The Drummer on My Way to School

I am six years old and on my way to school. It’s a brisk fall day and all I hear is the low chatter of birds and the honking of horns. I worry about how I wasn’t able to find matching socks that morning, so one sock is longer than the other. My shoes make a clickety-clack on the pavement. I arrive at the street and am about to turn the corner when I hear the soft sound of drumming close by. I sharply turn my head and there, right in front of me, is a man. He is sitting in front of the back entrance to my school and he has his eyes closed. He’s one with the music; nodding, humming, letting the rhythm take over him. He doesn’t think twice before tapping on his drum; he’s confident, strong. After finishing one rhythm, he slides his nails over the drum with one graceful motion before starting the next one. He repeats this pattern over and over and over again. People twice my height in black business coats keep on busily walking, heading somewhere important. But how are they not interested in this drummer? Can’t they hear? Aren’t they at all curious? Barely anybody seems to look at the man and those who do act like it’s completely ordinary. The clean, shiny new school I was about to walk into now seems suddenly blinding, too bright compared to the wrinkled man sitting next to it. I wonder where this music could be coming from since he’s not using any sheet music. It almost seems as if it’s coming from inside. It’s bubbling up within him and then bursting and finally coming out through the man’s worn, wrinkled hands as he taps and taps on his two drums. He keeps perfect tempo, still nodding to the music. The morning sun is still shining as bright as ever but something isn’t quite as bright; not as bright as earlier that morning on that brisk fall day when all I heard was the low chatter of birds and the honking of horns.

I am 8 years old and on my way to school. It’s a cloudy morning and all I hear are babies crying and strong winds. I worry about the spelling bee I have that day. I’m on that same corner of my school and I see that same drummer I’ve been noticing for the past two years. He is still there. He is worn out like a shriveled up pear. He is a snake that has grown out of its skin but the skin has not yet shedded. His appearance is sad and tired but his expression is the opposite. He’s grinning like he is the richest man in the world, as if he has everything he needs. Why is this? How can he appear so happy when he’s living in such conditions? My mind goes through cycles and asks question after question. He just keeps on smiling, nodding, humming, and tapping on his drums. I find myself breaking out in a huge grin after watching him. I wonder if I ever give off this same joyful, positive vibe. I think about what the world would be like if every single person had such an uplifting presence. His hum is soft but powerful. If I close my eyes, it blends in with the background noise, almost disappearing. But, when I open my eyes, it’s there again; still strong. This man is old, but has the smile of a youngster. He’s poor, but carries himself like a king. He plays tranquil music but it can always be heard. He’s dark and worn while the school he’s sitting next to is bright and new.

Now I am ten years old. The straps on my heavy backpack tug on my shoulders. I worry about who I’m going to eat lunch with at school. I’m lost in my own imagination and don’t hear outside sounds other than the noise of my mind asking questions about everything I see. All I hear is the pitter-patter of rain and the slish-slosh of puddles as I jump into them. I walk until I arrive at that same familiar corner. When I get there, I stop and stare for what seems like forever. Everything around me seems to stop. I don’t believe this is real. It can’t be. I close my eyes for a second and then open them again only to discover this is reality, not a dream, or a nightmare for that matter. I look at that familiar spot that is now suddenly so unknown to me. I see something frightening, something terrible. I see emptiness. How can this be? The man has been sitting in that exact spot at that exact time for the last four years. Where is he now? What would cause him to move all of the sudden? Did he get sick? Is he still alive? I stand there on the sidewalk as tears start to stream down my face. I hope that no one notices because of the rain. Finally, I walk into the school building. I come back to that corner the next day, and the next day…and the day after that. He is still not there. I am suddenly aware that I will never see this man ever again.

I am fourteen years old now. I realize that everything I have been worrying about in my earlier life is unimportant. How could I have been thinking about my mismatched socks and who to eat lunch with when there was somebody suffering right before my eyes? All at once, I am looking at the world through a different lens; putting everything carefully in a different perspective. I’m standing on that same corner but I no longer see it as just the corner of Court Street and Bergen Street. I’m the same person but I no longer see myself as a girl doing her homework at her desk.

I see myself as a girl,

at a desk,

in a room,

in a house,

on a block,

in a neighborhood,

in Brooklyn,

in New York,

in the United States,

in North America,

in the world.

I close my eyes and hear the tapping of drums, the low chatter of birds, and the honking of horns.

Noa Street-Sachs
Age 14, Grade 9
Bard High School Early College
Gold Key

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