She quickly ran down Dearborn, while continuously checking her phone for the time.
‘Damn, it’s almost 2:00 p.m.’ she thought to herself as she was stopped by the toot of a horn from a shiny white car that whizzed past her before she stepped into the street.
Looking up to the sky she could see the green cast iron trim along the very top of the Harold Washington Library. A lot of love and devotion went into the building and funding of this library.
Thinking back to her youth she would always remember the smiling man as he walked by their fundraising table at her first grade school. He had an entourage of photographers and people following him around the small open space as he made his way from table to table shaking people’s hands. Even as a small child she could remember the energy that was emitting from the man as he made his way closer, this intangible spirit that made its way from the curving smile of his lips to his eyes.
The fire and spirit of this city as it was captured in the flame like scrolls emitting from all four sides of the top of the library in downtown Chicago.
The lady next to her moved and that was her sign that it was time to cross the street. She had a minute left before it would begin.
As she hurried into door and down the hallway, she opted to take an elevator straight to the music floor. There she would take up her regular spot and just listen.
Once the elevator made its way to the floor, she quickly walked forward and made a right past the circulation desk littered with all sorts of toppers marketing local music and art in the city.
Through the doorway on the right, stood an open room with several closed off rooms for people to practice on pianos provided by the library as well as a full on practice suite for anybody to use. Her sights focused on the piano room all the way in the far righthand corner and a table just across from it.
In that room precisely at 2:00 p.m. there was this sound filled with a bittersweet emotion that made it’s way from the room in heartrending rearrangements of several classics.
As she neared the table nearest to the room, she could hear today’s choice was Rachmaninov. He’d just begun and she could feel the power of a sorrowful anger within the first chords strongly placed with a force of a lilting staccato. It was as if someone heavily stepped on a stair and a deep sound was emitted. With each step gained another feeling pulsed.
She never saw the man, nor did she know him.
It all started about a month ago as she decided to come to the library and write. Heck, she’d gotten a degree in writing. She might as well put that degree to work, but the words were stuck. They didn’t want to come out.
When she thought of writing in the library, she instantly thought of the winter garden on the top floor. She figured this would be cool, while on a late lunch. She didn’t work too far from the library and sometimes the ‘typical’ lunch hour was boring. Sure there were tons of places to eat, it was downtown Chicago; however, she always craved something more within her free time.
The library never ceased to amaze her with its beautiful marble, majestic archways and the walls painted with words of inspiration. As she made her way to the winter garden on the top floor, she remembered feeling the spirit of the library’s namesake in every step she took.
That day, the garden was packed and there were no tables available for use. It was a shame as she began forming a story in her head with the beautiful mural hallway in mind. Well there were other places of inspiration, so she made her way to the music floor.
Down the short escalator to the music floor. She’d never actually walked beneath the giant archway with it’s inspirational etched glass.
As she walked around the listening room to spy on various people in the practice rooms, she found herself caught by the last room all the way on the right.
The figure sitting before the wooden upright piano was very tall as his head crested far above the top of the piano. She could tell it was a ‘he’ from the shape of his back through the dingy looking black hoodie. Instantly his stature reminded her of an image she’d once seen in an art history class of the grim reaper sitting at a table waiting to take someone.
The man’s face was out of view due to the sides of his hood obscuring any tangible peek at his face, but his hands told her many things. Long, slender and mahogany with a slight yellowish undertone that sometimes made itself known beneath the dry ashy layer of skin. He caressed the piano keys lovingly as an artist rounding out the curve of a sculptured face.
Beyond what her writer’s eye could see, it was the music that truly told her about this mystery pianist. It was Rhapsody on a Theme for Paganini, but what was so outstanding to her was that it was unexpected. There were no sheets of music in front of him, nothing in the room except him and he was amazing. He plaid unaccompanied by any other music, but for a slight tilting of his head as if he were listening for some sort of imaginary strings section.
She felt chills run up her spine with the last lilting chord. Immediately, she’d could see a story in her head just like a movie. Quickly, she whipped out her laptop on the nearest table, opened up her notepad app and began typing the images and scenes from her head as fast as she could.
He played several more songs, but she only had an hour and she felt torn once her phone buzzed a warning notification indicating her lunch would soon end. Opting to not get in trouble, she packed up and left with a promise to return at the same time tomorrow.
Today marked one month of her daily 2:00 p.m. lunch at the library. She could stay and try to see the man, but there was something magical about the mystery of not knowing. Her ignorance was blissfully pulling stories out of her head.
Stories of Chicago, stories of the people she’d seen and stories of things that only one with a vivid imagination could generate.
Today’s strident chords of Rachmaninov and Bartok gave her images of alleys filled with large groups of kids playing amidst the dilapidated structures behind tenement buildings called garages. Her notification buzzed on her watch and she began packing up her stuff, while once again wondering if she should stay.
Something told her to stay, so she stopped packing and she stayed.
Pulling her laptop back out, she began to free write her stream of conscious thought and capture her decision as well as her feelings. The song ended and she heard the scratch of a chair. Instantly, her head snapped up to catch a peek of the man with the hidden sound.
He stood tall like she’d assumed, but it was incredible to see him unwind from his seat. Slowly he raised his arms to stretch and she could see a part of his lower back that peeked through from beneath the bottom of the black hoodie as well as a grey shirt now revealed.
His shoulders sagged forward hunching his back. She tilted her head and patiently waited for him to turn, so she could see his face.
As he turned, she met his eyes and instant recognition flared in her mind to a point of shock. The man’s eyes were distant as if caught up in a dream and he slowly opened the door. His face was long and mahogany with deep somber brown eyes. A scraggly salt and pepper beard framed the sides of his face disappearing into his hood.
He was the homeless man she passed every morning on her way to work. She knew him because she often brought cash just to put in his cup as she walked to work in the morning.
As he walked by her, she could smell him. The familiar rank smell of must that was uniquely his and let her know it was him. He walked by the circulation desk and raised a hand to the clerk who simply nodded in understanding.
Her phone began vibrating. Someone was calling her, but she was trapped in her seat. A whole month spent wondering, writing and listening to such a beautiful sound.
She watched as the man went down the escalator and could only shake her head in wonder. You just never know what hidden sounds will make their way out into the world if you only take the time to listen.