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Being a musician is a lot like being homeless – but the homeless get free food.
For the seventh day in a row now I wandered the dirty, cluttered streets of Baltimore, nodding once to every other homeless person on these streets. There was a difference from me to them of course though. As I lugged a cello on my back to the closest street corner I had not tried performing at yet, I was constantly reminded that I still had a home.
Or, at least, a roof over my head. I had no family with me. Rarely food. All I had was my cello. My cello was my life. My cello was my home. It made no difference if I had food, or water, or heat; my cello was enough to sustain me.
That’s all that mattered.
I stumbled as the weight of my instrument nearly pushed me to the ground – and yet I continued on. I had to make it to my next stage, my next street corner, to plop my fedora on the ground and hope for more than a dollar. That could get me something from McDonald’s. As long as I had tax. But six cents isn’t too hard to find – as long as I had my dollar.
Cars flew by me and whipped my long dark red hair in front of my face. I spat it out of my mouth and whipped my head back, trying to get the wind to catch it and get it to fly behind my head. Long hair was getting irritating, but there wasn’t much I could do about it. Snap it off with kitchen shears? What if a talent scout saw me play?
If someone saw my instrument and I – saw us as we became one, then they would understand. They would see my instrument’s talent – what it can do when I’m behind it.
That’s the key. I don’t do the playing. I don’t show the emotion. My instrument does. I just help it along. That’s all it needs.
I slapped my black fedora on the ground. It made next to no noise as I laid it down. I stomped on it lightly as the wind blew strongly for a few seconds. I needed it. I didn’t have anything else to hold my dollar – my dollar for my quarter pounder from McDonald’s.
Carefully laying my cello down on it’s side, I unstrapped my folded wooden chair from the side of the case and set it down. I was beginning to get stares from people in their houses; mostly on the top floor. I saw a child peek from under blinds, and I offered a quiet little smile and a wave. The blinds instantly shut.
With a sigh, I unzipped my cello from it’s home and unsheathed the bow like a sword. I strapped the case to the back of my little chair and sat down, my hands on the neck of my instrument.
“Good mornin’, baby,” I said, fitting my forehead into the scroll and closing my eyes happily. “It’s time for us to play a lil’ song. D’you think you can do that for me?”
With one stroke I ran my bow lightly across the first and highest string of my instrument. The sound rang out melodically, and was carried away with the wind. I saw, out of the corner of my eye, the child who had looked at me earlier peek out again. This time she was joined by her brother, who was about the same age as her.
“Thank you, baby.” I whispered, almost silently running my bow across the rest of the strings. She was in tune. I could play. We could play.
I closed my eyes and breathed in with the wind. The strings on my cello whispered with the wind as I breathed. She was itching to play. Itching to play with me. Who was I to keep her from that?
Hours later my fingers were raw. From plucking the strings, from letting my fingers fly across the bridge. My instrument was exhausted. I was exhausted. The children had long since left the window, and there was a small pile of coins in my fedora. After my instrument was safely in her case, I rifled through my hat.
“Eighty four…eighty nine…ninety…four…”
That was the extent of my money. Ninety four cents. I sighed, shoving my money into my dirty pockets. No food for me tonight.
I folded my chair and attached it to my case, and slapped my fedora back on my head. It was time to head back to my apartment for the night. To stare at my instrument. To be selfish and wish the rumbling in my stomach would stop.
As I took my first step towards my home, there was a tap on my shoulder. I whipped around, afraid for my instrument, and there was the little girl. She fearfully looked back towards her house before shoving a dollar in my face. It was covered in stickers of unicorns and fairies, but it was a dollar. A real dollar.
I beamed and kissed the girl on the cheek, before shooing her back to her house.
Quarter pounder here I come…