Jilliana Ranicar-Breese

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The stranger on the train

I had recently moved to Brighton from Notting Hill, London but still took the train to Victoria station from time to time. 

Normally I didn't see any characters on the train but that day I did. A big black handsome older individual with dreadlocks and an American baseball cap was seated at the end of the carriage facing me. I observed his American Indian Navaho squash blossom necklace. It was rare to see a man wearing this statement piece of ethnic jewellery. The only other time was when I met Liberace, the famous American entertainer, at a party in Las Vegas wearing all black attire with his stunning squash blossom. This man was wearing silver turquoise rings to match that were Zuni or Navaho. He had to be American. Did he live in Brighton thought I?  He looked a creative, possibly in the music business. 

I did not dare to speak to this stranger. Time passed, stations came and went. The journey only took 55 minutes. Then some musicians got on carrying instruments on their backs. Yes, I was right. I heard him speak in his strong American accent asking the young men what instruments they played and their genre. Jazz was the answer. The stranger with the smooth seductive voice began to say he was a jazz singer. At this stage I had to jump in because I knew about jazz having been a fan since the late 60s. So we all spoke of styles and who we liked - Miles Davies, Charlie Mingus, John Coltrane, Chet Baker, Dave Brubeck et al. 

We finally arrived. The boys went their way and by chance the American walked my way. He introduced himself as Joe Lee Wilson and sang jazz  every Sunday at the Lion and Lobster pub. Then we walked in silence for a short while as neither of us could think of anything more to say. 

I politely asked him where in Brighton he lived as one would do in a normal conversation. To my surprise instead of telling me the area, which in fact was Kemp Town, he said the name if the street. College Terrace. I asked him if he knew my old friend Alice Sutton from Paris who had just died. Yes he was the next door neighbour and knew she had died. Of course he knew my friend Nina, Alice's eldest daughter.  I then remembered I had actually seen him in the street from the first floor window when I had come to stay the weekend in the 70s. 

I could not get over the synchronicity of our meeting which brought back memories of Alice, the Countess of Belleroche and my life long connection with that French family in Paris beginning in the late 60s with Nina and my long friendship with her eccentric mother who had studied classical guitar with Segovia and gave musical salons when I lived in Paris in the late 70s. 

I saw him perform once in Kemp Town and his voice was rich and entertaining. Then I heard via the grapevine that he had died. An end to the College Terrace connection as the property was sold and the large beautiful portrait of the mistress of Albert de Belleroche, a close friend of Lautrec, was moved to Nina's Parisian flat where it now graces her salon wall. 

Written in the terrace restaurant of my Heritage Hotel in Udaipur, India. January 2016.