African American American Historical Fiction

Old Station North - 1940

The delicate song of piano keys rung out through the hall of the station as he began playing. The ceiling was gold-tiled, exquisite and undoubtedly gilded, as was the city. Grand ornate arches kept the roof up while the sleek marble floors never dried up and were constantly polished. The harmonics proved by the great curved ceiling made the notes of the piano bounce off down to ears of the crowds below who all gathered to watch him. He and his band’s train had been delayed; and so, what else was there to do but play?

Barlow Merrington was none too serious about the affair. He beamed at the opportunity to play the station’s grand piano situated neatly by the Christmas tree near the entrance. With a piano and a dozen unpacked instruments, the Merrington band was ready to play an unexpected gig. Horns were taken up, a drum set was propped up, the bass was tuned and like a symphony to a conductor, the band watched for his call. In the crowd, few knew his face yet all knew his voice, raspy but perfectly clear cut and soothing to the hear like raspberry pie. With a great big smile, he surveyed his entourage.

“A one, a two, a…”

His beefy fingers pressed down and fiddled the piano effortlessly while his bushy eyebrows wagged gleefully with every key he touched upon. His grin was impeccable; clearly a man with few cares in life to bother him.

How the roses will sing today

When they see the sun on you–

Oh, darling, what’s that you say?

Ain’t that hard to say I love you.

A crowd had gathered within hall to watch as the Merrington band turned an otherwise gloomy rainy day into one full of smiled and uplifted hearts. Rows of finely embellished wooden benches were now near empty now that the warm bottoms that seated them had risen to watch the band. Rosy smiles, blushes and a sense of belonging followed the golden sound wherever it found itself. Old men, children, men, women, black and white alike stood in awe. 

Darlin’ don’t ya know,

That it ain’t hard to say “I do”.

With the definite sound of the last key, string, pipe and beat played, the crowd burst into applause. Merrington stood up from the piano seat and bowed humbly. As the crowd roared in applause, he exchanged a few laughs and unheard words with the rest of his band. Even the oblivious could see that his boisterous laugh was terrifically contagious; it was the only thing one could hear above the impassioned uproar. For a moment it seemed that silence had never existed to begin with; that life and humanity was so full of color as to extinguish the darkness within them all.

“Is that really Merrington?” One asked.

“I heard he was due to play a concert in Chicago.” One said.

“Reminds me of my days back in Harlem.” Recounted another. 

The band bowed once more as Merrington waved to the crowd and sat himself back onto the piano stool ready to play another number as soon as the crowd had settled down. The piano took a somber note and the band followed suit with a rising and falling harmony with Merrington’s delicate playing like gentle drops of rain. 

Papers the next day were printed with headlines such as “The Great Barlow Merrington Plays at the Old Station North” and “Merrington Plays Surprise Gig”. After the show, one lucky reporter in the crowd approached Merrington for a comment. “The train didn’t come on time, but the station did.”

Old Station North – 2000

Circling crows cawed above the building and swooped down through the collapsed ceiling to pick at what they perhaps saw as a bug. It wasn’t a bug; just a tiny piece of concrete. Click-click-click. Suddenly, a rock was thrown at the bird’s wing. It squawked, stumbling for a half second but found its footing and winged out of the building.

“Them’s shits annoying.” 

“I know, fuck ‘em.”

“Y’know one of my brothers used t’ have a pet of ‘em.”

“For real? Crazy. I’d never.”

A few seconds passed with no sound but the howling wind from above and the few speckles of rain that dropped every now and then. The night before, they had set their carts and sleeping bags up in the corner under the exposed roof under the stars because Mia had imagined it would be romantic since it was possibly their fourth anniversary of being together. But come midnight, the starry sky turned murky and gave way to a barrage of rain on them which  blew out their fire.

“Ay, when we gonna go out for food?”

“Dunno.” She warmed her dirty hands with the shortening cigarette in her mouth. She pulled the cigarette out, held her breath, and blew the smoke into her cupped hands. “You got cash?”

“Nah. Used it all up on the crank.”

“Then we ain’t getting no food. Don’t test me neither. Not after last night.”

“Like I said before, it’s probably drier upstairs.”

“Fuck upstairs, you already know my answer.”

Strange sounds came from the above levels but the two never heard anyone’s voice or saw anyone come down. There were cracks, crashes, booms and echoes. Turner had an old pocketknife he pickpocketed from a guy at Burger King a year ago but Mia had only her fists, badly bruised and scabbed. Turner liked to talk about how he always kept his knife under his pillow and that he was ready to shank anyone who came close while he could pretend to be asleep. Mia scoffed at him for it. “Man, shut the fuck up. You talk too much.” Turner would never let her hear the end of it though.

“Fuck this.” Turner stood up.

Mia turned around in shock “Where you goin’?”

“To get something t’ eat so we don’t starve up in here. My stomach growling like a motherfucker.”

 She wanted to protest for him not to leave her alone but she didn’t have the will to. Not anymore. Her stomach ached badly and her mouth was frothy in its dryness. Turner put on his baggy nylon coat and trudged towards the side entrance of the abandoned station.

When the sounds of his footsteps were gone, Mia turned and lay on her side on the tattered sleeping bag she had kept for all these years. Sometimes she shut her eyes and hoped it was all a dream; that she would wake up as a six-year-old girl again in her mother’s kitchen with the sweet smell of her apple pie to warm her nose. But mom was long gone. In a grave maybe, she didn’t know. It didn’t matter. Every now and then when Turner wasn’t looking, she would shut her eyes in the hope of waking up but it never worked. She shut her eyes again. Like always when she opened them, she was still the same Mia, but something had caught her eye. There was a small pebble that shone brightly in the light from the ceiling not more than two feet away on the broken marble floor. Mia reached out for it with a set of trembling fingers and picked it up. It was a piece of old tile painted in gold on one side. As she swivelled it with her fingers, she pondered about where such a pretty piece of tile came from; who made it, what had it seen. Maybe it was from a bygone age, she didn’t know. She concocted stories about this small golden tile, how it had ended up here and what kind of world it lived in. It was too exciting for her by the time she was brought back to reality by the sound of something upstairs. Turning her attention back to the tile, she smiled lamentably; and told herself that whatever world it was, it was one that she hadn’t come on time for; but that tile did.

March 13, 2021 05:41

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