The Human Comedy
The music man played on. It was the third hour of his fifth set on the fourth night of the cruise. At dawn they would dock, and by 4 p.m. they’d set sail again — a five-nighter to Nassau. He wouldn’t get a day off ’til Tuesday. There was nothing to do but play.
He was black, in his forties, his voice all rasp and bramble with a dash of honey. His fingers read the keys like Braille. He was too good for this — rocking Middle America in a floating piano bar — and yet he gave the performance everything. Where his ego should have been, there was sheet music.
How many crowds had watched him sweat joy? How many hearts had he warmed? He was a treasure in this place — in any place. The rare man who did what he loved, pouring his soul through his work and churning out peace.
How they noticed. How they responded. The banker from Toledo, the couple from Detroit, the mother and daughter from Chicago — shouting, singing, beaming under this piano-toting sun. His energy became their energy, and his energy was unparalleled.
And then the clock struck one. Closing time. “Have fun at the casino,” he told them. “See you next cruise!”
Satisfied Middle America filed out. “Man, that was fun.” “He’s fantastic.” “Boy, did the cruise line luck out with him.”
For the first time in hours, the room heard quiet. The piano man tidied his office, the cocktail waitress cleared glasses, and a young couple approached the bar. “Is the show over?” they asked in chorus.
“I’m afraid so.”
“Aw!” The woman’s foot landed with disappointment. “Our friends told us we had to check you out. We didn’t know there was a piano bar!”
A knowing smile cracked the musician’s face. “This happens the last night of every cruise, right when we shut down. Someone comes in and discovers this place for the first time.” He looked past them, at nothing in particular. “I suppose that’s the beauty of the world.”
“What’s beautiful about it?” the young woman asked him, sipping her Miami Vice.
“Sometimes you catch it. And sometimes you’re a half hour too late.”
“Yeah. It’s too bad.”
“Thank you anyway. Maybe we’ll see you another time.”
He smiled at them. “I wouldn’t bet on it. Then again, I’m not much of a gambler.”
Without saying more, the couple left, and the piano man returned to his instrument. He stroked the keys like a horse’s mane, thanking the polished black stallion for a wonderful ride. “The beauty of the world …” he murmured, all husk and introspection. “I hope they find it.”