As I descend into the deep shaft of Porter Square station, I become conscious of the mournful tune of a violin or the contemplative twang of a guitar. At the foot of the weird escalator of vertigo, by the map of the subway, someone in ruffled corduroys is playing a song. A shapeless black bag sits in front of the artist. There are anywhere between zero and five minutes until the next train.
The singer is different every day and so are the tunes, but the corduroys seem constant. It is just my imagination – there was a woman in jeans the other day. The violin song seems to be Scottish or Irish, and the guitar tune is probably South American. Once, there was also a man with a dog and a banjo on which he played a brisk Mediterranean strain. The music makes me think of loved ones far away just getting out of bed or preparing to retire at the end of a long day. It makes me think of the friends I have lost through neglect and of the few I have regained through fortunate circumstance. Sometimes I think of older folks whom death will soon snatch away. Sometimes I think of a stairwell, an open door, the sound of running water, sunbeams on the linoleum, home. Sometimes I think of characters in novels – even the extravagant ones now seem austere. Today, the tune forces me to stop, trembling slightly in a corner, daring me to weep. I don’t expect this – I, a musical philistine who can no longer manage so much as a miserable chord with my left hand. The flowing throng of crunching boots and clicking heels slowly comes to a pause on the platform. Nobody is looking at anybody; they are in their own private Valhalla. I look down at my overcoat and something resembling a smile escapes through clenched lips.
I reach for my wallet, not out of happiness, not out of admiration, but out of gratitude.