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The icy northern wind blowing down the avenue chilled Sara to the bone despite her warm gear. She felt naked, vulnerable, and foolish in a futile attempt to buy presents people didn’t need. Her gloved hand searched in her coat pocket. She skimmed through the list and pondered.

Music from the Shopping Mall poured into the street decorated with vibrant festive lights that pulsated in tune with the melody. Lavish extravaganza to entice the shoppers to join the euphoria of a consumer’s paradise where happiness was bartered with goods sold and purchased.

Not that she didn’t like the festive period and the enchantment of the fantasy created. Yet, she knew it was fake, commercial and absurd. She sat on bench and watched people rushing in and out of the mall, laden with shopping bags in the colours of the rainbow.

She crumpled the list in her fist and dumped it into a trash can.

Moving away from the sound and light show, she turned into a side street and strolled aimlessly down the lane of ordinary life. Someone parked a car by the curb, two cats lingered around a garbage container. Doors opened and closed, among the click-clacks of footsteps echoing from people arriving at and leaving the residential blocks. In ground floor flats, a hand pulled a curtain, another opened a window behind which muffled conversation stole into the night.

At the end of the road, she turned right, and spotted the lit sign of a pub in the distance. A voice singing a song from the past evoked memories. Lend your love to me tonight. Lend, not give. Thoughts filled her mind.

She approached the crowd gathered around the performer in shabby clothes. He looked like a homeless man, but sang and played the guitar like a professional. Greasy blond hair ran down his shoulders, his hands in fingerless gloves glided along the strings of the instrument. Eyes closed, he sang to the beat of the background music generating from a busking amp. Customers lingered nearby, some sitting at the outdoor tables, and applauded him when he finished singing. He opened his steel-blue eyes and bowed, as notes and coins filled his tin cup, and began the next song.

Sara stepped inside the Pub and bought some mulled wine. She found an empty seat under the outdoor heater and listened to the music while sipping her warm drink. When the singer announced an intermission, she placed a twenty note in his cup and said, “I enjoyed your music. You’re very talented. Can I offer you some mulled wine?”

“Thanks,” he said looking into her eyes. “It’s my farewell gift to Greg Lake. He died yesterday.”

“I know, so sad. I’ll be back shortly.”

She returned with two mugs of the spicy drink and gave one to him.

He took her offering and fumbled inside the pockets of his oversized long coat. Fishing out a crumpled pack of cigarettes, he held it to her. She took one. He lit it with a lighter, took a deep drag from his, and exhaled. Cigarette smoke mixed with the steam from the hot drinks as they sat across the table behind the clouds of vapour.

“Did you study music?” she asked

“Yeah, I used to be a professional.”

“No more?”

He pushed his long locks over his shoulder and pulled up the collar of his coat. “I gave up the life,” he smiled. “Too intense. Now I play whenever and wherever I want to.”

“Do you have a warm place to go to?”

“The Shelter provides us accommodation and food.”

“Which shelter is that?”

“The Shelter from the Storm. It’s a private charity, very well run by volunteers, mostly students.”

“I’m Sara, by the way. Will you be here tomorrow?”

“Cheers, Sara, I’m Busker. The Landlord allows me to play here until ten and gives me a drink and a warm meal. I think I’ll hang around here for a couple more nights.”

“What do you do with the money?

Intense blue eyes searched her face. “I save some for cigarettes and drinks, give the rest to the Shelter as my contribution.”

He finished his drink, thanked her and resumed his concert. Sara stayed for a while, then waved him goodbye, and walked away from the Pub. Contemplating on Busker’s words, she headed for the Underground.

The following day, after looking up the charity on her computer, Sara made a phone call. “I’d like to make a donation.” She took their bank details and transferred the amount of her gifts budget to the Shelter from the Storm.

She called her friend, Anna. “Fancy going to a free concert tonight? The music is great.”

“Why not?”

“Meet me in front of Rainbow Mall, I’ll take you there.”