A Little Night Music
Trolley man was dead, to begin with.
He was Trolley Man to most everyone in our neighbourhood, one of those places where the apartments crowd in on, around, under each other so you can’t tell how you fit all of them in. People are the same, round here, they make themselves small, to try and fit into the space. They keep out of each other’s way, in case someone decides there isn’t room for both of them. It’s not a joke- it’s been known to happen.
Except for Trolley Man. He’d not been round here long. I don’t know where he was before. Maybe he went where he was needed. I like to think so. No, Trolley Man didn’t shrink from anyone, or anything. He expanded to fill the space, like sunshine. He was old, I think. You never did see much of him past the grime and the ratbag ensemble of clothing. But you didn’t need to see him. You just needed to hear him.
The first time was in July. I was sweating and sticking to the sofa, so I opened a window, not that that usually did much to help. That’s when I heard it. The violin, slow, stately, somehow taking the muggy, smokey dark that was the city night and turning it the crisp midnight blue of the countryside where I grew up. Beautiful. I went to see who was playing, knew it wasn’t the neighbours’ kid, and there he was, sitting on the kerb, playing. He didn’t seem to be playing for anyone but himself, and yet I knew he was playing for all of us, in our grubby apartment buildings, in our grubby compartmentalised lives.
A week later, it was an Irish jig. There were sonatas, snatches of music half-remembered from music class, or the radio, some that I had never heard but which were still utterly familiar, coming home in my imagination to a new place. Always in the evening. In the daytime, he would push the old supermarket trolley that gave him his name around the shopping parade, and at night, he would sit on the kerb and play. We got kinder to each other, when he did. I can’t explain it. It soothed us. The pollution still cut out the light, but in his night music we could see the stars.
And then there was the group of joyriding kids, the screech of tyres, the ambulance sirens, and he was gone. He left his trolley behind, next to the bins, and a hole where he should have been in our lives. We’re not so kind now, but we all remember, at least, I hope we do.
I like to think he went where he was needed. I hope they know what they have Upstairs.