A place I’ve been

Too hot and too hungry, we sit side by side on huge stone steps, looking out over the busy plaza below. People scurry from left to right, heading towards the beach and away. The ocean, visible behind the plaza, stretches out endlessly, a shifting background of perfect blues that never quite settle. The world looks so big from here, or the ocean does at least, behind that buzzing storm of people.

We have hot dogs in our hands, and we feast on them eagerly. The crowds seem so far away, even as smaller groups detach and head towards us. An older woman begins her focused march up the stairs, head pointed firmly towards her feet. Her progress is slow, but each centimetre of movement is an achievement. Her hand grips the railings with a power she must only wish her legs could share, and a man, her husband we guess, tails her closely. After a few minutes we notice a problem. The woman’s path is set to collide directly with us. The steps are wide enough for fifteen people to sit side by side, so it seems appropriate that of all the paths this elderly adventurer could have plotted her journey along, our resting spot is directly in the way. “Why isn’t she avoiding us?” I ask.

“She hasn’t looked up yet, she probably doesn’t know we’re even here.” We watch for a little longer, waiting to see what will happen. The sun shines bright in sky, and makes panting dogs of us all. I take a long sip of water while I watch, and by the time I’m finished she must be only a few seconds away.

“Maybe she needs the railing to keep her balance” my friend says. I glance over to the right side of the staircase, and realise there’s no railing over there.

“Your countries weird” I say, as we heave ourselves up onto tired feet, and shuffle to the side. The elderly woman passes, slowly, and as she eases herself onward the man on her tail nods his thanks. We sit back down, more central this time, and look back out over the world. A gentle song tiptoes through the wind, finding its way to us from some unknown origin.

“What’s that?” I wonder, listening to the irregular flourishes of the piano.

“I think it’s coming from the restaurant” my friend replies.

I remember seeing that restaurant on the way to the steps. It was busy, full of waiters in waistcoats darting this way and that. There was piano, I remember, but no player. Perhaps the entertainment had arrived.

The whole scene changes to the soundtrack next door. We lay back, our bodies uneven and uncomfortable against the pointed grey slabs beneath. Just like the ocean, the sky is a collage of uneven colours. White clouds sit lonely and disparate, forming vague shapes that watch us just as closely as we watch them. The noise of the crowds fades down, replaced by the piano and its playful song.

We feel like thieves, laying here while the pianist plays. This song isn’t for us, it’s for the people in the restaurant, those people down there with their drink and their food and their anxious conversation. Suddenly, a voice joins the music, dancing along with the song. It’s the pianist himself, I’m sure, and his voice is carefree and light. It doesn’t matter that we’re stealing his song, it only matters that we can hear it, that it reaches us, in whatever way it can. I turn to my friend, and I look at her, and I look at the never-ending ocean, the furious crowds, the very steps we’re sitting on and their immutable grey. I look, and I listen, and I let the moment dance away.

The piano player, when we later walked past the restaurant, did not wear a pitch black suit like I had imagined. Instead he sat there in khaki shorts and a light green sun hat, lengths of string dangling loosely from the rim. We scurried past as quickly as we could, and did our best not to catch his eye for fear he might sense our guilt. As we headed away from the plaza and the beach, hand in hand, we caught ourselves swaying carelessly to his song.

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