What Mama Forgot to Tell You: Not Everyone's a Friend

January 10, 2008
By Stacey Wilson, Raleigh, NC

Every Saturday at 12 o’clock the stringing of a violin filled Grand Central Station in Manhattan. Mark’s open case greeted those who passed by to throw spare change from their jacket pockets. He always saw himself playing in front of huge masses with thousands of attentive eyes glued to him and to the sound emanating from his talent. But for now, he was barely noticed by those who passed. People were always too busy to stop and appreciate his music.

The violin case remained fairly empty. The swollen maroon velvet of the interior looked just as it had the day Mark got his violin; the money scattered on top of the velvet. He had always been pleased by the way the coins and the bills looked atop the velvet; it was so simple, yet so inspiring.

Just as Mark prepared to leave Grand Central Station for the day, a man in a shiny, crisp black leather jacket dropped a wad of twenties into the case. Mark looked up with amazement and he stared at the man. His sharp features were the first thing he caught sight of followed by the dressy work attire he wore beneath the black leather. Mark couldn’t fully grasp this generosity. The most he normally got on a Saturday was one of those twenties.

“I’ve got a proposition for you,” the man said.

Mark remained silent but he remained as attentive as he could. He always had trouble staying focused, and Grand Central Station was so distracting to him. Something or someone was always moving; drawing his attention away from what he was doing.

“Follow me,” the man said.

Mark, scrambling, stuffed the money into his jacket pocket and gently placed the violin inside the case and latched it shut. Obediently, Mark followed the man through Grand Central Station. He lagged behind, unable to keep up. His legs never seemed able to keep up with how fast he wanted to go. As he followed, his mind wandered. He noticed the way the light reflected off the tile and counted how many people were talking on their cell phones. He caught bits of people’s conversations, but he didn’t understand. He turned to look at the man he was following. His eyes glued to the man as he took in every detail of his outfit again. Mark forgot things so quickly it was almost as if he were seeing the leather jacket for the first time. He noticed the cocky stride of the man as he walked through the crowd of New Yorkers. The man opened the door to the bathroom, and all these thoughts were erased from Mark’s mind. An arm grabbed Mark and pulled him abruptly into the room. The man slammed the door shut. Mark’s eyes widened as he noticed three other men, all wearing black leather jackets around him. The heavy cologne odor that permeated the bathroom frustrated Mark. He didn’t know what it was.

“Look,” said the man, “it’s not hard what we want you to do and we’ll pay you more than you’d ever get in a day here. I’ve been watching you. You’re just what we need.”

Mark stared blankly. Mark did not answer. Mark could not answer. Mark looked at the men quizzically and cocked his head to the side, his sign of utter confusion.

“Dude,” one of the men said, “We know you can’t talk. That’s why you’re here.”

The fact that Mark couldn’t talk had always gotten him into trouble. Kids would always blame things on him in school. He had no friends, and couldn’t defend himself on his own. Even though he was grown up, he was always left alone, too different, and too challenged to be of use.

Mark was infatuated that these men noticed him. The first man patted him on the back. These men liked him. He wondered if maybe he would finally have some friends. He recalled what his Mama always told him: “You’re special Mark, and special people just need special friends.”

“It’s easy,” said the first man. “Even someone like you can do it. I know it’s hard for someone that can’t speak, and um… the other stuff,” he paused. “We’re here to umm… be your friends. I’m sure you could use some friends.”

At the word “friends”, Mark’s attention peaked. He felt special because he was wanted and needed, something he had never felt. He had always felt like he was a burden. Mark looked at all the men in the bathroom and smiled brightly.

“So man, are you in?” the man said

Mark nodded with excitement. He noticed the mirror and turned to his left. He stared into it as the other men watched him in wonder. Mark took in his own appearance as if he had not seen himself in a few days and just noticed something that changed. But Mark had not changed. Mark was the same. Mark will always be the same.

“Good. We’ll contact you when you’re needed,” the man said.

All the men scuttled out of the bathroom. The men left Mark all alone, confined in the tiled bathroom. Mark spun around. His face turned red as he fidgeted, pulling his fingers, grasping for the door as he held his breath. He found the handle and thrust the door open. Mark ran out into the openness of Grand Central Station, and gasped for air. He couldn’t handle being alone in confined areas; they terrified him. He looked around. The men in leather jackets were gone.

A week has passed and Mark is back at Grand Central Station. He plays his violin. Casually, a few people toss coins into his case. Mark is one with his music. He is a part of it and it is a part of him. His eyes are closed. He loves feeling the vibrations of the bow on the strings as it goes across and back, over and over.

Someone taps him on the shoulder. Mark jerks his body and stops playing. He slowly turns his head to see the man standing next to him wearing a leather jacket.

“It’s time, friend.” The man says.

Mark’s face lights up when the man says friend. The man takes the violin from Mark and puts it in the case atop the few coins that have been thrown into it. He gives it to Mark who takes it and holds it close to his chest. His violin is so precious to him. He only lets someone he truly considers a friend to touch it, let alone hold it without putting up a fight. The man begins to walk towards the exit and Mark follows him. When they are outside Mark is distracted by all the cars and sounds coming from the city. His head can’t handle all the noises permeating through his brain. He is overwhelmed and frustrated. Mark grabs his head and squints. He feels as if his body is going to explode. He looks to the man. The man notices Mark’s problem and leads him by the hand to the closest alley.

“Is this better?” he says.

Mark nods to the man.

“Alright bud, all you have to do is take this. It’s all ready to go. I’m going to show you how to stand, and hold your arm alright? All you have to do is pull this three times when I start playing your violin ok? That’s all you have to do for me alright?” he says.

Mark nods again.

“Man, you’re such a great friend. I owe you a big one,” he says.

The man shows Mark how he wants him positioned and levels his arm and shows Mark what to do with his hand.

“I’m going to take your violin, but I’ll give it back I promise. You’re a good friend. Don’t worry I’ve got it. You just stay here until you hear me playing the music alright?” he says.

Mark nods again and stays still to hold his position. The man has disappeared from Mark’s sight. Mark does not worry. The man is his friend. He knows the man will be back to get him. He knows today will be great.

Mark looks to the end of the alley. He sees a few figures walking. The violin starts to play. His arm is level. Mark stays still and pulls his finger three times. He hears loud noises and throws it to the ground. He sees three figures fall. He is terrified. He covers his ears. Tears stream down his face. He is confused. He can’t order his thoughts. It’s more than he can handle. He looks behind him and sees another man. This man is wearing a mask and is holding a gun. He sees Mark look at him and runs away. The man who took Mark’s violin comes running to Mark and kneels down beside him with the violin case. Mark smiles when he sees the man. Mark cries more. No words come out but he wants to say something. He is distracted by the flashing light in the street. He sees blue. Mark feels his hands being tugged by someone. He looks and sees a police officer standing above him. Mark is bewildered. The officer lifts Mark up roughly. He handcuffs Mark as he stands in the alley completely helpless. The police officer looks down and sees the gun lying next to Mark’s feet and he looks at the bodies down the alley. The man standing with the violin case looks at Mark.

“It must have been him officer. He’s a crazy one sir. You’ve seen him play in Grand Central. I just don’t know. Something must have gotten into him.” He says.

Mark looks up at the man as tears fill his eyes. This was his friend. Mark does not understand what is happening. The police officer nods to the man and leads Mark to the police car and pushes him into the backseat and slams the door. As the car drives away, Mark looks out the window and sees the man standing on the street with his violin in the velvet case. He thinks about how the maroon velvet feels when he touches it. Mark points out the window. He wants to go get his violin, but the policeman keeps driving down the street.

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