The routine was simple. We board the train and the King of France gives the speech I’ve heard a hundred times: “Excuse me ladies and gentlemen I am a single father with two children / my son was hit by a drunk driver / he is in a wheelchair / I have no insurance / does anybody mind if I play a song?” He can say it so fast he’s practically already singing by the end. And if no one objects, he says “thank you God bless” and we perform “We Can Work It Out.” The King of France plays guitar and sings and I drum on a paint bucket doing the harmonies. Then I walk around with a shopping bag and people put coins in. We do this every night.
One time a man in a bowler cap asked me the name of my brother, the crippled one. I paused maybe too long and then said “Alex” because if I had a crippled brother I’d want him to be named Alex. “The sins of the father,” the man sighed, and then he turned to look out the window. The King of France came over and gave him a hard time after that.
The next week, the funniest thing happened. I couldn’t get out of bed. I don’t mean I was tired or depressed or anything, I just couldn’t really move so much. The King of France went to work that night anyway, and this time he said “Excuse me ladies and gentlemen I am a single father / my son is inexplicably paralyzed and can’t get out of bed / I have no insurance / does anybody mind if I play a song?” He played a solo version of “Shout” from the eighties. But no one believed that someone’s kid would just wake up frozen one day. The King came home that night defeated, and sat on the edge of my bed like I wasn’t even there. He took off his jacket, and then his shirt, and I don’t why this surprised me but underneath the chain-mail armour that all kings wear was his back which was made of skin, human skin.
Image by Sergey Neamoscou