By Nora Vasconcelos
That winter morning the sunny sky gave everybody in the city the illusion that it’d be a warm day. But it was nothing more than that, just an illusion. The chilly wind that came from everywhere managed to cool people’s bones until the point it was unbearable to walk on the streets for more than just a few minutes.
“If only it snowed,” I said aloud, not worrying about the crowd that walked by my side in a hurry, after the train services had been cancelled due to technical problems.
Once again, the metro had failed. That had left me with 20 minutes to get to my office on Madero street. It should be enough time to walk from Hidalgo station to the Palace of Fine Arts station, crossing all the way from Reforma Avenue to the Eje Central Avenue, through the Alameda park.
It was the beginning of February, Saint Valentine’s day was close and the central park of Mexico city looked very colorful. Heart-shaped balloon vendors approached every one, the same as those who were trying to convince couples to buy rose bouquets, to celebrate the special day.
It would have been nice and charming if only I’d had time to buy that cup of coffee that was offered to me when I left the subway station, then I could have walked, warm and relaxed, across the park.
With that option out of reach now, I crossed my arms, pressing them against my coat, and continued walking, a bit faster this time.
It was then that I saw him, seated on a bench, holding a violin case that looked as frayed as his clothes. The man was asleep. Or at least, it seemed so. Nor the noise of the cars passing by Juarez Avenue, nor the constant murmur of people walking hastily around him, nothing seemed to disturb him.
“Was he dead?” I suddenly wondered.
The question came along with some anguish. I observed him for a few seconds. Then I saw him breathing. He looked quiet, serene, as if his sleep were a comfortable one.
Then, I realized that he was trembling. His body was responding to the intense cold weather.
If I had bought that coffee, I’d have given it to him.
For a few moments I didn’t know what to do. I still had five more minutes to get to my office. “Should I call someone? A police officer, may be? Should I wake him up? May be he was waiting for someone else to come…”
On the spur of the moment, I took my coat off and put it on him, gently, covering him from his shoulders up to his knees, with his violin covered as well, with the wooden fabric.
A chilly wind came around. It was time for me to go. Rubbing my hands, I felt relief when I saw my office building a few steps from where I was.
As soon as I entered the office, the warmth coming from the heater and the smell of fresh coffee made me feel well again.
A minute later, the incident in the park became a memory, at least for the hours I spent there, processing, one after the other, the insurance forms that had accumulated on my desk the previous day.
At five o’clock, it was time for me to go back home. My feet pointed toward the subway station. It should be open by then. However, a chilly wind that made me shiver for a few seconds reminded me that I had given my coat away to the violin man. Curiosity arouse, and I went back to the park. “Would he still be there?”
It wasn’t that I wanted my coat back. No way! I had given it to him and I was happy with that. In fact, I was intrigued by this man.
Five minutes later, I arrived to the place where I had seen him that morning. But he wasn’t there. I turned around, unable to locate him anywhere.
I sat on the bench for a few seconds to decide what to do, I could either return to the Palace of Fine Arts station, or walk all the way across the Alameda up to Hidalgo station. Perhaps I could find him somewhere in the park.
The cold weather made me opt for the shortest path.
When I was about to leave, I turned my face back as some pigeons started to fly very close to me. The violin man was there! I had found him!
About three meters away I could see him, standing with one end of his violin held by his left hand, allowing the rest of the instrument rest on his left shoulder, while his right arm rose and fell with a certain pace.
Certain pride came onto my smile when, in the distance, I recognized my coat on him, while he played his violin.
As I approached the man, I had to get through many people who were there, observing him. But for some reason, as I got closer, I wasn’t able to hear any music coming from his violin. Had he ceased to play?
Seconds later, I saw his face clearly for the first time. His skin, dry and wrinkled, concealed his youth, he should be no more than 35 years old. His frayed suit and his off-white shirt looked old, and his violin, which he played so passionately, was missing all its strings!
While I was trying to understand what had happened to him. The violinist ended his act.
People applauded. He took a bow and placed his violin back into its case and started to walk.
I thought I should follow him, but the weather told me that it was time to continue my journey. The evening sky had turned grey and cloudy.
Five minutes later I was inside the metro station.
If I had not walked to the Alameda to see the violin man, I would have avoided the rush hour. But by then, it was difficult to move among so many people, and even more difficult to enter the subway cars.
However, the warmth of the crowd felt good, and in a short time the heat had returned to my body.
As the train advanced slowly, dozens of people inside push everybody, over and over again, trying to get, at least, a little empty space to move and breathe freely.
Of course I was uncomfortable, but my mind kept bringing back all the memories of that man, playing his violin with no strings, and how he, with an instrument that produced no sound, managed to convey a sweet melody that everybody around could listen, not with their ears, but with their hearts.
“To whom he was playing with such deep sentiment? What had happen to him that he ended up like this, abandoned in the streets, wearing a suit and playing a violin without strings?”
All these questions hunted me not only on my way home, but all the night as well.
The next morning, the metro service didn’t report any problems, so I arrive at the office fifteen minutes before my check in time.
While I was having my coffee, I told my colleagues the story of the violin man. Touched by it, we all thought that we could put some money together to buy this man some new strings. For sure, somewhere around the city center we would be able to find them.
A quick search on the internet showed us a place to go, and we bought them during lunch time.
The time seemed to pass slower than usual, until the office hours were over.
As soon as it was five o’clock, I left the building and went straight to the place where I had found the violinist the previous day.
I sighed with relief when I saw him there, in the exact same place, playing the same tune with no music that he had played the previous day for a different audience.
This time I was warm and happy, wearing an old fashion coat I had kept in my wardrobe, for any use I could find for it. It looked a bit overworn, but it was warm all the same.
When the performance ended, and the people around left, I approached the man. To my surprise, he spoke to me first:
“Thank you for your coat,” he said.
Speechless, I gave him the violin strings. “My co-workers and I thought you’d like to have them.”
With the present in his hands, the man sighed deeply.
He remained silent for some moments. Then he set his brown eyes on the fountain that was a few meters away from there, right in front of the bench in which I had seen him for the first time.
A minute later, he said to me:
(To be continued next Wednesday on: http://www.obinnaudenwe.blogspot.mx/ )
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* This story is part of The Crosseover Mexico-Nigeria Project