There is a man. A saxophonist. He has let himself loose, so every Tuesday evening he plays his sax on Agha Khan walk, right outside the new Java. And because one day a week is barely enough; he comes back on Thursday evening and plays some more.
Listening to this man play, feels like it could be a treat. But for all the times I have heard him play, his music is always, always a wail in the distance. It occupies whatever space is left after the humming that is the conversations in the Java outlet take to the air. And his wailing owns that space.
The thing with wailing souls (and saxophones) is that even when they are just a speck in the distance, they are strong. They lurch onto your soul and do not demand to have your attention; they take it. So leaving the restaurant, I constantly find myself drifting towards him. Sometimes, I think the man is oblivious of me, in the few seconds I stand before him. He just sucks and blows at the reed, him in his coat that is half trench, half your grandfather’s jacket and a hat that sits proudly on his head; because to play classical is to be dapper and proud of it.
But his music is not proud.
In those few seconds, I feel it tug at me. I can feel my soul thaw to the feel of those vibrations and I have to pull away. There’s company (that I am rudely ignoring) and a home to get to, and a 9-5 to prep for; I tell myself as I walk away from this man and his sax. To walk away from such beauty, you need all the excuses you can get. You also need all the consolations you can find; so I tell myself I’ll be back next Tuesday. I’ll make sure I make plans to do nothing but sit on a bench and listen to this man play.
But I forget.
Okay, I don’t really forget; life turns into a stampede.
I turn into a performing artist; I sing, I wail and the audience does not dance to my song. So I move my energy so it can be theirs. They dance with me and I feel alive; like I am living in every fist that’s pumped into the air, like every hip thrust is my heart that has morphed, like every scream for one more song is my adrenaline cruising through another’s veins. I live loudly, freely, shamelessly; I give until there is nothing left to give. But still I want to give more, I break my own heart looking for more to give.
Broken hearts like to lie in their own beds, find comfort in a familiar pillow and soak it in salty tears; consolidate. Create. Hearts broken in this fashion are not really broken; they are just empty- empty is worse than broken. Empty demands to be filled up, empty hearts demand that they fill themselves up.
So on the next Tuesday, on an evening that I meant to spend sitting on a bench (that insists I shouldn’t just sit there and do nothing) and listening to the dapper man and his sax, I find myself running on an empty heart from friends that mean well but are loud when my soul’s hearing is sensitive.
I am walking to Railways, so I can find a jav and go bury my soul in Rongai. I have forgotten this sax man’s existence but that changes the minute I hear just one note.
I have just crossed the road, from Hilton Arcade and landed onto Agha Khan walk when he strikes. His sax feels like leaving the house for the first on a windy day. It feels like a friend that smacked you, thinking they were being cute but all you can think of is murder. This man’s music feels like falling in love with yourself; it’s a flood that I know I can|will survive but have no idea how to. It’s like laughing at a funeral.
I just stop, because I can’t swim. And listen, close my eyes tight and just breathe until the tears stop flowing. And then I am not empty anymore, I am not full either, but I understand.
Hot tears on a public street, thanks to a man and his sax, help me understand me. I was born to create; it doesn’t have to be great- but it has to feel like- something powerful.
Image of (the ghost trees of) Lake Baringo courtesy of Armstrong Too.