At times, walking up the long escalator from the subway, I have to resist the powerful urge to look behind me. There is a clock at the bottom, but if I crane my neck around while still walking forward, I know vertigo and injury will result. (Pausing is not an option – you know the city, always forward.) So, I walk up, suffocating the urge, ascending, pulling my ignorance behind me. These times I feel like Orpheus, resisting temptation in exchange for fulfillment at the surface.
There is often, like with Orpheus, a mournful melody to accompany me but, unlike Orpheus, I am not the player. Instead, the shimmering, slightly off-tone garlands of music falling down the escalator come from a street musician. When I arrive in the sunlight, I will see him, large bottom overflowing his tiny perch (a bucket?), his dark, rough hands cradling the small violin. His eyes closed, always. I think it was the eyes that caught my attention.
When I reach ground level, my test concluded, I can end the curiosity. Out of the purse comes my cell phone. Time known.
I have imagined that once I will emerge, extract the phone, and there will be no time. Orpheus, unaccountably obedient, turns around and there is no Eurydice. If there is no time, I suppose the skies will be grey, one lonely note from the violin will hang on the air, and Einstein will have been wrong. (What was his ignorance, trailing behind him as he ascended?)
Naturally, that doesn’t happen. But subterranean escape after escape, the music, flimsy as it is, has enchanted me. As I often do, this day I put a dollar in the violin case, worn red velvet and quarters with a 20 for show. Then I go and sit where time has stopped, or at least made us invisible. A park with peeling benches and indifferent pigeons milling on the bald turf. I sit and wait, resolved, invisible behind the violin player. I cannot see if he opens his eyes but I believe he does not, no more than a peek at least. When the commuter exodus ebbs and the clouded sky is lit only with our own reflected luminance, he rests the violin on his wide lap, empties his earnings into a plastic baggie, zips it up, and puts everything away. The bucket – I can see it is a bucket now, for he has stood – is flipped and turned into a suitcase. He walks off. I follow him.
The story is continued in Part 2.