It was far too late in the evening for someone to be busking, yet here she was, with an instrument so old the strains looked ready to crumble and a voice so defiantly strong that it immediately grabbed his attention. He smiled to himself as he approached her, her pleasant melody drifting through the air to mingle with the usual ruckus of the streets. Even when the hour drew close tot ten, he could hear dogs barking and neighbors screaming obscenities at their children. When he passed the battered guitar case–which only held on ten, two ones, and a few pennies–he dropped in a nickel. The amount was so pathetically small that the woman stopped for a moment and scoffed. “That’s all you have, pal?” she challenged. There wasn’t any greed in her words, just a bitter resentment. One look at the designer coat he wore and the expensive watch on his left wrist told her that he could burn twenties for fun and still walk away without a dent in his checking. Her bitterness grew when the man ignored her and began to stroll away. Just before the nightly shadows enveloped his form, he stopped and turned his head.
“Be careful, young woman. Here there be monsters,” he warned. Before he could take another step into the darkness and let the shadows swallow him whole, she plucked a chord from her guitar that commanded him to stop.
“Here there be monsters, this man would say. Yet, this is a man who hasn’t worked a day. Who schemed and connived with a heart filled with greed. Taking and taking without thought to plead. Here there be monsters, yet he ignores the greater fear. Abandon all hope, ye who enter here,” she sang, the simple couplets vicious and icy. She never lost her technique as she sang, and the wicked beauty of the simple verse intrigued him. His laughter bounced against the walls and ran shivers up her spine. When he finished, he spun around and took a step forward, away from the darkness.
“I applaud your improvisational verse, and your use of Dante’s famous quote,” he complimented.
“Do I ring true?” she asked, her fingers absentmindedly stroking the strings. The notes were sad, lingering faintly in the air before dying quickly. She leaned against the post of the lamplight and stared at the man, eyes filled with skepticism and stone. He bowed his head, simultaneously ashamed and irate.
“While there are some like me, who long to be free, of the chains we made to bind. There are some of us here, who have little fear, of what we leave behind. My bank is large and my wealth obscene, and with money I light my fires, but at the end of the day, I get little say, in the destruction of my ire’s,” he replied. The woman slowly nodded, then looked down at her guitar. Silence hung thick with the stench of wet trash and cigarette smoke.
“Any requests, white collar?” she asked. A small, cold smile crossed the man’s lips.
“Hallelujah,” he answered, the word bitter in his mouth. Without another word, the woman gently played the intro on her instrument, allowing her voice to join in a moment later. The man closed his eyes and leaned against the brick wall of a business office, enraptured by the music and its creator. He felt goosebumps prickle against his skin as she allowed her voice to effortlessly climb, reaching passionate octaves and swells that made his heart rate increase. It had been so long since he’d heard such music, such emotion. When she finished, he noticed several people were peeking out from cheap blinds with wide, wondering eyes. She sat motionless, her hands still poised for the last chord and tears gently trickling down filthy cheeks. His footsteps echoed across the empty street as he walked towards her and dropped a crisp fifty into her guitar case.
“Hallelujah,” he whispered, the word soft and reverent. She continued to cry, even as the man walked away and the raucous noise of the street ensued as if the meeting between the starving musician and lonely businessman never took place.
I wrote this as an entry for a small gathering of writers, all challenged to write about the same theme: Isolation and Protection. This short story demonstrates Isolation more clearly, for I feel that the guitarist is much more fulfilled in her life than the businessman is in his. I hope I do the description of nocturnal streets justice.