The gentle patter of rain was disguising the tears rolling down my face. I was soaked, my school uniform was letting off a smell reminiscent of wet dog and my teenage hormones told me that the world was ending, despite on reflection I can’t tell you what I was so upset about.
Walking through Rundle Mall – the main promenade of Adelaide – no one cared to look at the girl who was crying, too busy trying to race towards shelter, out of the rain. Preoccupied with my thoughts I didn’t have a destination, I just wanted to let out all of my anguish in the rain and no one was going to stop me; but the sweet sound of someone hitting tuned metal made me stop – a xylophone was being played in the rain.
After a short hunt it turned out that the player of the xylophone was not sitting in the rain but on the pavement in a shop front. He didn’t speak as I stopped to watch, mesmerised by the sound, and continued playing to his audience of only one.
His voice snapped me out of my depressive thoughts when he finally spoke to me, a soft Chilean accent and a big smile growing on his face. The gentle ting-ting of the xylophone continued even whilst he took me in, probably thinking I was a wet soaking mess; but instead he smiled a little more and begun talking to me about himself and his music – his name was Luis and he was known as the “piano man”.
I don’t remember much about our conversation but I do remember his smile, the xylophone and the tiny tea light flickering at his feet, a vigil in the quickly fading light. I also remember the deep want to buy him a coffee or something warm to eat, but I was young and wary of all strangers, even sweet smiling ones who played tunes on a xylophone which awoke me from my despair, and so instead I emptied the coins from my skirt pocket, took the postcard picture – a picture of a single rose with his name on it, printed at a photo store – that he offered me as way of thanks and I left him ting-ting-ing on his xylophone
I only saw Luis a few more times. Almost always in times when I needed a smile – after a night that had gone badly or when I was stressed about making a decision – and although I never bought him that coffee or a meal, I did always empty my pockets and give him all the change I had, the least I could do for the man who broke through my cloud of sadness and instead left me happy, all because of his smile and the gentle ting-ting of that small xylophone.
It broke my heart to hear that Luis had passed away around the New Year period. For a man who was always there with a smile it devastated me to hear that he had passed in his home alone, presumably from a heart attack.
What was worse though was that he was saving to return to Chile to live our his elderly life after immigrating many years before only to be unable to find a suitable job.
Travel bloggers and writers preach that being able to travel is simple. For some yes, it means little more than to cut back on all those Friday night benders and buying things that you don’t necessarily need; but for others it isn’t that simple.
The world is full of debt, recessions, and unemployment, no matter your background or how vast your skill set is. Many of us who will read this live in lands of real opportunity – Australia, the UK, USA, NZ – but we have to make the most of this leg up we are so luckily given and be thankful that we aren’t born somewhere far worse off.
I won’t lie – I am one lucky girl to be able to say that I travel – and it does make me sad to know that there are people out there who can’t and may never be able to afford to do so even if it is their final wish, like Luis.
Adelaide knew him as the piano man, but to me he will always the xylophone man – the purveyor of smiles and the person that helped me to remember to smile and be grateful for the small things we have in life, like tuned metal being played in the rain.
Rest in Peace Luis. I hope your spirit has returned to Chile and that wherever God has taken you, you have found true happiness, much akin to what you shared me on that night.
Related: How to choose electronic piano.
Has a stranger ever touched your heart?
Post image: Adelaide’s Sunday Mail newspaper