TW: depiction of gun violence and suicide
For eight years I watched her sing. Her alluring voice, a force to be reckoned with, ranging from a low hum that strokes your ears to a cavernous powerhouse, causing every atom in your body to buzz with energy. For years, I tilted my head up towards the stage, my presence insignificant in a stadium sardined with worshippers, people who scheduled their lives around her moments of glory. Glory she deserved, of course, because no voice like hers should have been confined to the walls of a ten by ten bedroom. Her voice made the leaves susurrate, the wind howl, the waves clamour to shore. When she spoke, people listened. When she sang, people heard her.
Her first show was in all the way in New York, because distance makes the heart grow fonder. I escaped reality and boarded my flight from London, spending my first night mesmerised as I watched her brown-skinned face pixelate to life on a billboard large enough to crush hundreds if it were to fall.
At eight p.m. the following day, I stood amidst a crowd swarming with animated faces, people upholding conversations about the one and only and speaking as if they knew her. As if they knew the first thing about her life before fame. As if an article from The OrbMagazine revealing her favourite colour and What I Look For in a Man would harness them with the knowledge to outsmart her other fans. Fans, she had plenty. I watched them fall in love with her the first night, singing along but never during the bridge. The bridge was when she became one with her voice, when people would fall into a trance and later swear that they had been put into a state of hypnosis.
In Paris, she wooed the French. Her voice gave a whole new meaning to the City of Love as it enveloped the air with its seductive power. The Eiffel Tower blinked to the tempo of her music, and for one night, she unapologetically owned the city. She was the epitome of one who holds the world in their palms, and I watched in awe as she stole the hearts of everyone around me.
Paris was her twenty-third show. Next, we’d fly to Nice, and then Cannes, and I’d listen as she told the audience that they were her best yet. The loudest. The wildest. The ones whom she could trust to always sing along. Goodnight, she’d say, kissing the tips of her fingers and raising her hand to the sky as she basked in praise. A roar of cheers, because no one cared to preserve their voice so long as they could be blessed with hers.
Her ninety-ninth show was in London, her hometown. Our hometown. I had camped the night before, deciding that today, I’d see her up close. I’d be positioned in front of the stage, ready for our skins to brush when she whizzed across the edge of the stage, her hand extending out to the audience.
Thirty-two minutes into the show, she approached the far right of the stage and extended her hand out to the audience, her breathing more prominent as she ran across the stage. Still, her voice remained sharp, elegant, hypnotising. She reached me, and I could have sworn there was a lull in her voice when her hand grazed mine. But she continued on, arriving at the far left of the stage as the music subsided. Perfect timing, as always.
She was fifty-eight minutes in when we heard the first gunshot, loud like the sharp crack of a whip, the pressure entering my sinuses. A surge of electricity jolted my bones alive, the adrenaline giving me power to resist the force of the crowd as they began clamouring to safety.
I saw her legs buckle beneath her before the second shot pierced my ear drums. Like the splitting of the Red Sea, the crowd moved to reveal the perpetrator, his masked face revealing only a set of deep brown, bloodshot eyes. I watched as he fired his third shot, how the impact sent ripples through his spine like a scarf in the wind.
She never screamed. She never cried out in pain. Even in the face of death, she respected her voice, let it die down with her, a devastating end to a spectacular career.
The fourth gunshot was the last, as the perpetrator sent the bullet into his own chest.
For years to come, people would honour her life with art. Poetry, music, books. A film unveiling beautiful montages of her greatest performances: New York, Paris, Madrid – and of course, London.
People admired her for her voice, but they also envied it. Some grew obsessed, desperate, dangerous. A life in the spotlight was a life unprotected. Up on that stage, she was exposing herself to the world and wearing her heart on her sleeve.
I had planned to tell her the truth in Edinburgh, her one-hundredth show. I had purchased a Meet and Greet ticket, a rectangular piece of paper emblazoned in gold, and placed it inside my wallet for safe keeping.
Now, as I smooth out the creases of the ticket, the paper yellowing at the corners, I feel a deep well of longing in the pit of my stomach.
It’s my daughter’s birthday and I’ll never get to wish her. I’ll never get to apologise for giving her up. Her mother died during childbirth, and so naturally, I grew to hate the girl responsible for her death. A tiny, innocent, being capable of putting her mother’s body through turmoil.
I submitted her to a life of glory and watched her grow into the splitting image of her mother, a woman who had a voice like honey too.
It was like watching her die a second time.