It was his girlfriend who introduced him to Norah Jones. The year was 2002 and they both were working for a BPO company.
“Listen to this,” his girlfriend said to him one day, and she inserted a cassette tape into the player of his car. They had just finished their shifts and were on their way to get some breakfast at a nearby McDonald’s. Outside, it was still a bit dark, but the sun had begun to rise in the horizon.
When the music began playing, he listened. Norah Jones’ voice captured him the moment he heard it. It was smooth, languid, and smoky, and it hit him like a breath of fresh air. He smiled and rolled down the window to let in the scent of the morning. Everything looked and felt new and beautiful.
He borrowed the tape from his girlfriend and played it as often as he could: He played it every night in the car on his way to the office. He played it every morning when he and his girlfriend would look for a place to eat. And he played it at home when he was alone. In fact, he played nothing but Norah Jones wherever he was and whatever he was doing. He listened to her when he washed the dishes, did the laundry, read a book, clean the car, buy the groceries, pay the bills. Pretty soon, the lyrics stuck to his memory and he would hum along to every song, often adjusting his voice so that it could “blend” with Norah Jones’ voice. He wasn’t a singer, not by a long shot, but it pleased him to hear his voice merge with her voice.
He played Norah Jones so much that it began to annoy his girlfriend.
“Can we play something else, please?” she said in an agitated tone one afternoon. And she would switch the radio to an FM station without waiting for his reply.
Norah Jones also almost always came up in their conversations.
“Did you know that Norah Jones is half-Indian?” he would ask his girlfriend. Or, “Did you know that her father is the famous sitar player Ravi Shankar? Did you know that she’s only 21? Did you know that she has sold more copies of her album in a year than any other female artist in a decade? Did you know that so far she’s won 5 Grammys? Did you know that she used to wait on tables? Don’t you find her low-key, down-to-earth, self-effacing, and modest manner very intriguing?” And other such questions.
“Do you know how sick I am of Norah Jones?” his girlfriend finally told him one day. “That’s right, I’m sick of her. I’m so sick of her. I’m tired of hearing her name and you talking about her over and over again.”
Then she looked at him squarely in the face. “Norah Jones is getting in the way of our relationship. You must make a choice right now. Either you lose her or you lose me.”
And that’s how he lost his girlfriend. But he did not stop listening to Norah Jones. In fact, he listened to her even more frequently. If there’s such a thing as comfort food, she was his comfort music. He especially clung to her after the break up. Those were the darkest months of his life and Norah Jones pulled him through it. He would play her album over and over and over again, even while sleeping, so that Norah Jones began invading his dreams.
He would dream that he was riding her 1971 Cadillac, the very car you see in one of her music videos. He would glance at Norah Jones, the locks of her hair blowing in the wind, and he would remark, “I love your great tumble of black hair.” And Norah Jones would move her lips and sing, “Come away with me in the night…” And his answer would always be, “Of course, Norah, I’ll come away with you.” She would continue, paying him no attention, “Come away with me and I will write you a song…” And he would exclaim, “Oh, yes, Norah, please! Write me songs. Write as many as you want.” And she would sing on with her smoky twang, “I wanna walk with you on a cloudy day, in fields where the yellow grass grows knee-high, so won’t you try to come?” And he would answer with even greater excitement, “Oh yes, I will come. You know I will. Wherever you like — fields, mountains, seas — you name it. I’ll go wherever you want to go. Just tell me.” And he would then wake up.
He followed her career over the years. She made more albums and he bought them all. He watched every single one of her Youtube videos and kept track of her interviews and public appearances.
He really only had one great desire in life, and that is to meet Norah Jones in person. He had no idea how this is supposed to happen considering that he’s at least 10,000 miles away from her. She lived halfway across the globe, and there seemed to be little to zero chance that she will ever visit his country for a concert. All he really wanted was to hear her live, then somehow see her up close and shake her hands, and then have a photo taken with her so that in the future he will have proof that none of it was a dream, that it really happened, that he really did meet her, that he even shook her hand, and she shook his, and he felt her hand in his, and they exchanged words; it was so fleeting but he really met her and he heard her voice and she heard his and he was brimming with joy, and here’s the proof, a photograph.
But he knew that none of that is ever going to happen. However, he was free to daydream.
Fourteen years passed. He matured and therefore became less dreamy and romantic. He never married. The trauma of losing his first and only girlfriend never left him. It was still there inside him, gnawing at him like a black hole. He still listened to Norah Jones every now and then, but the playlist of his life now included musicians Norah Jones herself considered as her heroes: Nina Simone, Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin, John Coltrane, Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan.
Then one day, while browsing through one of Norah Jones’ social media pages, he came across a post. She was at her house and she was inviting her fans to send her requests so that she may play some of her songs through Facebook Live. This was to thank them for supporting her just-released new album. He almost choked with excitement. He jumped at the chance and commented on her post, asking if she could play an old track of hers. His comment traveled electronically across the globe and reached her smartphone almost instantaneously. It was one among thousands of requests which poured in that day. And this is what happened next:
The light particles from the afternoon sun which entered Norah Jones’ window at her house in New York City bounced off every solid surface and illuminated her room. There were thousands of other comments in her smartphone screaming for her attention but somehow her eyes fell on his message in particular. She trained her eyes on his message and the light particles bounced off the letters of his name and entered her corneas. The light particles then passed through her pupils and were “caught” by the lens inside her pupils. They then went straight to her retinas and her retinas sent impulses to her optic nerves. The optic nerves then carried the impulses to her brain and there images of his name were created. She must have seen his name in her head. Oh, how he wanted to dwell there in her head for a few moments longer. How he longed to linger there and sift through the contents of her mind. It must have been filled with words, images, and musical notes. She must have tons of songs stashed away there, pieces she hasn’t sung in public, tracks she hasn’t even recorded. But a fraction of a second later, her brain shot his name to her vocal cords, signaling them to enunciate his name.
Then, gloriously, his name vibrated down her larynx, tumbled luxuriously on the surface of her tongue, and joyfully, albeit unwillingly, escaped her mouth and lips, riding ecstatically upon the gust of her breath.
This is what she said, exactly: “This next song is from my third album,” and she peered into the sheet of paper on her piano, “it’s called My Dear Country and it’s requested by Darcy Cuevas from the Philippines.” She then paused and looked at the camera and said, “Well, Darcy, I don’t know if you’ve experienced election fatigue in your country, but here we do. This song has been on my mind lately.”
She then placed her fingers on the keys of her piano and sang him the song he requested. The notes which flew from her lips were detected by the mic in her smartphone, and it then sent electronic signals across the world, which then ended up in his smartphone. Her notes then jumped from his smartphone and shot to his ears and into his brain.
He stared at the video and couldn’t believe it. Is this really happening? he asked himself. Did she really mention my name and address me? He pressed the rewind button and played the video again. Then he did it again and got the same result. Joy welled up inside him and he burst out laughing. It was the most surreal and magical thing that’s ever happened to him. It felt as if he was inside Norah Jones’ living room and she was giving a private mini-concert for a handful of people and he handed her a note with his request. Or it felt like he was reading a fairy tale and the princess suddenly popped out of the book and called him by name.
Her performance lasted for only 3 minutes, but those 3 minutes were addressed to him and therefore belonged to him and him alone. Those 3 minutes took only a tiny fraction of her time but no one can ever undo it. Those 3 minutes are irreversibly, irrevocably, and eternally his.
He smiled. He may never have a photo taken with Norah Jones, but he has something way better. He may never actually shake her hand, but his name passed through her eyes, mind, and lips. You can’t get any closer to Norah Jones than that, he told himself.
*This story was published in the September 3 issue of The Philippines Graphic.