John looked up at the clock hanging next to him in his office cubicle. 6:30PM. Almost time to go home. Determination surged through him and he looked intently back at the papers on his desk. Only thirty more minutes, then it would be the weekend and some relief from this awful work. He started to read through the memo from his supervisor, but soon afterward grew tired. His gaze drifted away and he found himself looking out his window. In the world beyond his office, the sun had set and the city was cast in dark shadows. On the streets below, cars lined up in traffic formed neat glowing gridlines of angry red lights. Directly opposite his window stood the faint towering silhouette of the United Bank building. Some of its open windows glowed in the enclosing blackness, and in a few of them, men in white collared shirts and blue ties were packing up their suitcases.
John returned to his work, a stack of pages of Times New Roman font that needed reading. He thumbed through them. Words, words, and more words. Formal words. Words that he had no interest in reading. Words about his work and his company. As he stared blearily the pages, the words glared back at him, as cold and metallic as the gray table at which he sat. He tried to read a few more words on the memo and felt like he was forcing down a spoonful of bland oatmeal.
When he could not bear it any longer, he looked at the clock again. 6:57PM. Close enough. By the time he finished packing, it would be 7:00PM. John tidied up his papers and placed them in the paper basket designated for unfinished work. He put on his coat, picked up his suitcase, and walked out the door.
When John was outside the building, he headed right to the bus stop on Fifth and Main. When he arrived, he saw the familiar crowd of businesspeople that he bused with at this time. All wore some combination of white, blue, and black colors. Most carried suitcases.
But there – that man there with the purple suit and brown pants standing at the edge of the waiting crowd. He’s new. It wasn’t that John had never seen a new person at the bus stop, but the phenomenon was certainly rare. John’s attention perked up immediately. He studied the man for a while. The man wore a large-brimmed hat that hid his face, making his features hard to discern, but John could still see that he had a wrinkled face and that he was probably around his forties. He was shorter than average and certainly did not look like he had been at work. What fun has he been up to?
The man began to walk around, handing out a flyer, it seemed. The people took the page, looked at it absentmindedly for a few seconds, and let the paper drop to their sides. They weren’t interested. What they were interested in was the bus. Where was that bus? They wanted to go home and recuperate from the week.
Eventually, the man got to John. “Happy Friday evening, sir,” he said cheerfully. “Concert tonight at the Gateway Theater. Six-string chamber group accompanied with flute soloist from Indonesia. It’ll be wonderful music. You won’t regret attending.”
John looked at the flyer. The Gateway Theater was a few blocks away and the concert was starting at 8:00PM. It wouldn’t be too hard to walk over. But then, it was dark and he’d never been at the theater before. Besides, he hadn’t listened to classical music for years. Its length and wordlessness was an intolerable trial on his patience. He started to fold up the paper, but just as he was about to slip it into his coat pocket, he was hit with an agonizing pain that nearly drew tears from his eyes. The past fifteen years of his life flashed before his eyes. Him leaving his apartment at 10:00AM. Taking the 310 bus to the business district. Sitting in his cubicle, staring at the computer screen or reading a packet of papers. Dragging himself through eight long tedious hours of work, begging the clock to tick faster. Taking the bus home. Defrosting and eating a frozen dinner. Going to bed. Getting up the next day. No substance. Just routine, mindless routine. For the past fifteen years, he had been crawling from one step to the next, one day to the next, one week to the next. A sense of loss of time overwhelmed him. He was shocked and affronted by his own meaninglessness. He took out the sheet and read it again. Six-stringed chamber group with guest flute soloist. He peered at the picture of the handsomely-suited musicians with their smiling faces and glowing line of stringed instruments. The curiosity of the image touched his cold heart with a hint of warmth, as if the red curtains and golden-orange wooden bodies of the instruments could emit heat off the page. He could not let this opportunity go. He decided he would give this music a try. Just as the 257 bus swerved around the corner into sight and the crowd mechanically stepped closer to the curb, John turn around and headed up Fifth toward the Gateway Theater.