The sun began to rise, painting the sky in brilliant colors. The birds chirped and the flora began to perk up and meet the sun. We start our story in the heart of New Orleans City Park. Sat under a bent tree, a young man in his mid-twenties woke up and reached towards a very large black case. The man himself is shabbily dressed as if he had pulled the rags he wore out of a dumpster. His hair is a darker brown, but appears to have dirt and clay matted within it, giving the color a gray and ashy look. A tattoo in the shape of a wagon wheel, made from black ink and simple in design sat on the man’s wrist. The man was Roma, or a gypsy as the locals slurred.
The man appeared weathered from his life on the road, yet upon his face the brightest, most cheerful smile appeared. The man, now as fully awake as the sky, got up, grabbed the case and walked to the nearest bench. Once seated on the bench he unlatched the heavy case and pulled out a large cello. The cello itself was beautiful, made of fine wood and stained to a very dark espresso color. The man laid out his case and pulled a cardboard sign from within it. In black sharpie scribbled hastily were three words: For Human Kindness. No other words or explanations, just the three words.
The man looked to the sky one last time, smiled briefly and began to play. The melody began slow and somber, as if it were singing of a tragedy. The dark, haunting tune made the park goers look towards him. New Orleans, for the most part, is a cheerful city. It is a city famous for its good times and parties, rarely heard music so bereaved and despairing. Occasionally a crooner or two might play late night venues, but never in the park where players performed jaunty tunes to entertain the tourists.
This strange sound attracted the onlookers to travel towards the man. The patrons that were there will swear to you today, that the music he played that day still resonates with them. The music was alluring, grabbing ahold of the park’s other sounds, and lead them as if orchestrating a beautiful symphony. As he played, the spectators stood there in awe. Those who had money in their pockets tossed their change and small bills into the man’s case. The man’s smile grew, and with the smile, the melody changed. The song became less somber and built to a brighter tune, as if mirroring the sunny day that surrounded them.
Hours passed and more visitors began listening to the man’s songs. By sunset his case had filled with money. The man pleased about something, nodded to his final audience to show he had finished. They applauded, some asked for just a few more songs, while others complimented his skills. The man said a few thank you’s and shook a few hands. He told them he appreciated their kind words, but that he must be going. The man pulled out a small sack from his pocket and placed the money inside. He put the cello in the case, strapped it to his back and tied the sack to his waist.
The man kept this smile as he walked down the busy streets of the French Quarter. As he walked past the homeless and those begging, he opened the sack and gave them a handful of his day’s earning. Some thanked him and some stared at him curiously.
‘Why was this beggar giving away his money?’ they wondered.
Eventually, he passed through the busy streets and into a quiet neighborhood. Only occasionally would a drunken fellow stumble pass the man. He did not mind though and even wished them a good night. A few blocks from his dwellings, the man gazed up at the glowing moon and thanked the gods for such a perfect day. In the distance, he heard a group of drunken men shouting and slurring as they stumbled from the bar. They staggered down the street, towards the cheerful man. The man smiled as he did with the others and wished them a good night.
The drunken men began yelling at the man telling him to shut up and to mind his own business, unaware of what the man had actually said.
“Hey you guys!” One of the drunks shouted, commanding his fellow brothers to listen, “This guy is one of those dirty Gyps that been stealing shit ‘round here.” Then the man noting the bag added on, “I bet he keeps it all in there.”
One of the drunks then turned to the man, “Is that so? You a dirty Gyp?”
The man said quietly, “I am, but I earned this money.”
The drunks began circling around the man and one of them scoffed, “Gypsies can’t earn money, they don’t know how.” Another one began to chime in, “I think we ought to teach him a lesson, teach him what happens when you steal from us upstanding citizens and then lie about it.”
“If you want the money, you may take it.” The man offered, “I have no need for money.”
The men laughed cruelly. “A Gyp that doesn’t want money. That’s the funniest shit I have ever heard.” The circle of men began to close in on him. The man spoke one last time, “I hope you all find peace.” At the last word, one of the drunks hooked his arm into his stomach. Another kneed the face as the man collapsed from the previous blow. Another kicked his legs and he fell to the ground. They all began kicking the man. This continued for several minutes until they had decided there was enough bloodshed. The sidewalk streamed and pooled red.
The drunks then took his bag and shouted a hoorah to the night and walked away. Patting each other on the backs and congratulating each other, they disappeared into the night. The man tried to stay conscious, but in a few moments he blacked out from the increasing blood loss.
No more then ten minutes later, a woman got off the bus with her ten year old daughter. They mother’s hair was tied in a high pony tail while the daughter had tight braids going down to her shoulders. It was the daughter that noticed the man first and alerted her mother.
“Mama,” she said pulling on her mother’s sleeve and pointing to the fallen man, “That man is hurt. We gotta help him.”
The mother looked around and went towards the man. She tapped his shoulders and began assessing the body. She placed her two fingers on his neck, checking for a pulse. It was faint, but it ways there. The man stirred slightly and that’s when she saw his features. A gypsy. She looked around to see if anyone was there. What could she do?
“Mama,” The girl chimed in as if reading her mother’s thoughts, “You gotta help him.”
The mother then told the girl to get the first aid kit from their apartment. The girl nodded, then disappeared into the building. The man opened his eyes and whispered, “Are you an angel? Have I died? What is your name angel?”
“Not yet honey,” she smiled and continued, “My name is Eme. Honey, I am gonna have to get you to a hospital.”
“No sweet angel,” The man smiled, “It is not as bad as it looks. You know how they treat my people in the hospital.” He nodded to his wrist.
The girl then emerged from the building with a kit on her side. The mom asked for the bandages and put gloves on. As they began covering the scrapes and tears on the man’s body, the mother asked the daughter to keep talking to the man, to keep him awake.
“Hey little angel,” The man greeted the girl, “What’s your name?”
“Abby.” The girl grinned, “What’s yours?”
“My name is Kem.”
“What’s that?” the little girl motioned to the giant case laying next to him.
The man smiled, “That is my soul, little angel, it plays the music of the world.”
The girl looked confused at this and asked how his soul could play music, and remembering what she had learned from church asked him why his soul wasn’t in him like it’s supposed to be.
The man began to explain, “You see little angel, a few years ago I was a bad man. I did wicked things against others. I had lost my way. Finally some brave soul decided to take pity on me. That man saved me. After he got me started down the right path, he asked me, ‘What is your passion?’ I answered after thinking for some time about it, ‘I used to play the cello.’ That day he took me to an instrument shop and we bought her.” The man gestured to the cello. “He told me from this day forth the cello was a part of me, like my soul. I could use her and help my fellow man, or I could lose my way and that my soul, like that cello, would become rubbish.”
Young Abby smiled at Kem and began to hold his hand. Eme told her daughter that he must be moved to the chair upstairs and that she must put a sheet on it. Abby nodded, released the man’s hand and then followed her mother’s instructions. Eme asked Kem if he could stand and walk on his own. Kem nodded and putting herself under Kem’s arm she helped him up the stairs. Eme told Kem that he must stay the night. In the morning he was to shower and she would help him replace his bandages. Sensing the woman would not take no for an answer he agreed.
That night Kem told Abby the most wonderful stories of his travels and fairy tales he had heard along the way. Eme made them both a simple meal of greens, cheap hamburger, and mashed potatoes. Eme apologized that she did not have more food for the man. Kem told her not to worry about it, and that it was the finest feast he had eaten in quite some time. Eme told him he was too kind, but worried, for the man looked quite thin.
Kem slept on the reclining chair in the living area and Abby slept with her mother in her bed. Eme still worried because she had heard such awful stories of gypsies and figured it was better to be cautionary. The next morning Eme woke up and walked out of her bedroom to see Kem awake and in front of him the cello. He was caring for it, putting resin on the bow, polishing the wood, and tuning the instrument. Kem sensing her presence looked over his shoulders and greeted her.
“Good morning angel,” Kem smiled, “I woke up a touch early and thought I would make breakfast, then I thought it better to not burn down your lovely home. Then I had the thought that I may play for you both this morning as a way to thank you both for your kindness.”
“Well thank you, but I am afraid you might still be hurt. Should you really be playing?” Eme asked the young man, who acted as if last nights events had not occurred.
“As long as I can breathe and my soul rests in this instrument, I shall be able to play.” Kem smiled seemed to glow bright and sincere. He began to play and soon after Abby woke up. The two laughed and shared a morning of merriment while Eme cooked them a simple breakfast of oatmeal. Abby danced and sang along to the songs she knew while Kem played passionately and encouraged the girl.
Kem showered, Eme replaced his bandages and then he insisted he must leave. Eme insisting he should wait until his wounds heal more and Abby pleading that he play just one more tune for her. Kem refused them both and told them that he must go greet the world. As soon as Kem left, Eme and Abby felt the absence of his presence. Eme had an evening shift and Abby had to go to her Aunt’s home while her mother was at work.
It was a slow shift and Eme found herself thinking about the young man quite often that day. Not in the least bit romantically, but more curiously. The man was an odd character with even odder stories and philosophies. When the shift was over, Eme walked to her sister’s house and took Abby on the bus to go home.
When they got home they were greeted by their landlady who told them to come quickly. She explained that a young gypsy boy came to the building today asking who the owner of the building was. When she had explained that it was her building the young man handed her an envelope and $200 cash. He told her that she was to give the envelope to Eme and Abby. He told her that if she did this she could keep the cash.
The landlady then handed Eme the envelope with a greedy smile, knowing that her job was done and that she was now $200 richer. Eme examined the envelope, scribbled on it were the words: To The Angel and Her Little Angel. Eme smiled and opened the envelope and a piece of paper fell to the ground. Abby was quick to grab it while her mother read the note that was inside.
Follow your passions, listen for your soul, and continue to be kind to others.
Eme smiled as tears began to form in her eyes. Abby then handed the fallen paper to her mother. Eme looked at the fallen paper and began to feel faint. This paper was a cashier’s check for an amount so great that Eme had to pinch herself to make sure she wasn’t dreaming. The amount was enough for their bills to be paid, Eme to finish her degree and become a nurse and for little Abby to go the finest school in the city. The two never forgot Kem and heeded what he asked of them. They never forgot the young man, a gypsy with his cello.