A man tries to explain his act of kindness towards a finger-deficient busker, but there’s something more sinister going on.
|Image generated with OpenAI
He’s always been in the same spot as the first time I saw him. Right on the ground with his bottom planted, lotus position, on the concrete square slab that seems reserved for him. Even when its busy he’s there with the little keyboard held between his thighs. Those fingers he has plinking out those same tunes. I can’t say I recognised any of the melodies, but they seemed harmonic enough. I’m no expert on musical composition of course. Never saw him wearing a different outfit, just the same green smock, the baggy brown trousers and flat hat, and battered shoes. The keyboard was a cheap Casio, I guess. I’m pretty certain it was, as my brother used to have one like it, more of a toy than a keyboard. Like the same one Trio used for that Da Da Da song in the eighties. I’m not sure that’s relevant. It was white and about thirty centimetres long. The only other possession he seemed to have in the world was his metal begging bowl.
He was always smiling, and you don’t get a lot of smiling in this town. That’s why I started dropping some change in his bowl. When you did you got a good, broad grin in return. So, most days I did exactly that. He seemed genuinely friendly, and I figured there was no harm in trying to talk to him. Yes, I’d noticed his missing little fingers before. I don’t see how someone wouldn’t, when what he did for money was to play his keyboard which obviously needs fingers. Not that being two fingers down seemed to hinder him. I was curious. I mean, he’s a guy with some clear talent, and I’ve always wondered how people end up in the situation they do. Especially homeless guys. It might sound silly, but when I see homeless guys, particularly someone older like this chap, I’ll ask myself what happened to them along the way. I mean, he was a child once. He went to a school, had a mum and dad, friends, learned to play an instrument. He finished school at some age in the past, perhaps worked, got married, et cetera, and I just always think, when you see someone like that, what got them to where they are now.
That’s why I decided to try and have a chat. Curiosity. No other reason. Until then, the pretty much daily routine, including Saturdays like this one, had been to give him some coins, nod a hello, get a big smile back, and wave a quick goodbye. Out of nothing more than a spot of friendliness I figured why not finally learn what such a person’s story is. No other agenda. No expectations. Just being inquisitive about a seemingly nice guy. Yes, basically nosiness getting the better of me. It will have been not long after twelve because I always go to the market at midday on Saturdays. I didn’t expect him to understand me. We couldn’t communicate with words, given the language barrier, but most gestures work over here. You know, like holding fingers and thumb together and jabbing them towards my mouth, patting my stomach to suggest hunger, asking if he wanted to eat. Just those kinds of global gestures, same as squiggling an invisible pen onto an invisible pad to get a bill in a restaurant. That was it; I pointed to my mouth, rubbed my stomach, and he got what I meant straight away. There was nothing weird in his reaction. He got up, took off his cap and stuffed it in one back pocket, his Casio in the other, and followed me.
The walk back to my place is five minutes away from his spot. Sure, he looked self-conscious, out of place, even a bit scared, well, more wary than scared, but I kept beckoning with my hands and saying, ‘it’s ok’. I’m sure everyone understands the word ‘ok’. When we entered the apartment, he shook off his sandals and stood in the doorway. He wouldn’t enter or certainly didn’t feel comfortable doing so. I beckoned him again, and said ‘it’s ok’ again, but he still didn’t come in. I don’t know how many seconds he stood there. It wasn’t as long as a minute. What I did was put my hand on his arm and say ‘it’s ok’ once more. I felt a little awkward doing that, but it did the trick as he stepped through the doorway. With the door closed behind him, he appeared to calm down and lose his nervousness. I don’t know how to say this, and I don’t want it to sound weird, but because he has his little fingers missing, and because I touched his arm, I think that’s why he relaxed. I mean, and this is awful and blunt, but I guess he understood I wasn’t repelled by anything about him, which of course I wasn’t. I might be completely off the mark here, but I reckon when you, well, there’s not an acceptable way to say this, but when you touch someone’s, and I apologise if I’m not using the correct, up-to-date term, when you touch someone’s disability, it lets them know it’s not an issue. I think so anyway. Apologies if I’ve got that wrong.
There wasn’t much in the house foodwise, but I’d bought a microwave the day before as it happens, so that’s why I bought potatoes and tinned beans at the market. Got it from a local electronics shop for the equivalent of about sixty dollars. That’s not important though, I suppose. Jacket potatoes with margarine, beans, and a bit of sriracha on top is what I made. It took about ten minutes. We didn’t try to communicate. He drank a bottle of water I’d given him from the fridge, then we sat down opposite each other at the kitchen table and ate. I gave him a knife and fork, but he only used the fork. It wasn’t an effective way to eat it, and some of the mashed bits and sauce went off the side of his plate. I’d be lying if I didn’t say his eating habit was a bit unpleasant. Maybe he’s not used to using a knife and fork. Yes, we have some chopsticks, and, on reflection, it could have been more sensitive to offer those. Hard to imagine chopsticks wouldn’t have made more mess though to be honest. Knife and fork, chopsticks, it really doesn’t matter surely. It wasn’t a lot of mess, and not a difficult thing to clean after, so not a bother.
Of course, I should have texted my wife and my mind still boggles why it didn’t occur to me. It was like I was so engrossed in attending to him at that point that it didn’t cross my mind. That was probably my first mistake. In fact, no ‘probably’ about it. It was my first mistake. She wasn’t happy. Naturally, all she wants to do when she gets back from yoga is have a shower and chill for a bit. Our regular Saturday routine is I pop to the local market when she goes to yoga, get some food in, come back, and get a small lunch ready while she’s in the shower. Once she’s done, we eat, with our first beer of the weekend, and watch something on TV. So, she was rightly shocked to see the keyboard beggar sitting with me at our kitchen table, potato and beans everywhere. I should have texted her beforehand without question. I get that. I really should have. It should have been the first bloody thing to occur to me. She didn’t speak to him or speak in front of him. Yes, I told her he didn’t speak any English. Look, she was livid, and it was fair of her to be livid. I’m an idiot with things like that. I get an idea in my head and forget everything else. A total idiot.
I don’t know which hotel she went to and still don’t obviously. I don’t know for sure if she’s in a hotel, but I can’t think of where else she might be. She hasn’t answered my messages or picked up the phone. She hadn’t anyway. I don’t know if she has now and that should be bloody obvious as well! I am doing my best to not get upset here. Okay, no, it won’t be a scruffy hotel, and it’ll have a bar or at least room service I imagine. It could be the Shangri La, but I don’t know. I say it could be there, as we stayed there when we first arrived in this city and we both really liked it. After she wouldn’t reply to any of my messages or calls, I got more worried and tried calling them. I mean didn’t try, I did succeed in calling them, but they told me they couldn’t give out private information about guests, even if the caller was claiming to be the husband. I don’t know the name of who I spoke to. A woman, a local I would say, but with good English. God knows what I sounded like. Anyway, if she’s not there, she’s most likely gone to a similar hotel chain. I don’t blame her. It’s my stupid fault. I just don’t think sometimes.
It’s true my decisions didn’t improve after that, but since he seemed so surprised, even somewhat disturbed by what was happening around him, and as I was the one that had brought him to our place, I didn’t feel I could just turf him out. He didn’t finish the meal. I can’t say how much he left as I scooped his leftovers into the bin under the sink. Whether that was due to it not being the kind of thing he generally eats, perhaps never tried, or whether it was the commotion of me and my wife, and her storming out, I don’t know. Anyway, I’d put him, and me, in that predicament, so I couldn’t just tell him to go. So, he had the shower I offered him, and after gave him a pair of my joggers and a clean t-shirt to put on. We’re nothing like the same size and they were way too large for him. Then I showed him where the spare room was. When he’d last slept on a half decent bed I couldn’t tell you, but he was out for the count in less than a minute. I slid his door shut and then kept trying to get in touch with my wife.
He slept through the whole night. The reason I know is I barely slept myself. I didn’t hear a squeak out of him all night despite him being in the next room and the thin walls. He didn’t get up to use the toilet. I did, several times, and in fact my guts still don’t feel right. I haven’t had much water, and I don’t want any of the food here. That jacket potato was the last thing I ate. I’ll eat again when I’m back home. During the night I kept messaging my wife. What else would I do whilst awake? The app we use for messaging here doesn’t show if she’s read them or not, so I can’t answer that. I just don’t know and still don’t. That’s my biggest worry of course. Not knowing if she’s replied to them now or not is killing me. Okay, to the morning. It was eightish. I don’t know the exact number of minutes past eight. That’s why I said ‘ish’. I knocked on his door and went in. He was sitting on the edge of the bed. Sitting upright, hands on his lap, back in his own clothes. My stuff was folded with neat creases on the corner of the bedspread which seemed odd to me. I noticed it because of how precise it was. I gestured for him to come into the kitchen, which he did, and I started making some toast with jam.
I know when the knock at the door was. No, not the exact time on the clock, but the moment it knocked. It was exactly as the toast popped, as if they’d waited to hear it eject, or for some sound to emanate from the apartment, as their signal to knock. It was firm, confident, and I sensed it was authority of some kind. It made me jump. It frightened the pianist, as I now know you call him, even more, and he scuttled to the sofa and sat tight to one side of it with his feet up and arms wrapped around his legs and chin on his knees. Both knees of course! How can which knee be possibly relevant or helpful! He was shaking, shaking a lot, and that startled me. I had a split second of wanting to convince myself it was the building management because I’d invited an unapproved guest in the apartment. I consciously knew it wasn’t them though as they’re pretty nice people and that knock wasn’t the knock of a nice person. It wasn’t a friendly visit.
They just took me there and then and down into their car. No, not a word about where we were going, No English used at all. Down to this station, which I’ve never been to before, and straight into a cell. Well, almost straight into the cell as I had to give them my wedding ring, my watch, my mobile and the slippers I was still wearing. Then I was put in the cell. Of course I didn’t understand a word. I’m pretty sure they weren’t asking me anything anyhow. Nothing they said had the intonation of questions. Ordering, yes. Questioning, no. I kept asking them what was going on, why this was happening, but after those initial procedures I just got shoved in there. I honestly didn’t know how long I’d been in there. As I said, no watch, no phone, and there was no window, so I couldn’t track day and night. I’ve no experience of being in a cell in any country, never mind this one, but I suppose it’s just a typical cell, grey painted walls, a stone bench to lie on, and one of those metal toilets with no seat or loo roll in the corner. Yes, naturally, I was scared stiff, but I haven’t done anything wrong. When is giving a beggar a spot of food and a bed for the night a crime? I get my behaviour has been foolhardy, even odd, not culturally correct, but not illegal surely. Surely.
I know it’s close to two days because that’s what the interpreter told me this morning in the half an hour I had with him. Honestly, in that cell it was impossible to tell how much time was passing, a complete vacuum of hours and minutes. The interpreter didn’t tell me anything else. It was brief. He only asked why I’d decided to take in the pianist. That’s what he called him, the pianist, and that’s why I’m calling him that now. I had him down as someone who’d picked up the cheap Casio keyboard somewhere along the way and had learned a few ditties. I still don’t know anything about him except what I’ve gleaned from all the quick-fire questions the interpreter asked me. What the pianist ate, how much he ate, if the pianist liked the food and how did I know. What did the pianist wear when he arrived, what time he slept, did he rise in the night, and so on. Repeated questions about exact times, precise locations in the apartment, every single minuscule moment. I have no idea why, or who, or what the pianist is. To me he’s simply been a smiley homeless guy I tried to do something nice for. I don’t understand what’s going and I just want to go home and find my wife please.
The interpreter wouldn’t answer why I was put in a cell, or when I could go. To anything I asked he simply said, ‘I can’t answer that’. It was only after that never-ending thirty minutes, when I asked if I could have a phone call, that he checked with the sergeant and the answer came back that I could. That’s why I called you and I totally appreciate your guys coming here of course. I hope I’ve answered everything you need from the beginning. I get you need the full context, some mundane details, but you can help me, right? I mean if my own embassy can’t help me, then I don’t know who can. If you explain to them everything I’ve told you so far, and that this was a completely innocent act, then were done here I assume? Yes, I completely regret it now. It must be a dozen times I’ve mentioned how stupid this all was. Take me back forty-eight hours and I’ll walk straight past him, not even consider putting the usual coins into his bowl. Get me out of here and I’ll start walking a longer way home from the shops, so I never even see him again. I’ll move house if needs be. Bloody hell I’ll quit my job and leave the country! Just whatever needs to be done I’ll do it. I did nothing wrong and just need you guys to get me out of this nonsense, find my wife, and let me get back to normality.
Okay, thank you for checking and I hear what you’re saying, but there is absolutely no way I could know who he was. No way at all. Anyone with half a brain can see how absurd this is. I’m new here. I had no way of knowing what he did in the past, why he had his fingers removed. Which is bloody cruel and gruesome by the way. I’m just a dumb, innocent fool, who tried to help and will never do such a stupid thing again. I didn’t think I wasn’t keeping myself to myself. Just pure, dumb altruism which I’ll never do again. They’ve got to know I couldn’t have known what he did in the past and I’m no part of it. I’m sorry, I really am. There must be a way to explain this to them so that I can be allowed out of here. There just has to be. Right?
So, you’re saying because I know who he is now, because I know what he did, and what they did to him, I’m implicated? They’re saying I’m now part of something that happened years ago, that I don’t understand, and that feeding a man a potato with beans is enough? It makes no sense at all. I mean you know too, so why aren’t you implicated as well? You’re embassy staff and that’s it? That exonerates you from this madness? I get I’m the one that interacted with him, invited him into my home, but this is beyond the pale. It’s nonsensical. It’s too much to take in. I’m sorry, but it really is. This is some kind of sick joke at this point now. Please tell me I’m on some kind of twisted Candid Camera they have here. Listen to me. The guy was there every day. I had absolutely no way on Earth of knowing what he’d done before. A jacket potato with beans! Just an act of kindness! You’re my embassy for Christ’s sake! Get me out of this! Please!
It’s out of your hands. My citizenship means nothing then, right? Okay, okay, you can’t help and you’re going. They won’t give you any more time and you have to turn your backs on me. Bastards. Absolute bastards. Just one last thing please. If you can’t do anything for me, at least find my wife. Maybe she’s at the Shangri La, maybe another one. Please find her. You must have the legal right to get my phone back off them at least. Well, I don’t know. They won’t let you take me, I guess they won’t give you my phone either. The thing is she must have messaged back by now so try to get the phone. The code for my phone is five-six-seven-eight. Does it honestly matter why that’s my code? My wife likes dancing as well as yoga. That’s why! If they’ll give you my phone, that’s the code. If they won’t, then just find her. You’re the embassy for god’s sake! Get her out and get her home. Not back to that apartment. Get her out of the country. Get her home. Tell her I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. He seemed nice. There was no way in hell I could imagine this. It was just a jacket potato. A bed for the night. I’m so sorry. Tell her so and that I love her. That’s all. Don’t tell her what they’ve told you though. Tell her whatever you need to until they eventually let me go. Just nothing about what’s happening to me. Tell her I’ll get to her at some point. Please tell her that.
I know there’s no more time. I know you have to leave. Before they close the door, one last question please. I can’t believe I’m asking this. I can’t. Will… will they take same two they took from him? You don’t know. Anaesthetic. Will they give me an anaesthetic? There’ll be medical care after they’ve removed them though? Painkillers? Bandages? Ok, you don’t know anything. Fine. Go. Find my wife. Tell her I had only good intentions. There was no way to know it would come to this. Tell her the two of us will be together again as soon as possible. I will get back home to her. Unless you hear otherwise about what happens to me, tell her that. I know you have to close it. Go. Just go.