Back to the Basics

“I mean, how good do I have to be before they give a damn?” Kyle asked, as he sat, frustrated on the ground at the old subway station. Kyle was a busker. He was, by his words, an underground hip hop artist. He was just waiting for his big break. He knew he was great. People told him so. And, yet, after all his efforts, he was still stuck on that subway station platform. After 5 long years, he was still barely making ends meet.

This was a thought he had long suppressed in his mind, but today — today was the final straw. He faced hardships before, ones much more difficult than this. One time, he had an audience throw trash at him back on Union Square. It was worse at Time Square, where someone had called the NYPD on him, for “public disturbance”. Then, in Columbus Circle, he was brought in on suspicions of drug use. Through it all, however, Kyle powered through. But today — perhaps today was the last straw.

All these years, with a negligent audience, music falling on deaf ears, and every day, Kyle knew his options were dwindling. His last “experience” was 5 years ago, in a retail shop, working as an assistant manager keeping track of inventory. He thought that life was long behind him. But, today, after his 1500th show, he knew it was time to throw in the towel. Kyle knew he had to go home. He got up off the floor, packed up his stuff, and headed for the turnstile.

He walked out onto the streets of Time Square. The lights from the LED screens greeted Kyle. There always was an oddly calming sensation Time Square gave off — an aura. It always seemed to reassure whoever entered its presence, as if to tell them, “Everything’s going to be okay. You’re on the right track.” Or maybe Kyle was just delusional. Today, he definitely felt delusional. Even the lights couldn’t quell the deep sadness he felt from turning away from his dream. ‘Not today,’ he thought. His head slung low as he dragged his feet to his apartment off 8th Ave.

He took a brief pause in front of the bus terminal, on the corner of 42nd and 8th. He looked around him to see the still busy bus station — people going to and fro’ the Big Apple. How many of these people were just like him? How many of them were going home after realizing they weren’t good enough to realize their dream? The questions continued with ever new face he encountered. Then, he saw one that was awfully familiar. It was his. It was his exact face, exact outfit, exact demeanor. It was him from 5 years ago.

Kyle dropped his bags. He stared at, what seemed like, the apparition with confusion in his eyes. Was he hallucinating? Was he dreaming? What was going on? His apparition stopped in his tracks, looked at a map of the city, and turned south. ‘He must be headed to the apartment,’ Kyle realized. He quickly gathered his stuff, and followed the apparition.

Kyle looked around in his surroundings for any clues as to what was happening. And, pretty quickly, he realized something was amiss. The people around him weren’t looking at their phones as they were walking, and those that were, they were on flip phones from a bygone era. The cars on the roads, too, were models that he knew were dated, and yet they gleamed in the sunlight.

Sunlight? Kyle could have sworn he left the station past 10PM. There was no way this city had the midnight sun. Kyle was sure this had to be a dream. Or at least some sort of hallucination. Maybe he was jumped on his way home. Maybe he was already at home, fast asleep. He pinched himself to make sure. It hurt. ‘Damn,’ he thought. Now it was even more unclear.

He pulled out his smartphone from his pocket to try to get some answers. No Service. He pried looking for WiFi networks to connect to. Nothing. He looked up from his phone. He saw that his apparition was walking into his apartment. He quickly chased after him. But, alas, the door wouldn’t budge for Kyle. Kyle peered through the window, to see what he could. Then, he waited. He waited until the apparition came back out.

When it did reappear from the closed doors, it was well past dinner time. Strangely, Kyle didn’t feel hungry at all. His apparition was going somewhere. It held an amp in one hand, and a mic in another. Kyle quickly remembered. This was when he began to perform in the subways of Manhattan. It was difficult for him to remember many things from that time in his life now, but Kyle could never forget his first performance. It was in the exact same place he decided, earlier that day, to end his career — or what little he could claim as such.

Kyle followed back into the subway station he left just hours earlier. He was stopped by the turnstile, while his apparition carried on. Kyle wasn’t sure anyone could actually see him, which made him reluctant to do anything too rash. He wanted to jump over the turnstile and continue on to the concourse right by the shuttle line between Grand Central Station and Time Square. Should he? Should he just accept this was it for his trip down memory lane?

Just then, the emergency door opened to let in a baby stroller. This was his chance. He ran to the door, and slipped by, right as it was about to close. Then, he ran as fast as he could to his apparition. It was setting up now — preparing for its show. It was all so real. Kyle sat, watching, mesmerized by the passion with which the apparition’s eyes gleamed. When the show started, that passion hit Kyle’s eardrums like meteors hitting the earth’s surface. Kyle listened with his eyes closed

Kyle opened his eyes when the rhymes had stopped. He looked around him. It was filled to the brim with faces he had never seen before. There was a light that lit his presence on stage, while countless flashes from the audience sparkled like stars in the night sky. He looked confused. Then he looked behind him. There were more people, but they were all under some sort of a blanket. It was a photo. A photo of him performing in that New York City subway station. It was his first performance.

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