle or a stoop or a spring in the step. Their upbringing, schooling, parenting, status. He certainly carried his. Somewhere between a swagger and a lilt. A strange kind of gait, confident, but uncultured. He had a ready smile too. Boyish, though he was well into his forties by the time we met. He was about to go and play a gig at a nearby club. A shaven-headed minder lurked in the shadows, a barrel of a man with fists like small rocks. He noticed me clocking his heavy and gave an extra wide grin.
‘I spent a lot of time out in the cold,’ he said, ‘homeless and busking around. Looking over my shoulder. Avoiding the people who wanted me dead. I vowed then that if I ever made it big I’d ensure I always had proper protection.’
He orders mineral water. Tells me he doesn’t need Dutch courage when he’s out there doing what he loves. Music’s in his DNA, oozes from his very pores.
‘Give me half an hour with nothing to do and it won’t be long before I pull up a guitar and start strumming. It’s how I communicate. Helps me forget the day job too.’
Ah yes, the day job, the small matter of running things.
‘The kingdom’s in a good way,’ he says with a dismissive wave of the hand, ‘but you can never really sit back. People need to know someone’s in charge. They get jumpy if they think everything’s drifting.’
Then I make my mistake. I mention Michal and the boyish smile never returns to his face after that.
‘You know her old man tried to have me killed?’ he hisses. ‘Numerous times?’
‘I mean seriously. He was hellbent on destroying me. Not a good family.’
‘But you loved her? His daughter, you loved her?’
He stares at me. His eyes unnaturally hard, his face colder than I could ever have imagined. No charm now. None at all.
‘What did she do to you?’ I ask.
‘I told you. Her old man put out a contract on me.’
‘But you married her.’
‘That was just a scheme of his, a plot to control me.’
This wasn’t what I’d heard. They say they were madly in love. She saved his life once, lied for him. I’m not sure I should mention this.
‘Plus,’ he says, his voice a poisonous whisper, ‘plus, she humiliated me.’ He stabs his finger on the table between us. ‘Refused to recognise me as king and applaud me when I returned in triumph. Just stood there sneering from a window. Right there in front of everyone. I’ve not been near her since. Why should I? Who would want offspring from that?’
Little traces of white spit congregate at the corners of his mouth. I have never heard the word that charged with so much venom.
‘Are you still with her?’
‘Is she still in my home, eating my food? Yea. Sure. Never see her though. I married Abigail you know. Beautiful smart woman. Now you should interview her.’
‘When you were on the run, homeless, did you keep in touch then?’
‘With Abigail? No, I didn’t know her then.’
‘I mean with Michal.’
He sneers. ‘I had no time, I was running for my life, I couldn’t go in some coffee shop and email her. I was too busy surviving.’ Stabs the table again. ‘I don’t want this in print. There’s no need to mention her.’
He snaps his fingers, orders another drink. Oddly, a whiskey this time. It doesn’t last long.
‘And Bathsheba?’ I venture hesitantly, like a soldier peeking over the top of a trench, fearing stray gunfire.
Now he sighs, watches himself pass the empty glass from hand to hand.
‘I admit, that became a mess. I threw up when the prophet Nathan came knocking with truth in his fists. I knew then that God knew. Conceal what you like with elaborate plotting, but somewhere deep down I knew that I’d never keep it hidden.’
He hangs his head, doesn’t say he’s sorry but it’s clear he is from the twisted way he’s sitting. It’s as if he’s trying to steer his torso away from the past. And from me. He sighs again. Stares at the floor for a while before forcing himself to make eye contact again. Brings out a more gentle kind of smile. ‘She’s just had a baby. A boy. Think we might call him Solomon. I have high hopes for him.’ He clears his throat.
‘There’s a song I sing in most gigs. A plea for a clean heart and a fresh start. I always see it in the eyes of the audience. Empathy, understanding, regret. They know that story. They’ve been there themselves. Maybe not in the way I have, but they know what it is to long for a clean slate. For the lost sense of innocence.’
He stands up to leave and the swagger is gone now, burnt out. He waves a dismissive hand towards my note pad. ‘Print what you like,’ he says, ‘my elaborate plotting still won’t keep the truth from the wise Father who wired us up.’ He pauses, thinks. ‘As far as the east is from the west, that’s an endless straight line you know.’ He gives me a gentle smile, ‘that’s how far he throws our mistakes and burdens from us, when we bring them to him. I hold onto that.’ He slips away into the shadows, closely followed by his rock-fisted minder.
[Psalm 51, Psalm 103]