Strangers

“Can you keep an eye on my stuff while I go peeing into the wilds?”

The German hitch hikers asks as she places her bags next to my van.

My van is overheating so I pulled over on the gravel car park at the bottom of the Cardrona Ranges to let her cool down. I’m practicing some songs to pass the time. The hitch hiker came over to ask if she can borrow a piece of paper and a marker to make a sign. She is headed to Cromwell to start a WOOFing job on a farm in two days.

“I wish I were just a backpacker like you,” I say and explain the problems that come with owning an old van.

“I wish I had a van like you,” she replies.

“What color are your eyes?”

The French violinist asks before he leaves and I take off my sunglasses.

I’m busking at the grocery store in Wanaka and they stop to listen with their big backpacks. They are carrying everything they own. He has a slim and shiny, jade-green hard case.

They emerge with food ten minutes later and he approaches me.

“Can I play with you? I don’t want any money,” he asks.

“Actually, I have a problem. I’m going on a hike tomorrow and this is too heavy,” he says as he reaches into his pocket and drops a couple of coins in my case.

“Do you need to know the chords or do you just want to follow along?” I ask.

“I’ll figure it out,” he says with confidence.

“All right, how about Jammin by Bob Marley?”

“Perfect.”

I start to play the chords and he immediately picks out the melody. I sing the verses and the chorus and he follows along like we have been practicing this song for years. I play the chords and he has a solo then I sing again.

There’s a Kiwi family standing in front of us with smiles and the father gives his daughter a few dollars to put in my case.

I thank him. He is Xander from France and I’m Sean from the States. I give him the pack of milk chocolate biscuits that someone left in my case because I don’t eat dairy. He says, we will probably see each other again, I’m the guy with the violin. And I say, Yeah, New Zealand is so small.

He turns around and a couple has been watching us. The man says, “Xander?!” And they can’t believe they have met again. They share a kiss on either cheek. It has been ten years. They are friends from back home in France and Xander tells me he knew his friend was in New Zealand, but he forgot to message him and he can’t believe they met right here.

New Zealand is so small.

“I usually hate guys with a beard and that hat but you are fucking inspiring standing there with your guitar.”

The drunk tourist from Denmark says as we share a six pack of Blue Moon on a bench on the Queenstown Mall late on a Friday. He starts to punch an imaginary douche bag in front of him. I’m wearing my plain black beanie that holds my hair up out of my face.

It is my first time playing late in the night like this and a group of 18-year-olds from New Caledonia are sitting on the bench next to me drinking tall cans of beer. They have been listening to me for at least a half-hour and they throw in 20 cents and then offer me a beer.

The man from Denmark sits on the end of the bench and when I finish a song he leans forward and asks, “Can you play Stairway To Heaven?”

I start to play and sing and when I get to the third verse, I start to fumble the lyrics. He says, I knew you couldn’t play the whole thing, but I am going to buy us a six pack because I want to drink with you.

“Ok,” I say.

It’s a much different scenario busking at night. Instead of being ignored, everyone wants to request a song.

“What can you play?” Uhh.

“Can you play any Ed Sheeran?” Who?

“Do you know any Bruno Mars?” No.

“Play us a love song!”Ok.

I stop to look at the set list taped to the back of my guitar and a woman with frizzy hair and a green stone necklace stops with a big drunken smile and asks if she can pick a song.

“Lonely Boy!”

“Good choice.”

I start to rock out and when I start singing she dances and smiles and then she walks away.

I’ve been playing for over three hours today, with a break in the middle, and I decide to call it a night. But it’s a dangerous game sitting on the Queenstown mall with a guitar case and beers.

Three gray-haired English men walk up and ask what I’m doing and where I’m from.

“The States. Virginia.”

“Ahh, that’s John Denver country.”

And now I have to play Country Roads.

They give me five dollars and I think this is a pretty good life.

“Do you know how to play Wonderwall? I knew a busker once who could play Wonderwall.”

The Kiwi chef asks after he welcomes me into his car at midnight on a Friday.

“Uhh… I mean I know the chords but I haven’t memorized it,” I say. “Wait, are you taking the piss?”

“Fuck yeah I’m taking the piss!” he laughs.

I thought I might struggle to get a ride this late on a Friday night, but I stuck out my thumb and he was the first to drive by. I knew from the second I saw his shitty little sedan that he would stop.

Shiny, new cars never pick up hitch hikers.

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