The Drummer

January 19, 2009
By Joel Nelson, Oakton, VA

He looked close to twenty, possibly younger. He walked down the alley into the basketball court. It was six pm and he wasn’t about to break from schedule. He pushed his cart into the ditch, and pulled out his soul—the drum set he kept in the cart—piece by piece. He then pulled out a bottle filled with something that could pass as water and set it next to the drums. He set up the drums on the side of the court and took the bucket and placed it upside down on the ground to sit on.
Shivering, he unzipped the coat that helped shield him from the cold that was present this season. He sat down, ignoring the cold that was tearing at him. He knew it wouldn’t last. He then removed his gloves, revealing medical tape on his hands. He pulled out a pair of drumsticks, leaned back, and stared up at the sky. Relaxed to a point of harmony with the world, he let himself feel the rhythm.
Then with a look of focus, he began tapping the bass drum repeatedly. He looked down and hit a cymbal offbeat with the bass drum. He began to play the set with passion, oblivious to anything, other than where he let the sticks hit. The melody held little substance on its own. It was nothing like a solo.
Seven pm and still at it. Religiously: without change in the intensity. A young girl walked by. Most likely on her way home. She stopped and looked at the man. He didn’t look back. She watched and listened for a minute then walked on. The drummer kept playing.
Eight pm. now, but now there were breaks in the rhythm, adding diversity to the beat. The drummer was warmed up at last. He threw off his coat. An old man walked by, observing the drummer with a bit of pity. He had seen the twenty something year old before. The drummer didn’t stop.
Eleven o clock. The drummer wasn’t near stopping. He now was changing the rhythm into something with soul. He infused irregularities into the pattern. He was indifferent to the men next to him. One shoved him. The drummer kept the rhythm. Another threw gravel at him. He ignored the gravel and continued to rain down his beating on the drums. A third talked to him. Trying to get him angry. The drummer acted deaf, so the man kicked the bucket from under him. The drummer continued…standing. The last man pulled out a gun and took aim as a threat. The drummer’s eyes were open now, but he continued. The man was taken back, the drummer held no fear, no defiance.
The man replaced the drummers’ seat, which the drummer immediately sat on. The drummer stopped, head shaking as he listened to the beat, no one else heard. After the pause, he began anew, as if only breaking for the song and not himself. The men listened, then left.
Two o clock in the morning. The drummer ignored the sweat. He continued alone, this was not for him. This was not for anyone. This was for itself. As he hit the snare, a stick broke. Without stopping, the drummer pulled out another. He continued the journey.
Three in the morning. The drummer drank from the bottle while continuing the beat. His pace had increased. He had dents only in the center of the drums. He stopped as though another instrument was taking a solo while the drummer continued the bob to his head. He lifted his hands to his face. Through the medical tape, there was blood. With a grimace the man began playing again. The song wasn’t over.
Eight in the morning. The drummer had gone through twelve sticks. The girl was back again, she walked the other way though. She ignored him this time. He stopped. Raised his head, and basked in the sunrise. He got up, put the coat on, put the drums back in the cart, and walked away. As he passed the girl he gave a small nod. He headed over to the alley. To find food, then sleep away the day. He chose this, and he wouldn’t give it away for the world.

The author's comments:
A brief video of a nighttime street drummer led me to create this short story.

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This article has 2 comments.

jj said...
on Mar. 2 2009 at 9:12 pm
This is really good! It is intense!

creator said...
on Feb. 21 2009 at 6:49 pm
The mood this piece sets is soulful. I read it several times and felt I was there. Please write more.

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