Saw Irish Jim down the boozer last night. He’s started working for some geezer up Archway, he tells me. Dodgy goods, fell of the back of a lorry stuff. I tell him he wants to watch out for himself. The Archway mob’s known to be on the heavy side. They can get it into their heads that they don’t like your face and the next day you won’t have a face left to like. He says I shouldn’t believe everything people tell me. Says I think everything north of Kentish Town is like the Cursed Earth or something. He’s probably right. North of Kentish Town and South of the River is like a black hole as far as I’m concerned.
Anyway, I mentioned the song to Jim being as he is musically inclined. He says it’s because he’s Irish but as far as I can tell the nearest he’s been to Ireland is Liverpool. He plays the piano and I don’t mean the Chas and Dave stuff. Classical stuff. Chopin. Liberace. All the proper gear. So I tell him about the phone call and the song playing in the background and he says “whistle it,” so I do, but he can’t make head or tail of what I’m whistling. “Could be anything,” he says, “Could be the Birdy Song for all I can tell.”
"It’s not the fucking Birdy Song,” I tell him, “It’s classical, right.”
So he says maybe if I can remember the words. I tell him I can’t hear the words because the song is really quiet and anyway it’s in foreign. He says “If you know it’s in foreign you must have heard the words.” I tell him I haven’t heard the words but I can tell it’s foreign because even when you can’t hear the words you can tell if something’s English or not - and this is not. But he doesn’t seem convinced. He says, “Try humming it.” So I hum it. But I can’t hum as fast as the song really goes and I can’t hum all the notes as high as they really are either. But even so Jim says, “It’s OK, I know what it is,” and I say, “Well then?” and he says “It’s the Queen of Night’s Aria,” I say “What’s the Queen of Night’s Aria,” and he says “It’s from The Magic Flute. It’s an opera.” I tell him, “I know The Magic Flute’s a fucking opera!” What does he think I am, a fucking moron? And he says, “Well, I was only trying to help.”
I ask him what The Magic Flute is all about and he says it’s about a flute that’s magical and I say “Ha-fucking-ha!” and he says, “Well, you did ask.”
So then I ask him what the Queen of Night’s Aria is and he says it’s about some old biddy who wants her daughter to go and kill a priest. And I laugh and I say, “Sounds more like a bleedin’ Hammer Horror film than an opera.” And he says, “Shows how much you know about opera then! They’re all like that!”
On my way back home I saw the man by the lamppost again. But he must have seen me coming. By the time I got to my front door there was no sign of him.