cantabank

“Why can’t a bank job be good enough for you?”

“Oh, mother,” Mark said, stepping down to pavement level, “I can’t abide it. I’d rather sing for my supper.”

“Why not go back to Cambridge,” Mark’s father said from the other side, “and become a scholar of note?”

“There shall be no Cantab ankh of immortality for me,” Mark said. “I am a scholar of notes.” He cleared his throat perfunctorily and hummed a couple of foreshortened notes. Then he mounted the bench again and started into a melody: “Like a song I have to sing, I sing it for you…” He paused, smiled down at his parents, and identified the source: “U2.” And at the same time, he said “You two” and “You too.” He straightened up and continued the song: “Like the words I have to bring, I bring it for you.”

His father looked over his shoulder nervously, then tugged on Mark’s coat. “Do stop, there’s no one around.”

“There will be.” Mark smiled.

“It all seems so… shady,” his mother said, looking down as she nervously kneaded the top of her oversize purse.

“Like a mountebank?” Mark said, stepping down again. He sat on the bench and propped his face on his fist as he lifted an eyebrow towards his mother. “Some charlatan hawking nostrums? A veritable saltimbanco? But the quality of what I give is not concealed. It is experienced first, then paid for. If you are not enchanted, you simply decamp.”

His father pursed his lips in a lemony moue and folded his arms. “With such a vocabulary, why don’t you do better than a street singer?”

“But that’s exactly it,” Mark said, looking up and then standing up. “I am a—” he sprung up once again onto the bench “—cantabank! Cantambanco! One who sings on a bench!” And again into song: “Volare! Ohh! Cantare… sul banco!”

“If you’re singing for your supper,” his father said, looking around again, “you can’t have much of a banquet awaiting.”

“Well, if it keeps me lean, then it keeps me leaning, and I so am banking one way or another.”

His mother reached into her purse and somehow presented a melon. “Have this.”

“Cantaloupe! Thank you, mother.” He took it and set it on the bench. “Can I sing for it?”

“No, just take it as a message, mister cantabank. If you can’t bank on a decent income, you also can’t elope with your girlfriend.”

Mark raised his eyebrows, took a breath, exhaled. “She has decamped. Recanted. Abandoned me…” he tilted his head… “for a banker.”

Then he stood at the canting edge of the bench and began, his eyes upwards: “E lucevan le stelle…”

3 responses to “cantabank

  1. I can’t get enough of this.

  2. Bill Chambers

    I fill my life with rush and tussle. Your column makes me slow down and appreciate (again) the music of our language. Many thanks.

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