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If you were to close your eyes and listen, you’d hear the most beautiful notes ever strummed. You’d think of island breezes and sunsets. You’d remember your childhood home, and the smell of your mother’s cooking. You’d lose yourself in this music, and become entangled in the chords. The music would tell of the highs and lows of life, rising and falling in dramatic swoops. If you closed your eyes and listened, the music that flowed would be so beautiful, so genuine, so real, you’d swear you were in a paradise. If you opened your eyes, you’d see a scrawny little boy clutching a small guitar, sitting on an old dented propane tank in the slums of Southern Colombia.

I am Andrés. I’m 10 years old and I play the guitar. My dad gave it to me before my mother died. He used to be so happy. Now, all he does is drink.

I play the guitar for tourists. Me and my best friend go into town and collect change to help feed his family and my little sister. She’s 6 years old. Sometimes I sit in my room and play my guitar and look at the planes pass. My friend tells me that to the people in the airplanes, we’re just dots. We’re smaller than ants, even smaller than freckles. I don’t believe him though. My friend also told me that music soothes the beast.

The next night, when my dad stumbled in from town, I got my guitar. When he picked up a plate, and threw it against the wall, my sister screamed. I sat down and began to play my guitar, the same way I do in town. My dad stopped, looked at me, cocked his head, and hauled his arm back again. I kept playing, even though my fingers were shaking. My sister began to hum along, off–key, a song my mother used to sing, about birds that can always find home. My dad looked at us, grunted, and sat down. He drunk more cans and started singing with us.

My dad never stopped drinking, but every night, I played for him, and we had our own little concert for mom.

He is my best friend. We lived in neighboring tenements, surrounded by so many tin roofed others, a barrio of dingy stucco houses clinging on to each other for dear life. He lived with his sister and deadbeat dad. Every night he’d play a different song on his little guitar, and everyone in the barrio would be quiet and listen. He would play us everything from Mozart to Aventura, his notes woven intricately like my mother’s red baskets.
One day, we were sitting on the beach, watching the waves. We had just come from in town, where he had played for the tourists and I shook my rusty beggar cup and tried to look deserving. We’d gotten enough coins to buy two loaves of bread, and we were relaxing before the walk home. He was drawing designs on my cup with red mud, and I was skipping stones. A black car pulled up behind us and two suits got out. One was very tall, the other really short. They looked serious, but artistic in a way, with their long hair pulled back into a slick ponytail. They sat beside my friend and told him they had heard about him. They asked if he would play them a few songs. He shrugged and handed me the mud covered change cup. Right there, my friend wove a new tune I’d never heard before. The suits took out a recorder and recorded him playing. Afterwards, they asked him if he could take them to his father. He agreed and walked with them towards the barrio. I still remember his bare feet beside their large leather shoes.

He is my brother. He sits on stage, bent intently over his guitar. His long hair falls just past his shoulders, his fingers moving with incredible agility over the strings. I sit in the audience, watching the people around me fall into his music. I remember when he was just a hollow cheeked kid, playing in the town square for tourists. He’s still doing it, in a way. Only now, he’s playing for much more than a few scraps of bread.
I remember sitting on the porch with him, playing checkers with bottle caps. We had a game where he’d hide all my checkers, then I’d wrestle with him until he told me where he hid them. Under a mat, in his socks, he had fast fingers and could hide things in a second. One day, we were wrestling and a brochure fell out his pocket. I grabbed it and stretched out of his reach, reading the big bold letters on the front. Riosa Music School. I thought I’d never forgive him for leaving me.


He is a fellow musician. We shared a room at Riosa Music School our first year. His side of the room was basically empty. A table, a pallet, and a dresser. He slept on the floor, saying it was better for his back. He kept an old muddy tin cup on his little table, as a paperweight for his music sheets.
I never heard him play his guitar outside of class before. The only thing he played was what the teachers assigned, until one rainy afternoon.
The rain was pounding our roof, and class was canceled. We stayed inside all day, writing and reviewing techniques. That night when I woke up, he was still wide awake.
He must have had trouble sleeping after that phone call, because he was sitting in his bed, holding his paperweight. He kept rubbing his fingers along the bottom, and humming. I watched as he got up, picked up his guitar, and stood next to an open window. That’s when he started playing the most beautiful music I had ever heard. His fingers flew up and down the strings, strumming chords I had never heard before. His song seemed sad, like a grievance. I studied the chords, tried to catch some of the notes. It was like trying to grasp the wind.
That’s when he got up and left. I heard later that he walked 20 miles back to his old barrio that night.

I am the mother of his best friend. I weave red baskets. My salary was never enough to keep my son’s belly full. It was hardly enough to keep him alive. That’s why I will owe a debt to Andrés, who helped my son collect change in town to keep food on our table. I will owe him until I die.
I was the bearer of bad news. When my son fell down a well, trying to get to the coins on the bottom, I had to call the Riosa School of Music. I had to deliver the news. I had to listen, over the phone, as a young boy who had just escaped the barrio, broke down in tears. Yes, that was me.


I am Andrés. I am the stuff of urban myths. People used to say me and my guitar were so inseparable, you couldn’t recognize one without the other. Others would say that when I left the barrio for music school, I took all the color with me. Still, others would gossip that my own music had carried me off into the wind. All of these have a hint of truth in them, like most myths, but no one really knows how a kid from the slums of Colombia ended up traveling the world on tour. Not even me. I visit places I’ve never even heard of. That I never planned on visiting. I play for audiences whose faces I can’t even see, because of the white, hot glare of the stage lights. I play for people who know my name, people I’ve never met in my entire life. I play in hopes that I will somehow rekindle the passion that kept me playing every night in the barrio.
One day, I was asleep on a plane, on my way to Japan. We were flying over a slum in Mumbai. I could tell from the overlapping tin sheets, huddled together on the outskirts of a shining city. As I looked down from first-class, I realized how small the people looked. Even the houses, they seemed miniscule. The people walking the small roads between the huts and bathing in the muddy river were the size of dots. Then I realized, maybe the slums look small, until you’re walking the streets of them. That night, in the large stadium, with the strangers I would never know, I began to cry. The curtains shut before I started my heaving sobs.

A young man walks the beach in Southern Colombia. He has a backpack, full of toys for the local kids, bread, and a rusty tin cup. He is carrying a guitar. He sits on a small log and looks at the waves lap the beach. He watches the sun rise. As the colors reach over the horizon, he begins to play a song about birds finding their way back home. He plays until the sky is light blue. He does not notice eyes watching him. They are hidden behind tall blades of grass. They belong to a little boy with a patched shirt.


The little boy tip toes over to the man, as not to disturb him, and sits in the sand listening to the man play. The man never looks up and does not notice the boy until he is done playing. When he’s done, he looks up and jumps at the sight of a dusty faced boy looking up at him. He looks into the eyes of the boy and sees more than just the eyes of a boy. He sees struggle, hunger, long nights, and empty bellies. He sees determination. Maybe the young man sees more in that little boy’s eyes than is there.

The man reaches into his pack and pulls out a small bottle of bubbles. He shakes it and blows a few into the boys face, trying to make him smile. Instead, the boy swats the colorful bubbles away and points at the guitar. He asks the man to keep playing. The man looks down, and plays for the boy. Afterwards, the boy stretches back in the sand and looks at the sky. He gazes at the planes as the man starts another tune. This continues until the sun is high in the sky. When the man stops, the boy has his eyes closed and is still hearing the music. When he sits up, the man is not there. There is only a book bag full of bread, toys, and a tin cup. Beside it is a guitar.
The boy picks it up and starts strumming the strings.





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4/4khems said...
Apr. 9, 2012 at 11:30 pm
loved it! it was just wndderful andfull of thought
 
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