The Choir In­vis­i­ble

The People's Friend Special - - HOBBIES -

IT was nearly dusk, and the woman was there in the church­yard again. As I came out of the par­ish church af­ter choir prac­tice, I saw the slight fig­ure un­der the hawthorn trees over­hang­ing the old red-brick wall.

That part of the church­yard held the older fam­ily graves, the worn ones that leaned at a peace­ful an­gle and were covered with the gen­tle growth of lichen.

Molly and Liz were com­ing out be­hind me. They paused in their con­ver­sa­tion and fol­lowed my gaze.

“Do you know who she is?” I asked. “I’ve seen her here be­fore now, al­ways af­ter this choir prac­tice, since we moved it to the church.”

They both peered across. “Sorry, no.”

“She may be in the shel­tered hous­ing by the green?” Molly sug­gested. “She looks the right age for it.”

She did, but I would know her if that were the case. I went in there to do sing-alongs, where I sat at the pi­ano and took re­quests and ev­ery­one joined in. Any­thing from Perry Como to mu­si­cals to the lat­est from the charts.

Molly and Liz waved good­bye while I locked up.

The woman was mov­ing away now. The evenings were dusky at this time of year, and the path, shaded un­der the trees, was un­even gravel.

As I looked across one last time, feel­ing an odd sense of con­cern for her, she stum­bled slightly.

I ran straight across the grass, apol­o­gis­ing to the long-dead as I went be­tween the old stones.

She was lean­ing over, one hand on an arched grave­stone.

“Are you all right?”

She looked up at me, sur­prised by my sud­den breath­less ap­pear­ance.

“Oh, yes, my dear, I’m fine. It would take more than a wonky path to fin­ish me off.”

“Lucky that grave­stone was there for you to catch at,” I said, of­fer­ing her my arm. “Chris re­ally should have the path lev­elled.”

The woman shook her head.

“That would dis­turb the quiet. Bet­ter to let things rest.”

She was el­derly, a small woman with a deeply lined face.

Her eyes were that faded blue that I re­mem­bered from my grand­mother.

“I’ve seen you here be­fore,” I told her. “It’s nice to meet fi­nally. I’m Carol Flynn – I run the vil­lage choir. We al­ways have a prac­tice on Tues­days.”

“Iris Cotsmoor. You have a good choir. I’ve heard it from out here.”

We be­gan to walk back through the church­yard. She let go of my arm as soon as we reached the more cer­tain foot­ing of the tar­mac path­way.

“Yes, we take any­one who wants to join, but it’s amaz­ing what a lovely sound they pro­duce.

“Too many peo­ple think they can’t sing, but if you put them to­gether with oth­ers who al­ready know that they can, or who aren’t scared to try, they seem to find the strength.”

I couldn’t help en­thus­ing over my choir. I knew it was only a small vil­lage af­fair, and we were never likely to turn up on any TV pro­gramme fea­tur­ing Gareth Malone – though we all dreamed of that

– but maybe that was why I loved it so much.

We were just a cross­sec­tion of life: old and young, new­com­ers and old res­i­dents. We all sang our hearts out, and peo­ple went home smil­ing af­ter­wards.

I was used to per­suad­ing peo­ple to sing. Could I per­suade Iris to talk about her past?

“Have you heard any of our per­for­mances?”

“I heard your carol singing last De­cem­ber,” she said. “And at the vil­lage fete.”

“Oh, we get ev­ery­where!” I replied with a laugh. “We en­joy just singing, but I al­ways wanted the choir to be out and about shar­ing the mu­sic.”

We reached Church Lane, and I needed to turn right, to­wards the newer houses where Grant and I lived.

But I wanted to make sure Iris got home safe first.

“Can I walk back with you?”

“That’s kind, but there’s re­ally no need. I know my way.”

The dis­missal was polite but def­i­nite, so I smiled and said goodnight.

“If you want to come in and hear the prac­tice some time, from in­side the church rather than out­side, you’re more than wel­come!” I said as she turned away.

“Thank you,” Iris said. Again her re­sponse was polite, but I knew she wouldn’t come.

Well, some peo­ple were wary of churches.

****

I men­tioned her name to Chris, the vicar, and he

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