When I was a child I loved going to Mr Herbert’s music shop. It was filled with the most wonderful sounds.
Saturday mornings I would go with my sister and ask Mr Herbert to show us a new instrument. He would play for us and then let us have a turn. Or he would just stare at the wall. For hours sometimes, without blinking. We heard and felt the warm strums of the nylon string guitars, the magical whistles of the flutes, the sad drones of the cellos, the pop and thump of the conga drums, the bright blasts of the trumpets, the funky mumble of the bass guitars, the shaky splash of the tambourines, and the tinny plunk of the banjos (I liked the banjos best). All the neighbourhood children loved Mr Herbert’s music shop.
All the grownups did too.
“If you’re feeling sad, go and see Mr Herbert,” people used to say. Many folks would visit Mr Herbert’s shop on a Saturday morning, and he would invite them for a cup of tea and a chat in the back room of his shop. They usually didn’t chat for long, and when they emerged from the room, the visitor always carried a brown paper bag. We would watch the grownups leave with their paper bags, though they seemed to avoid eye contact with us. Whenever we asked Mr Herbert what was in the bags he would only ever wink and smile.
One Saturday, after having a go on a keyboard that made robotic noises, we asked Mr Herbert if we could guess what was in the bags the grownups took from the store. He laughed his merry laugh and said we could try.
“Mice,” guessed my sister, but she was wrong.
“A harmonica,” said another kid, but that was not the answer.
“I know,” I said. “You give them lollies to make them happy.”
Mr Herbert’s eyebrows raised. “That’s pretty close,” he said.
“It’s morphine, right?” said one of the older kids.
Mr Herbert’s smile faded and he drifted into a distant stare.
“Mr Herbert, are you okay?” asked my sister.
Mr Herbert blinked hard, and then shook his head and growled. He hurled a hi-hat cymbal at the older kid and yelled at us to get out his shop.
Though the older kid suffered a mild concussion and required fifteen stitches above his eye, all the grownups said we should forget about the incident and definitely not talk to the police. They said some Japanese soldiers had done bad things to Mr Herbert during the war, and so we should be patient with him. I really liked the banjos.
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