(Author’s note: the following was written as a short story, intended for submission into a competition. At the last minute, I balked, because I didn’t want to pay what I felt was an outrageous entry fee. But I selfishly kept the story to myself. Consider this post an apology.)
(Author’s note, redux: this story, by the way, is quite true, to the best of my memory.)
My music is loud, my countenance is low, and my bag is heavy.
The music I use to keep my energy up, and to repel the equally hostile glances of fear and indifference from my fellow travelers. Sadly, my history of city life has made this normal. I don’t take it personally. As the booming bass underscores the kaleidoscope of frequencies through the headphones that massage my brain, I keep my poker face handy.
I’m through the security checkpoint, and I’m ready to sit. I won’t let my posture show it quite yet, but I’ve been walking for awhile. The trip has just started, and already I feel worn out. I’m like Steve Martin in “Planes, Trains and Automobiles.” Ideally, I’d just like to get to the gate, plug in my computer, and relax. As I trudge forth, that’s pretty much the plan.
Except, there it is.
Ever since college, I’ve always been drawn to the sight of a grand piano in public space. Something about the combination of private escape and public exhibition, I find irresistible. Maybe it’s because size of the piano shields my visage from public gaze, yet I still get to make a connection.
Or maybe it’s because I love confounding people’s expectations. Like gun owners who hackey-sack, or vegans who barbecue, I love being a hip-hop minister who also plays the piano. Every time I get to share those gifts together, the competing cultural connotations get all mashed up and spun around until they no longer divide like they’re supposed to.
I’m a veritable Kanye Tesh.
Of course, none of that is on my mind right now. I mostly just want to feel the weight of the keys, and hear the sound of grand, majestic chords echoing through the concourse.
So I discreetly lay down my carry-on, and slide onto the black cushioned bench.
I don’t really have a plan at first, I just fumble around a bit. G-major nine, A-sus over B. Plunking and noodling around. Eventually I end up in E-flat. Silently, I ask the Lord to guide my fingers. And when He does, I don’t even really recognize what I’m playing until I’m halfway into it.
What. Can. Wash.
A… way… my… sins…
A smile leaks out, as the truth sinks in.
I’m supposed to be meeting a friend at the gate, and I don’t know if I’m late or not. At the moment, I don’t care. Flight or no, this is my calling in the moment.
Oh, precious, is the flow.
Another hand joins mine.
What the… ?
I look up and see the grin of an older man. Eastern European, looks like. Though a stranger, his eyes sparkle with familiarity. He has come to join me. I slide over and give him room on the bench.
As he plunks along the upper register of the keyboard, I’m holding it down along the middle and low.
We get louder. I’m breaking out my gospel chords. He’s starting to solo a bit. What started as a stilted, tentative melody has now become a spirited, rollicking cadence. I look up, and a few people have stopped to listen.
And watch, apparently. As I scan the room, there are people in various poses and shades of professional dress, who have stopped to take in the spectacle.
We must be quite a sight, I think.
The head-bobbing fitted cap and the cackling, gleeful trench coat, grooving in awkward synchronicity. What on earth could’ve brought these two together, other than a grand piano in the middle of Portland International Airport?
Nothing but the blood, of Jesus.
We finish our musical jaunt to a smattering of scattered applause. I shake his hand, we pose for a picture, and I’m out.
* * *
At the gate, I spy my friend and fellow emcee.
“Was that you on the piano?”
I nod, sheepish.
“Sounded like there was somebody else with you.”
“Yeahh,” I stammer, not really knowing how to explain what just happened.
He looks at me, and smiles
“Next time, you should bring some of your beats.”
Now that would be cool. Maybe next time.