The Invisible Étude

As rain streaks diagonally across the window, and the nearly empty bus trudges down a narrow and uneven street, the skinny old man toward the front dances his fingers across the tops of the seats. At first I can’t tell what he’s doing, but then I realize he’s playing the piano. The way he plays both sides, keeping one hand close as the other glides across the imaginary keys, I can only assume he’s played for many years. He stops, now and again, to look upward, as if sniffing the air, then to look around suspiciously. He returns to his playing, more careful each time, increasingly afraid of a wrong note. I don’t want to see the keyboard; the fact that he sees it is enough. But I spend five minutes wishing I could hear what he’s silently playing. Then we arrive at the bus stop, and we step off, the old pianist disappears, and the only sound is drizzle pecking umbrellas.

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