I saw a man playing the piano in the street today. He was playing blues and jazz like someone who’d just stepped out of a gin joint in New Orleans. His name was Harold and he was 82 years old. It was the last time he was going to be able to play his piano because he was moving to a retirement home. They wouldn’t let him have a piano in his room in case it disturbed the other residents.
‘It’s going to be a long, slow death,’ he said as he slipped from swing to gospel to boogie woogie as easy as drawing breath.
The piano was in the street waiting to be loaded onto a removalist’s truck. The driver was becoming impatient. He was obviously not a music lover. He kept looking at his watch and pulling on his ear lobe.
Eventually the music stopped and the piano was loaded into the truck. It was like witnessing Jonah being sucked into the belly of the whale.
As the truck drove off Harold stood in the middle of the road watching it disappear. He stood there for a long time afterwards. I knew he was hoping someone would realise taking his piano away from him was a huge mistake and that half way down the road they would come to their senses. But the truck didn’t come back.
Dejected, shoulders slumped, Harold shuffled into his house with the well-tended garden. His face had already grown colourless. He appeared frailer than before. When he closed his door I felt a clutch of tears form in my throat for the click of the latch was like the slight groan someone makes when they have given up.
It is a shame when practicalities fail to acknowledge a true source of joy. Music is a form of light we should let into our rooms as much as we can. To deny what for Harold was obviously a basic need seems heartless. I wonder how Harold will manage in a new home without his old friend.