Street Musician

Leo looked and saw himself.

A woman was walking down the street, her handbag swinging and her phone buzzing. She was digging into that cavern of notes and Kleenex and old pens, trying to search out the vibration before it stopped. It might be work, and that was important. Worse, it might be her husband, poor man. If she didn’t answer him, he’d definitely be angry. The buzzing was harder to hear over the warbling of a trumpet, wailing up to high notes and swooping down again. It was pretty music, probably, but it was distracting. She had too many things to do today, and her phone was vibrating somewhere in her bag, and trying to find it she’d walk into somebody. The sidewalk was busy at lunch hour, but she stopped dead anyway. Let everybody else shove around her, she was scrabbling for her phone, for a call that might mean more work – either way, more work at the office or more work at home. She had too many things to do and somehow was trying to add to that list. She must be crazy. This was just ridiculous. She’d stopped right in front of the trumpet without noticing. The song was shiny and bright, and when she glanced over she saw the musician looking right at her. He was a young man, in shambling clothes and big brown eyes, and he looked at her imploringly. The last thing she could find now was spare change, couldn’t he see that? She shook her head once, brisk and irritated, and finally her fingers closed around the phone. She snatched it out of her bag and dove into the bustle of the sidewalk again, starting to say hello and to apologize. She was gone in the crowd in seconds, without a glance back.

A man bumped into that woman on her phone, and muttered a “sorry” that she didn’t even hear. He was just strolling, hands in his pockets, looking around him. The city was lively in the middle of the day, and he had another twenty minutes before he had to get back to work. People were interesting, he thought, especially when they didn’t know anyone was noticing. Most of the time they were right, and nobody did notice, but he liked to catch those moments. There was a young woman rushing past with her fingers moving rapid-fire over a touch screen. Her lips were moving as she stared and scurried. A woman going in the opposite direction was striding along with her eyes fixed, as if she were about to get somewhere. There was a strand of hair curling down from the bun coiled on her head. A man was leaning against the side of a building, playing a trumpet. There was a smudged sign at his feet – “please help” or something like that – and the trumpet was letting out actually quite a pretty sound. An old man was dragging himself along with his cane, and he stared up through draped skin at everyone who passed. Everyone was busy, it seemed. It was lucky, the man thought, that he had so much time just to walk around and notice.

A boy was pushing through the grown-ups, coats whipping and legs shuffling past him. His father was somewhere, not too far ahead of him, and he’d be really mad when he realized he was walking all alone. It had only been a second, seriously. He just had paused for a second to look at the guy playing a trumpet, before he realized it was some homeless person and Mom had said not to talk to them. He wasn’t going to talk, anyway. The tune was nice, was all. Maybe he recognized it. It was hard to tell. There are always those songs you just can’t remember, the ones you hear and you know you know it but it’s something, maybe, from that TV show. You can never figure it out and then it bugs you all day. His dad was wearing the blue coat, he thought. It was ahead, he could see it, and he squeezed through a couple people and saw him for sure. That was definitely him, and he wasn’t even walking anymore. He was standing, waiting, and he was going to be so mad.

Leo wondered, when he played, what people saw when they looked at him. He imagined, to pass the time. He wondered if anyone else tried to look at themselves and got distracted by looking instead at all the people in the way.

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