"I'd trade all of my tomorrows for one single yesterday."
"You're very talented, you know…" the lanky man with the guitar at the next table said to her, interrupting her own internal voices.
"Yeah, for a white girl," she smiled shyly but her low boisterous chortle and sharp eyes belied her bashfulness.
The two were sitting in a café in Rio de Janeiro. It was Carnival, February 1970.
"What do you mean?"
"Oh, I'm a child of Bessie Smith, Odetta and Big Mama Thornton. I'm just a child…" her voice trailed off as she turned away and stared into the distance, clearly dismissing the exchange and the stranger who initiated it.
But he would not be ignored. "That's an impressive pedigree. I've heard you. White girl or no, you do them proud."
Her eyes flashed but she allowed herself to be reeled back in. "You know me, then? You know my work?"
He waited a long time to answer. In the meantime he had started strumming a few chords on the guitar. It was slightly out of tune but she held her tongue and didn't comment. She was just about ready to turn away from him again when he finally nodded and spoke.
"I've seen you at the Avalon and Fillmore. And I was at Monterey where I heard you do Ball and Chain." He shrugged almost lackadaisically but then shivered. "Monterey will probably be your best performance."
She frowned at him, feeling demeaned. "What do you mean will be?"
"Well," he said, his limpid blue eyes narrowing. "You've been squandering your talents. The road you've chosen with all the drugs and alcohol…"
"It's my life!" she snapped. "No one knows what I've gone through. What I'm still going through."
The man made an apologetic motion with his hand and then went back to strumming his guitar. He said nothing.
But he'd annoyed, maybe even insulted her. Now she was not to be ignored. "I'm trying. I've been straight for a couple weeks, ever since I came down here."
Her conversant had no response.
"I'm my own victim," she admitted quietly and he looked up at her quizzically. "I feel everything so strongly. I can't control the feelings, the emotions."
"Then use them," he urged. "Instead of running away from them, trying to hide them or obliterate them, use them... Make them work for you instead of against you."
She laughed out loud at him. "That's easy for you to say!"
"It isn't. Not at all," he looked at her and she suddenly noticed his eyes were filled with sadness, brimming with it. And maybe something else. Was it anger?
"Who are you?" she asked. Then she glanced briefly at his guitar, "And what's that you're playing?"
"I'm a non-acquaintance. A friend of a friend. That's all. And this," he looked down at his right hand, "is a song Kris wrote a couple of months ago." Again she noticed the man shivered.
"Kris? You know Kris?"
"Just a bit. Met him in California once."
She listened for a few moments, absorbing the chords. "It's pretty. Hey… hey mister, are you cold or something?" He'd shivered several more times and she had to say something. It wasn't that he didn't appear well, although he was kind of scrawny, a little pale, but the shivering was hard to overlook.
He nodded but didn't answer her; instead he continued playing and began humming along softly with the tune.
"Well, here. You take this then." She reached down on the floor beneath her seat and threw an old brown coat at him. He caught it deftly and signaled a silent thanks.
Her chair scraped across the wooden floor as she pushed it back and stood up. "Well, I have to go. It's been nice talking with you, uh, mister… mister… I didn't catch your name?"
"Kris called me Bobby."
She looked at him strangely. "Alright, Bobby. I'll be seeing you around."
He grimaced a little. He tried to not make it sound rude but he wasn't sure he managed. "Probably not, Janis."
If she heard him, she paid him no heed.
Long after she left he unfolded out of his seat, shrugged the coat on over his v-neck jumper and tossed a couple of coins on the table. Then he picked up his guitar and walked away.