Art, photos and words by Estela Caballero ❤
Someone had stolen his gloves in the night. He considered himself lucky that was all they did. A sweet melody woke him. The notes rising and falling like his heart used to when he still had one. Long gone the days when celebrations like a birthday marked time. It was hard to say how long he had been living this way. He reached in his pocket feeling around. If it was heaven, he would expect that the spare gloves he kept in his pocket would be gone. After all they wouldn’t be necessary. Heaven or hell, neither would require gloves. They were there and even though the fingers of the gloves had been worn through many winters ago, it was better than nothing. The music played and he still had hope God had just forgot to remove the gloves.
He struggled to his feet and tried to find the angel that was playing the song of a life he no longer had any claim to. The rise and fall of the notes from the violin reminded him of the days he and his beautiful young wife would save up to have dinner in the city. How many times had they walked by this very spot? Maybe it was best this way. He was lost in plain sight. Love and the pain of losing it was worse than being kicked or chased away from places, being ignored and even sleeping outside in the freezing rain. He welcomed the numbness regardless of the source. Brown glass bottle or below zero nights on the concrete– it no longer made a difference. Only the end result mattered.
The old man was warm now and pulled his gloves out of his pocket. Papery thin hands carefully paired them like his older brother had showed him long ago when he was a boy. They often fought over who would ball the socks as they helped their mother fold laundry for the Ballinger’s. They didn’t have toys and would toss the socks back and forth until they were reclaimed by his kind but tired mother. None of them, not even his mother had ever owned anything as fine as the impossibly soft socks. From father to infant, the Ballinger family feet were just as pampered as every other part of their life. Had someone told the citizens of the small town they lived in that they would one day live in the old Balinger home, laughter would surely have followed.
The subway was a world of its own. He noticed a particular boy and his mother. They were in his home along with the other usual morning crowd rushing and waiting. Well, they were in the closest thing he had to a home. The subway was a safer place than some of the shelters he would stay at once in a while when the cops did their sweeps. The boy looked to be about three years old and his mother held his hand tight as they walked by him. He lowered his eyes to show the mother he meant no harm to her or her child. She didn’t notice the gesture nor would she have understood it had she looked. We turn away from that which pains us. We turn away from that which causes fear. When it is necessary to confront the uncomfortable, it’s easiest to chalk it up to the flawed person that surely brought the misery upon themselves. Dismissed. Everyone can continue about their day.
The boy pulled at his mother’s hand, his eyes fixed on the homeless man’s angel playing a beautiful stringed instrument that was a dark rich brown.
Movement like a river all day long. People entered and hopped off the subway cars coming and going just as they did every other day. Few noticed the man’s angel and the few that stopped were children who stayed as long as their parent’s allowed. The violin is unlike other instruments in the way it calls something inside most don’t know is there. Dismissed. Best the call go unanswered. To listen requires an attention long extinct among people blind to angels and deaf to their song.
Not too long ago, a famous violinist, Joshua Bell, played in the subway. It wasn’t as a panhandler before he reached fame and fortune. He was already extremely well known. He became invisible to people who proudly claim to love fine music– his fine music. The cloak of the ordinary deafens so even heavenly sounds cannot reach the brain much less the heart. This ailment pales in comparison to the mysterious loss poverty provokes–a temporary blindness among the masses.
It was a social experiment. The question– Would anyone recognize the person playing violin in the subway? Would the award winning music draw a crowd? He was scheduled to play several sold out shows over the next few days in New York. Tickets at the events regularly went for $100 or more. Josh Bell played in the subway for about 45 minutes and made $32. Only a handful of people stopped to see him play. One thought him an angel that might lead him to a wife and daughter long disappeared in the fire.
No one recognized him. Josh Bell was in a subway playing a violin that was worth $3.5 million yet children– those still living in the freedom of enjoying something because of how it makes them feel and not what others think, were the ones who appreciated the sounds of the homeless man’s angel the most.