Mid-afternoon: a typically busy time of the day, but today deserted and dull. No passer-bys, scurrying about in their perpetual state of hurry, blindly tossing pennies over their shoulders at the poor. No dull roar of voices, blending of all nationalities and ages. No men dressed in long brown overcoats trying effortlessly to court the ladies, who were clad in long, billowing skirts and form-fitting sweaters. No sound of children playing with one another, curious as to every little thing. No screeching of tires followed by loud shouts of disgust and frustration. Nothing at all but one man alone with his instrument.
Daily he would sit, hours upon hours, as if it were his rightful spot. This was not his job: this was not his dream. This was his life; sitting guard to the continually-cracking, plastered walls that decayed daily behind him. The corroding texture provided a backdrop for his stage. Lines upon crooked lines draw my eyes downward to the man. Here he sits next to his glorious instrument, the twisted cracks serving as a dividing line between the beauty and class of the cello and the poverty and stoicism of the man. He was oblivious to this disintegration. He survived from one thing alone: his music. And now no one was here to listen. He sits alone, staring off towards the oversized doors, anxiously anticipating their opening. Will the doors open? How long will this statue sit here, bow-in-hand, awaiting his opportunity to make a living? When would he receive his next penny – all of which would add up to one single small cup of coffee from the local café? Would today be a day in which he would not get to taste the sweet warmth of the caffeine? Would today be a day in which he would only drink the stale filth from the fountain? How he longed for more than the leftovers of random establishments – how he longed for a hot meal prepared especially for him. His eyes served as windows to the world: his feelings could not be hidden from the world. His black eyes were emotionless: no feeling of any kind was evident within the black portals. He was poor and desperate: yet too proud to succumb to the perils of welfare. He would be self-sufficient, somehow.
Daily he would sit, unaware that I would watch his every motion, his every breath. Today in particular I noticed his loneliness. He wanted someone to approach him and strike up a much-needed conversation. I had never heard him speak; but I imagined his voice as soft, yet strong. He would speak in a gentle and musical manner, similar to the sound of his cello when he played, if only he was granted the opportunity. Each day he would bring his cello, whose strings were worn down from age. He arranged himself comfortably, slouching in his chair, his shoulders stooped from fatigue. His stance on his simple throne resembled the shape of his sacred instrument: circular, symmetrical, cascading downward in gently flowing lines, curving inward and then blooming outward, widening towards the bottom. He was the human representation of his beloved instrument. To me, he seemed at peace with himself, yet this unrelenting desire for success and achievement seemed to radiate from his fixated eyes. He wanted more. He knew he was capable of more. He was too complacent.
Why he chose to sit in this exact spot every day is beyond me. Today, the rays of sun illuminate him. The welcome light brightens his face, so dreary and so worn, revealing the expression of an exhausted but determined man. The texture of his beard is coarse and rough to the touch, if only anyone would be so daring as to touch it. His face is only half illuminated though, creating a mysterious aura about him. Who is this mystery man, who sits here day after day, awaiting his chance for success?
I cannot help but be drawn to his cello; the bow creates a directional force: an arrow drawing my eyes towards the beautiful wooden instrument. The hollow beauty stands majestically against the dilapidated wall, in stark contrast to one another. The same light that mysteriously illumines the man lights the beauty, only in magnificent fashion. The light draws the eye into the face of the cello, where the long and repetitive stringed row meets the ornate and intricate curvatures, emulating a person’s arms and striking jewels. It’s as though the cello is the queen, standing proudly against the wall, while her slumping servant awaits her orders. He must do what she says. Resting so statuesque, I cannot help but wonder what races through his mind. Is he his queen’s slave? Does she have such a hold over him that he is forced to sit here daily, playing her only as she desires? Why does he bring her to such an unattractive and old stage? This is not a haven for musicians – only a breeding ground for the chaos of the masses. The man is such a small figure, not only in sitting next to the grand instrument, but small in the context of the human race. He looks insignificant against the high and foreboding wall. My eyes are drawn downward towards him due to the large blank space above his body. The wall is so bleak and so plainly white, appropriate for the background. He is asymmetrically balanced – therefore my eyes focus on him, the focal point of his stage. The queen is imposing, while the man is average in comparison. I wonder if he will ever become the dominant figure of the two.
Picking incessantly at the tattered wood on his bow to pass the time, he patiently waits: motionless and silent. Where is his audience? What has caused them to miss his performance? Why in a place that is usually brimming with activity is the atmosphere so desolate? Where has everyone gone? Why have they left this man alone and hungry, unable to support himself? I feel angry, I feel spite – they should be here, listening to him express his talent – they should be here to revel in his glory. Yet here he sits, all alone.
Why is it that the man never moves from this position? How come he has never gotten up to look in the mirror only a few feet to his right? Is he afraid of his reflection, petrified by what he has become? Does he fear the shape of his body, which over the course of time has shrunk with hunger? Maybe if he would actually take the time and stand in front of the mirror, he’d realize that this is not the boy Mama wanted him to be. He was more than just the unknown man that has become a fixture in this location. This is not permanent – yet his complacency seems to be his only guide, that and survival.
Each day he sits here, the more dreary and bleak the setting becomes. I cannot even see color anymore – his lonely self invokes a gray hue that dominates the area. I see only in black, white and gray. The only strong black lies in the shadows that create the mystery. The whiteness is the purity of the light that illuminates his saddened face and body. Maybe if he would situate himself more directly in the light, his outlook on life and his demeanor would improve. Maybe he would be able to see his life more clearly, instead of in the shadow-filled state he dwells in currently. Everything else is gray; creating a broad tonality from the darkest of blacks to the whitest of lights. I notice that in the bright light, I cannot see the decaying of the walls as I can where there is less light. He sits balanced, however precariously. The wood on the wall serves as an off-balance frame for his stage. If only someone would arrive to listen to him play.
His eyes divert suddenly towards the streaming sunlight. As though he is divinely inspired, he pulls the cello towards him and begins to play. A hint of a smile creeps across his tired face. Sweet strains of music fill the air, electrifying the sullen surroundings. I feel the bleak tonality fade away into color, brightly painting the room with vivid shades of the rainbow. Excitement fills the air. He realizes that he has the ability to overcome his seemingly monotonous life. His passion fills the room. He does not care that no one is around to revel in his joy. He does not need anyone to gratify him. He does not notice that I am now illuminated, radiating with light as I sit above him as his spotlight. His music has spurned my radiation. His passion is what sustains him.
And he plays for hours: for his audience — his audience of one.