There have always been musicians playing at the subway station; the has-been's, the wanna-be's, the guitarists that have a little talent, but only know three songs. They've been there for as long as you can remember, and you've always made sure to grab some spare change for the poor souls whenever you leave the apartment. You're well known around the subway as the guy who gives out a dollar.
For years, they've just been background noise- the last time anyone played anything exciting or worth taking the time to stop and listen to, you were seven and with your bro. And for the longest time, you'd given up on paying them any attention. Sure the casual voice singing "Hey there, Delilah," was pleasant enough, but that was all it was: pleasant, passable. Mediocre.
But one day, when you are about 20, you finally hear something fantastic.
You take time climbing down the concrete stairs, as always, hands shoved in your pockets and shades covering your eyes. For a moment, your attention is directed to the ground, counting the old (and new) wads of ABC gum stuck to the steps.
As you near the bottom, the sound finally manages to bring you to reality- music. Actual music.
It's something original, something up-beat, and nothing like anything you've heard anyone attempt to do at the station. And to your surprise, the artist is nothing more than a college student. He's got his keyboard set up in the corner, plugged into an outlet on the wall behind him. It's a decent instrument, but you can tell it's been through several moves and drops over the years, going by the smudges on the side and the worn out YAMAHA logo facing you.
His keyboard doesn't hold your attention for long, and as you reach the bottom of the stairs, you're shifting to his face and his hands and his feet. He's concentrated- you can tell by how he bites his lip- but he's got a sparkle in his eye that almost pulls your lips up in a smirk. His fingers pound away at the keys lightheartedly, playing some cliche-sounding 90's beats- techno setting and tinny drum back-beat and all. Every so often, he'll stomp on the plastic pedal, and he taps his left heel in time with his playing.
You stop at the bottom of the stairs to listen, unzipping your gray sweatshirt to get more comfortable in the heat of the crowd.
He's got a decent number of people gathered around him, but most people simply drop a coin or two in his hat on the floor and continue on their way.
You want to give them a piece of your mind.
But instead, you decide to remain superior to them; if they can't recognize good music and talent on their own, they don't deserve to appreciate it at all.
By the time you've decided to make your way over to him, he's changed his style (taken a request by the looks of the lady to his right). He switches the keyboard back to traditional piano and plays.
His fingers are slow, each movement calculated perfectly in time with the beats he's creating. You're unable to put a name to the piece and assume it's original, but you've never been familiar with piano music. Regardless, you decide it needs to go on your iPod relatively soon.
He finishes, but his fingers hover over the keys until the sound dies down. Then he smiles up at the woman and asks if that was good enough. She grins happily- you swear her mouth touches her ears- and pays him $5.
Happily, the kid pockets the money and thanks her as she walks away with her young daughter. Before he switches back from traditional music, he plays one more slow piece, earning himself a small applause and some spare change from passer-by's. He goes to move some dials, but you stop him.
"Hey," you say.
He freezes and looks up expectantly, that twinkle more prominent up close.
"Play one more." You dig into your pocket and pull out a ten, hold it up for him to see, and throw it into the beanie he has sitting on the floor.
He glances from the hat to you in disbelief. "That's not- I mean, you don't-"
The kid swallows and nods, trying to hold back a grin- you can tell. He plays another piece, just as lovely and enchanting as the first. It's a nice break from reality and you allow yourself to doze off into some sort of a daydream as you listen. You're content.
Then he stops. And before you can protest, he starts off something new, a little quicker, in F major.
Words can't describe how perfect his harmonies are, how fantastically his chords support and complement the melody, how wonderfully his fingers work against the keys. But you know it'll stay with you; always playing in the back of your mind somehow.
Even when it ends, you swear you hear it echo somewhere in your brain.
He looks up at you, no longer making an attempts to suppress his grin. "I hope that was worth your ten bucks!"
You pretend to consider it for a moment, noting how his smile fades a little with every second you delay. "What's your name, kid?" you ask finally. You probably shouldn't be calling him kid- he's most likely the same age as you.
He doesn't seem to mind. "John. John Egbert." He sticks out his hand for you, leaning across the keyboard so he can reach.
"Dave Strider," you return, shaking his hand. His grip is strong; pianist hands. "I think we'll be seeing plenty more of each other."
His smile brightens back up and he starts babbling on about something. You're not really listening and instead dig into your pocket and pull out a pen and some paper. You step around his instrument and turn him around, using his back as a surface to write on, despite his protests. You spin him back to face you, he stumbles a bit and you can hear the rubber of his converses squeak against yours as he steps on your foot.
"Here," you say, thrusting the piece of paper towards him.
He glances down at it in confusion. "What's this?"
"My number. Hit me up later."
"Just do it," you interrupt. You smirk just the tiniest bit. "I promise you won't regret it."
He looks down at the paper again, then to the crowd growing impatient around him. "For... a date?" he asks. He looks afraid, like he's worried he'll be wrong and make a fool out of himself.
"Hm. Well now that you mention it, that sounds great. Call me, I'll pick you up." You wink, a little disappointed he wouldn't be able to see it through your glasses. "Catch ya later, John. You're keeping your fans waiting." You nod to the people standing around the dirty station.
He looks confused, then excited, then confused again and starts scrambling to change the settings on his keyboard before remembering that he still has your number in his hand. He goes to stuff it in his pocket, but then decides against it and throws it in his hat with the change. He grins up at you- which you return with a nod- and goes back to playing.
True talent. That's what he has. You'd like to get to know that talent, and in addition, get to know him. You're not sure which is your top priority.
You hop on your subway, already thinking of ways to record his pieces, and remix them if he'd allow. You can hear the deep bass coming from somewhere in your chest, complementing the permanent melodies playing repeatedly in your mind. You certainly can't wait.
It's all you can think about the rest of your day.
And you try to hide it, but you're ecstatic when your phone rings later that night.