Aching joints and bruised muscles kept him bent over like a crooked man who walked a crooked mile. He surveyed the empty parking lot. The sky, still muddy from a passing storm, glowed with the faintest hint of rose-colored dawn. Hoisting his bedroll over his back, he reached down for Ava. His hand gripped the solid handle of her case. She was his angel. His muse. When his fingers danced across her center, the world saw him for who he might’ve been.
Every morning, they played for commuters rushing to and from the local train station. A nameless, faceless mass wearing gray ties and red heels with square briefcases and round purses. Rushing. Always rushing.
“Today’s the day,” he told Ava. They almost had enough money for a hot meal and shower.
As he reached the station, a flurry of wings greeted him. If this corner by the station entrance was home, then Bob Blue, Little Sally, and Twitchy were his children. He pulled out a bag of leftover bread ends. His pigeons cooed and nestled against his legs.
He pulled Ava out of her case. Her music wrapped around him, warming him like hot butter on toast. His fingers caressed her, plucked her strings, drew from her shapely form perfect notes that harmonized with his own gruff voice. The pain in his leg disappeared. The world righted itself. No rules. No hunger. Just song.
He played for hours, played to feel, played to drench himself in the simple joy of creating beauty out of nothing.
And the gray ties and red heels stopped to listen. Some gave him the change in their pockets before moving on with their lives. When his throat grew hoarse and his fingers stiffened, he called it a day.
He got to his feet. His children were gone.
Raucous laughter drew his attention to a group of nearby kids. They fought over who would get their hands on the pellet gun next.
Pop! Pop! Pop!
The gun rang as one kid fired into a cluster of pigeons. The birds soared a huge circle around the laughing children then settled back in front of them. Necks jerked up and down as beaks snapped at birdseed tossed to the ground.
He bellowed with rage. The kids scattered until one of them screeched to a stop.
“It’s just a homeless guy,” the kid shouted.
He watched them rally together, heard the sound of their approaching feet, felt their disgust surge over him. Their fists pummeled him, and he fell to his side. One of them tore Ava away from his arms. Another kicked him.
Off in the distance, he saw the bodies of his children lying still, too still, beneath the afternoon sun. And the gray ties and red heels continued to flow around them, ignoring them. Rushing. Always rushing.