Back to Square One: Chris’s Story

Sounds in subway tunnels travel. Footsteps, voices, and the mechanical calls of subways themselves bounce their noises off the walls, carried farther distances than they would above ground. The last time I was in a subway tunnel, I stopped in my tracks when the music of a violin echoed into my ears. I wasn’t sure which way the sound was coming from, so I looked in one direction then the other before I found Chris.

Chris’s eyes were closed, his bow sliding gracefully across the strings of his violin. The small, battery-operated speaker attached to his violin created a slight distortion, which only added to the haunting quality that the tunnels already created.

I dropped a few bills into the open instrument case and waited for him to finish the song. He dragged out the last note, which sounded so heartbreaking that it nearly brought a tear to my eye. Slowly, he lowered his instrument and looked up.

I smiled and asked him about his music. He introduced himself as Chris and said that he had been playing violin since third grade. “My house burned down a few months ago and I didn’t have insurance, so I lost everything. Except my violin, which was the one thing I could save,” he informed me in a wistful voice.

Now, Chris lives in a short-term homeless shelter. “We’re not allowed to be there during the day, so I hunt for temporary jobs most of the time. But when I need cash or want to get away for awhile I come down here and play.”

Chris used to be a web designer with a small business based out of his home. The fire destroyed all of his hardware, and it will take a bit of saving for him to retrieve the tools of his trade. He can do some work out of internet cafes, but with his prolonged absence he has lost his client base. He’ll have to work hard to get his business back to where it was.

“This is just a temporary situation. Life’s hard sometimes, but I’m lucky to have my violin. Things could be worse,” Chris sighs. He blows on his fingers and stretches them, warming up to play again. Down but not out, he is determined to play on. He was a self-made man before the fire, so he knows that he can build up his skills and business again even though he is starting back at square one. As he raises the violin to his chin and once again begins to play, I get the feeling that Chris will do just fine. His beautiful music follows me as I exit the subway into a chilly autumn afternoon.