Mason always swore that he was allergic to jazz. But he was wrong. On a Saturday night with nobody or nothing to go back home to, a pretty stranger he had met at the bus stop had asked him if he knew anything about soul. But of course, in his pleated pants, his baggy work shirt, and his trench coat that somehow found its way to his knees, he couldn’t say yes. He didn’t believe that he had a soul. After all, he had worked a desk job in Chicago’s housing department and spent the majority of his days writing faulty reports.
“You’ve never heard Nat King Cole or Sam Cooke or Nina Simone?” the lady pressed on, but the names that she listed only made Mason’s eyebrows dance across his face.
“Here,” she grabbed his hand and walked him to the bus that had just arrived. She paid for two rides, with her warm, soft, baby hand still clenching over Mason, and then skipped to a middle seat where she could speak some more.
She folded her legs in the most elegant way, straightened her back, and gazed at him with her big brown eyes. Mason had felt uncomfortable sitting with a woman he had just met. Never would he have gotten on a bus with someone he did not know well, and that included his work colleagues. Mason was very much an independent man and only opened up to his parents and grandparents. He had been content with telling his family every part of his day, both good and bad, but his candid nature had changed when he had entered high school and realized that he shouldn’t regurgitate every aspect of his day to his parents. Since the start of his high school phase, the only person Mason shared his secrets with was Trex, his red-eared slider turtle. And yes, he considered Trex a person because he was the only one that Mason was able to call a friend. He would stare at him through the clear tank and listen to his life stories that anyone else would have fallen asleep to.
“So tell me who you are,” the woman said with an intrigued expression. Except Mason didn’t know what to say. He was a loner. A man who lived in a shack for an apartment, and who had no friends. He was a workaholic and cherished extra assignments. The continuous tapping on the keyboard was music to ears, but would a girl be fascinated by stories of his typing competitions? Would anyone be fascinated by his stories?
“The name is Mason,” he said plainly as he extended his hand. They had held hands before their introduction, but one more time wouldn’t change things. “What’s yours?”
“Bonnie. And I must say you seem very nervous talking to me. Have you ever spoken to a girl?”
Mason sighed and it was enough for Bonnie to understand that she was his first. “She placed her fingertips over her wide, radiant smile and chuckled. “It’s okay. Don’t be embarrassed. I’m the nicest girl in the town, but that doesn’t mean I’m easy,” she said as she nudged him in the shoulders.
“What do you do for a living? I’d guess that you’re a detective who’s lost his hat.”
“Close. I actually work in the Housing Department, filing reports,” he said. Mason had been hesitant to tell Bonnie anything more than his name, but her slightly deep, sultry voice had relaxed his breathing. His stop was next, but he figured he’d give Bonnie a chance. She was different. She was lovable and had a heart made of sunlight.
“I’d say you need tips on what not to wear, but other than that, I like you. You’re cute.”
“You really think so?”
“Yes. How about this? I treat you to a drink and you can show me how much soul you really have. I know a place downtown called Lee’s Keys… so what do you say?
“Sure,” said Mason nervously. He would have done anything to get out of a social situation, but Bonnie was persistent. “I don’t want to be a disappointment, though.”
“You won’t be,” she said. “This place is special.”
Bonnie patted his leg at their stop and the bus rolled away, leaving the two of them standing on the curb in the dead of night. The streets were overwhelmed by a chilling lull.
“This way,” she said as she strutted through the flying newspapers and aggressive wind. The clicks of her heels echoed throughout the city and stopped at a small door, which would have made anyone else hesitant to enter. Bonnie knocked four times and looked over at Mason, whose countenance betokened consternation. She rubbed his shoulder. “It’s alright, Mason. You’re going to be fine.” Suddenly, the door opened and a sweet melody exited into the crispy night. A huge, burly man in a black vest and bow tie greeted Bonnie at the door and she returned the greeting as she walked down the steps, holding Mason’s hand.
“Today is Soul Saturday, so they removed most of the tables and chairs. You can’t talk about having soul if you worry about resting, right?”
“Right,” said Mason as he observed the crowded room. There was a low stage at the far end of the club with a man tapping on a piano. Another man in a flat cap, stood next to him, playing the saxophone as if his life depended on it. Mason immediately recognized the Magic Slim remix from the improvised saxophone licks. The music put him in a contemplative state of mind and provided him with a vague memory of himself as a child; he was listening to the artist on the radio one day while eating cereal in the kitchen.
Below the stage, strangers swayed in unison, left and right, as their minds wandered with each note. The surrounding brick wall was ornamented with an array of classic records, album covers, and framed black and white photos.
“There’s a coat hanger right over there,” said Bonnie as she pointed to the bar, illuminated by a glowing blue neon light. “I’m going to use the restroom. I’ll be right back.” She then hurried to the women’s restroom, with her jacket still on. Meanwhile, Mason didn’t know what to do with himself. He sat awkwardly on a stool, staring at the silhouettes moving across the dark room. Besides the glowing bar, the only source of light was the spotlight, which hovered over the man on the saxophone. He rocketed back and forth and the veins in his neck throbbed with the rhythm of his fantasies. The previous blues transformed into something much more beautiful.
Mason could feel his head starting to sway with the smooth jazz. He couldn’t help himself. His eyes closed, and he nodded to the melody as the music seeped through his pores and consumed his skin. He was no longer in the Lee’s Key’s bar in the alley of a random city street. Instead, he was walking on a transparent road that resembled a musical score. With each step he took, the road lightened up for a split moment, and then faded into its normal hue. He was walking to the moon, and this time, he was leading Bonnie. They danced their way to the end of the eternal path, and the eerie beauty of moonlight was unable to tame them.
Suddenly, a gentle hand pushed down on his body and the road collapsed. Mason opened his eyes to see Bonnie grinning at him with her soft hand placed on his shoulder. “I told you this place is special. People here don’t let anything hold them back. The spirit must be contagious.” Mason smiled back at her, but he was taken aback by her ravishing appearance. She had gotten rid of the jacket and was now dressed in a slim black dress bedazzled with diamonds. She no longer wore her velvet beret, but instead let out her sleek bob. Her darkened eye line captivated Mason.
“How do I look?” Bonnie said as she twirled around.
“You look beautiful… Amazing.”
“Thank you! You don’t look bad yourself. Want to dance?”
“Yes, I would love to, but you’ll have to teach me.”
Bonnie chuckled. “Waltzing isn’t hard at all.” She grabbed his right hand, and positioned one hand over his shoulder as he nervously placed his right hand on her waist.
“So follow me,” said Bonnie enthusiastically. “Step-side-close-back-side-close,” she explained. Mason tripped many times over his feet, but for the first time, he was able to enjoy himself. He was simply loosening his bones. He stepped on Bonnie’s shoes every few seconds, but each time Bonnie let out a wholesome laugh, he would laugh afterwards. Her spirit surely was contagious. A great duration of time had passed since the last time that she had taught anyone to waltz, so Mason had made her reminisce about younger days.
The saxophone player ended the song with a high note that wafted through the humid air, out of the club, and to the stars. Amongst the claps from the huge crowd, Bonnie and Mason embraced. Mason inhaled the sweet, strawberry perfume that coated Bonnie’s neck. He knew nothing about the pretty stranger except that her name was Bonnie, yet he felt that he had known her longer than two hours.
“So, I thought that you would have asked me by now what I do for a living” said Bonnie, with a smile still on her face.
“I guess I forgot how proper introductions work. Well, what do you do then?” asked Mason.
“I’ll show you.” She then wandered through the dense crowd to the stage. A guitarist, a French horn player, a trumpet player, and a drummer accompanied her along with the cheer from the silhouettes. Bonnie was a popular woman. The host knew her name and the club seemed to chant it as well.
After the applause, she tapped twice on the microphone, and in her mellifluous voice spoke. “I will be singing my newest song, Take Me Where the Wind Goes. It’s dedicated to a friend that I met today. Mason, this is for you. Thanks for renewing me.” The light on the stage slowly dimmed as the pianist started the piece. He swept the keys and with a bash of the steel drums, a loud sound from the windpipe players, and Bonnie’s entrancing voice, the whole club went berserk. People threw up their arms and snapped their fingers to the fast beat. The musicians on stage rocked back and forth in sync while Bonnie took hold of the microphone. Her shoulders shimmied with the jazz and her body, from far away, resembled a vertical wave. Smiles radiated the room and by that time Mason had long forgotten about his Sunday morning shift at the office.
Bonnie hopped off the stage and a path cleared for her as she walked to Mason. She grabbed his hand and led him to the stage with the spotlight following. Without hesitance, he followed her. His mind had wandered off long ago. He climbed onto the stage, and busted out his moves. Mason hadn’t danced since high school, but none of that mattered. His cheesy chicken dance and Batusi moves had warmed his body up for days to come.
He glanced at Bonnie, and she glanced back. Mason’s smile was much wider than hers that it almost hurt his face. He looked down at the crowd and could see countless pairs of teeth shining back at him. Outside, the night’s teeth were shining back at him too. Mason felt alive. He had soul. He just didn’t know it.
“Thank you, Bonnie,” he said.
With that, Bonnie nodded her head and a loud, rumbling sound flew out of the trumpet. It was the last note and the entire house clapped with it till the end.
Bonnie placed her hand over Mason’s shoulder with her feathery touch. “So how about that drink?”