"The expression in your eyes when you were watching me turned my violin playing around. Suddenly I felt all soft inside and enjoyed my music!"
How did he react?
He nodded, "Uh-huh... Alright... Thank you!"
How did I feel?
I love busking. Going on vacation I always take my violin. Every dollar I make is directly turned into tacos, crêpes or gas for road trips. Every passenger's thank you is an amazing interaction with a local. And every random tip, be it weed, flowers, bread or booze is an introduction to the culture I am visiting. Busking rocks, as long as I am free to do it. But what if I have to go out there? What if I am broke and the next month is weeks away? Honestly: That sucks. Easily. Don't get me wrong. I still dig playing music whatever the occasion. But sometimes I am not in the mood. Or the weather tells me to get lost, raining down ice cold hail on me. Or shop owners ask me to leave their pavement because they are not into classical music. And that is the nice kind of chasing away. On the evening of December 20 I experienced a whole new level of dislike, right around the corner from where I live. Here's what happened:
I had started late, at around eight, because the night before had been filled by the last allnighter of 2014. I was sick, cold and tired. But I needed cash. Sitting at a Kreuzberg Ubahn station I played baroque pieces on my violin. Students with suitcases were hurrying to the platform, parents with oversize plastic bags scurrying up the stairs. With Christmas only days away everyone looked like they were stressed out about the most important exam of their life. No one had time to stop. Lucky for me some people had a spare Euro they threw into the case in passing. At around ten, just when I had lost all feeling in fingers and toes, three guys came down the stairs and passed me. My eyes on the score I could not properly see what they were up to, but I thought I spotted one of them throwing a small white piece of garbage in the case. I interrupted my playing and asked, "Guys, seriously?! Did you just throw some garbage into my case?" They laughed, and said "No way! What is wrong with you?". I watched them enter the platform and decided it was not worth the hassle. Five minutes later I took a break and checked the case. Inside there was a little lake with a white shore. It was spit.
I leaned back and closed my eyes. Now all I wanted was to leave. Counting the money I had made I realized it was not enough. I needed to cover my January rent. I took a deep breath and- played on. One more round of Bach with frosted fingers.
Half an hour later a guy with a leather jacket and a flat cab passed me. One step away from leaving the hall he stopped. Turned around, watched. And stayed. I finished one piece and another, then said, "Thank you for listening!", and continued. He came back. Sat down across from me, took out a note book and started writing. A few minutes later I raised my eyes again and caught his glance. He was looking at my body, although looking is the wrong word. The guy was taking it in. Every cell of me, my clothes, my violin, with every part of him: His eyes, his mind, his heart. Probably his ears and nose, too. I realized he was drawing me. There was a light smile on his face, the kind of smile that says, "I am happy.". Not just, "This is alright", or "Let's put on a smile, it makes things easier!" but "I am profoundly happy doing what I am doing. I love what I am seeing, I love what I am making of it and I love that this is happening."
And I- clicked. Suddenly I no longer produced tones. I played music. Felt every chord, saw pictures arise and let soft tunes caress me. Because I knew I was looked at in that way, and because someone had taken a moment to listen, really listen, Whenever I lost the connection and started merely functioning again I looked back at him. Within a second, the music was back. It was, without a doubt, the most beautiful moment all day.
A few pieces later I put down my violin. Looking at the guy I asked, "Hey, do you want a Duplo?"
Do you want a Duplo? -- That's how it all started. From here, let's race through the next five days:
Sharing the chocolate bar we introduced ourselves. He told me his name, Samson, means small sun. I asked for the picture he'd drawn. He showed it to me. I gaped, "Wow! You are incredibly talented!"
I learned that he graduated from design school and that while drawing people he enters a relationship with them. Hearing that I smiled, and knew he was ready to for the compliment I had in mind. I told him about what the expression in his eyes had changed for me and said thanks- that drawing relationship he had entered with me had saved my night.
Half an hour later we were in a warm place where there was tea and chairs. We talked about encounters, life, art- and Samson's night. When he told me what he had been up to before we met I knew for sure: This guy was special. In fact Samson had started the evening with a classical concert, then watched some people perform at Alexanderplatz, hopped on the U8 where he had found himself listening to a Polish band playing "You Are The Sunshine Of My Life". He explained, "and it was really beautiful. When the song was over I thought, wait a minute, I have paid three bucks for a ticket. And I want to hear that tune again. Why don't I just do so?" That's how he ended up driving back and forth with the band. Five times. Finally he left them at Schönleinstraße, went upstairs and there was this girl playing the violin...
That night I walked home through the same winter that had been to cold to bear just a few hours back. Only now I did not even notice the freezing air. My bare fingers felt warm as I typed a text saying how happy I was to have met him.
The same happiness grabbed hold of me when I fought with his weight bike a day later, and it did not pass for another four days. I felt merry as I finished my first book after he had taught me how to book bind and lucky while I listened to one of the countless stories he stores in his heart. We exchanged tales night after night.
Hanging out five days in a row, starting with a compliment, that has never happened before. It did with Samson. At some point I looked at him, laughed and said, "This is crazy. I feel like we have said everything. Seriously, what else is there to talk about?"
His presence was the greatest Christmas gift: He looks at the world just the way he gazed at me that night he drew me. With love and acceptance in his eyes, taking everything just the way it comes. There is a joke on his lips, or an understanding nod on his shoulders. He questions things, too, but never without an empathic add. Samson reminds me of Erich-Kästner-characters, with his Berliner bluntness and speech melody, his flat cab and his emotional intelligence. My favorite novels were Emil und die Detektive and Püntkchen und Anton. I binge read those as a kid. To me, Samson is somewhere between all the boy characters. The way we first met reminded me of how Pünktchen and Anton come across each other in their story: They beg, for different reasons. Then they make friends for life. Though I did not beg busking, that night, felt close to it.
Samson does not make many words. Instead he is who he is, a wonderful, inspiring, open-hearted man. He taught me a lot in those five days and I am never going to forget the moments we shared.
Sometimes I get asked if I have made friends through this project. I always answer, "Yeah!", thinking of a dozen new facebook contacts and people who will have a coffee with me if I ask. My response meets the American definition of friends. But the German one? Not really. Germans draw a line between friends and acquaintances. From now on I will be true to both countries when I say yes - because now there is Samson, and I hope to be friends with him for many, many years.