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The blind musicman
His sound tells me I'm almost home

November 1, 2000
The Iranian

I've almost forgotten what it feels like, having the rain fall down on your face, feeling the wetness under your feet, accidentally stepping into puddles knowing that you're new black shoes will have turned brown with mud by the time you get home. How long has it been? I've lost count.

The city is growing dark, I can hardly make out the faces standing a few feet away from me, waiting for the light to turn green. Only three have passed by without even looking at the traffic light which is remarkable. Usually, I'm the only one waiting there getting stares from people which clearly say: "What a weirdo."

Of course that's just because of my own lack of moral sense; I've totally forgotten the fact that the only reason the traffic light is standing there is for the street to look a little brighter. Everyone's rushing to get home, to exchange everyday problems and burdens with a few hours of peace. . . if it can ever be found there anyways.

I see a man walk past me wearing plastic sandals. I look up with awe.

I try to take in as much air as I can knowing that I won't be able to breath like this for a long long time to come. Tomorrow morning all the buses and cars will turn everything to the way it was before. The smoke will eat up the view of the mountains -- even the beautiful Mount Damavand which I saw from the balcony today will disappear. Quite a beauty, standing there tall and strong, unlike most of the people who surround it, but I guess it's used to it.

When the air is clear the mountains around you seem only a few feet away. I always wish I could sit in the middle of the street to paint the scene while it's fresh in my mind knowing that it won't be seen again soon. . . that is if I had the guts to sit in front of moving vehicles driven by mad men. And if I knew how to paint.

The light finally turns green. I try to listen closely. I don't hear him. What kind of a lunatic would sit in the pouring rain all day long, I ask myself. As I walk closer I see that, sure enough, he's sitting in the same old corner, but he has an umbrella above his head and a cardboard box under him. I can't help but smile. He plays the tonbak quite well, although that's no surprise: it's either play well or go hungry.

I see him stop for a second and reach into the tambourine to take out the money. He puts the coins in one pocket, kisses the bills and puts them in another. I always wonder how he tells the different coins and bills apart. But even though he is blind I am pretty sure he can see better then most folks. I drop the 200-toman bill that I always put in my left pocket and walk on in the long perspective of shadows and trees. He'll be playing long after I get home but for how long? That's something I haven't been able to figure out.

I remember Mr. Miller, the old man who played the guitar in my favorite shopping center when I lived in Canada. I knew many things about him, like when he was born and where/when he had gotten married and why he had divorced that no-good "witch" and how many kids he had. And I could have known lots more if I had nothing better to do all day than listen to a 70-year-old blabber away. I can't even begin to count all the dollar coins I put in his guitar case.

But things are a little bit different here. For one thing street musicians only play the ney or the tonbak. No bag pipes, no violins, no guitars. Not even the setar or the kamanche. And no matter how many times you meet, no matter how many times you empty out your wallet, you're still strangers, you'll never even find out their name much less why they divorced that "witch". But rules are rules and my tenth one has always been: street musicians are treasures; stop and listen then place a small donation, no matter where on earth you live.

I don't like the ones who now live around me that much, but the blind one is an exception. On those nights when I'm walking home, tired and sleepy, his sound tells me I'm almost home. And on those bright, sunny mornings, his tonbak tells me I'm one step closer. He plays the most beautiful tunes, much different than what Mr. Miller played.

I see kids walking with their mothers looking at him, then begging their mothers for a coin to drop in his tambourine. I remember myself just a few years back doing the same thing. He always has on the same gray-colored jacket and plastic sunglasses, sitting there all day, reminding people that there's still some good in the world.

As I walk away, I think of Mr. Miller: would he still be standing there if I were to pass by right now? He was old; can't go on playing forever you know. And I wonder, what would happen if I pass by one day and see that the blind tonbak-player isn't there? What if that happens two days in a row? Or three? The thought of it makes me shudder. I push it out of my mind.

My street musician here might not have a big set of microphones and speakers, just as Mr. Miller did. And he does not wear Nike running shoes or a Levi's jacket. He does not play in an expensive shopping center. But he is still a treat to listen to. He can play one hell of a tune.

Najmeh Fakhraie is a 17-year-old student in Tehran.

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