His suit was patched at the elbows, a small hole in the shoulder and when you stood close to him, you could tell it hadn’t been washed in a couple days. A worn out suit for a worn out man. The creases on his face, the tanned leather lines, spoke of more experiences than 45 years should have. It spoke a journeys and trials that the others would never know of. Not even the men that he shared a train stoop knew his story. They just knew he slept with the violin, got up and went to work on the Metro every day.
So he picked up his bow and put it to his worn out violin. Cracked in the front, varnish peeling, and scuffed on the edges, the instrument looked as if it had as many journeys as the man playing it. The stories it could have told would have filled many a Moleskin, stories that Steinbeck would have loved to tell of hardship and real people.
With the first draw, the man’s eyes closed and he was lost. The music was not the typical Godfather theme song nor 35 second ditty that would impress in the time between stops, leaving enough time to collect a little change. No, this was classical, Beethoven and Brahms, music for mahogany paneled halls, not metal Metro cars. And as this man’s eyes remained closed, in his mind he saw it.
The Metro, with its graffiti painted walls and crowded mass of humanity, became his concert hall. The iron bars that people clung to became gleaming brass banisters. The plastic seats with busy commuters and tourists because plush cushioned rows of high class concert-goers. The rubber lined floors became polished wooden floors. Shoes polished to a military shine, tuxedo crisp from the cleaners, the man stood a little straighter as he stepped forward to take the lead.
No longer was he playing a beat-up violin but a 1765 Stradivarius, on loan from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, whose every fiber vibrated with class, borrowed dignity from a rich source. And though he was playing alone, behind the squeezed eyes and passionate playing, an orchestra swelled in his private symphony.
The others on the Metro noticed it. Some sat at straighter, pressing pause on their iPod to head the magic. A few even dared to openly gawk at the man, surprised that he didn’t even start with the typical, “Buon giorno tutti.” One man didn’t get off at the next stop, though he should have. Another wondered what he could have created if he stuck with his dream of being a concert pianist. But their reactions didn’t matter to the man.
Nor did the change he should have received. Ignored was the cup in his jacket pocket. There was something more important than money that was being exchanged. It was a gift from one to another. When he finished, the Metro stopped at suddenly as he started, as if the music was propelling it along and it no longer could go forward without it. It jolted the man and he stumbled back into reality. His eyes opened, sad eyes that spoke of past loves and performances.
Not a word was said. His hand reached back for the change cup in his jacket pocket. He began to walk up the car, still not saying a word as people fished into their pocket for change to give him, giving that robbed him of his dignity. It wasn’t meant to be like this, he thought. A hand reached out and placed a bill into the cup. He looked to find the face of a young, bearded man.