by Jodi Sway
Back outside, I shield my eyes. I feel heavy with disappointment.
I didn’t get the job.
Downtown, I wait for the light to change. I can feel the pulse of the city. It’s under my feet, shaking with the jackhammer tearing up the road. It’s in the hard steps of passersby, and the beady eyes of pigeons. Cool wind with hot spots flings trash into the gutters. The breeze carries the smell of car oil and garbage.
Hard, impatient, and unforgiving, the city is the Beast. It sucks in life and pours out violence.
While this understanding is forced on me, flurries of notes rise into the air. A street performer stands behind me, not too far away. Funny thing is, I didn’t see him before. So I listen.
While I do, the City waits…
The light changes to green. I don’t notice. I’m oblivious to others rushing by. A shoulder, carrying a purse or backpack, shoves me. I miss the angry swear…
The old man pours himself into every blue note.
I want to stop him. It’s only a matter of time before the Beast turns, snuffs out the beauty the music man blows before he can tame Its heart.
I want to stop him, but I can’t. I need him to go on. The old man makes me forget, surrounding me with rhythms. My frustrations melt on the downtown street. While those wrinkled hands–made young by that horn–play, I dance inside.
Suddenly I want to know, need to know what that melody is!
“Sir, please tell me. What’s the name of–”
The music stops. Just like that. After lying in wait, the Beast speaks. Its voice is coarse and hungry.
“Change? You got some change?”
He thrusts out a can full of coins. Rattles it impatiently.
“Huh?” I ask, confused.
The Beast lives in the old man’s face. His suspicious eyes bore into me. His features are contorted. He is a bitter pied piper come to life.
“I jus’ need a lil’ change, that’s all. I wan’ somethin’ t’eat.”
The City rumbles and the beast it is laughs. I’ve been naive. I fell for the bait, wishing for beauty amid the terror. For a time I forgot where I was. Sure did.
“Yeah. Okay,” I mumble, or something like it, and toss coins into the street performer’s can.
I turn quickly, wanting to get away. I face the traffic light again. It’s red, of course. I cuss loudly, drawing attention. Eyes stare. Out of those gazes springs the Beast.
It swallows me whole.