Brian was down on his luck.
Though dressed to his nines, his tie was undone, barely hanging around his neck, his jacket was open, his hair was disheveled and he walked with a stiff limp, like a man who had been beaten or a dog run too hard.
It was on that humid Saturday night that he plodded his way ungracefully down the sidewalks of Bourbon Street. He walked past young boys tap dancing for dollars, past girls showing skin for beads and past neon signs touting strong drinks, bottomless dancing and any other vice man could imagine.
He weaved his way through the crowd, avoiding the world around him. He apologized to every soul he touched and contorted himself in a million ways to create a path through the gathering masses. Block after block he carved a snake-like trail through filth and the humanity alike following a strange instinct telling him to press on and keep moving.
He eventually slinked his way into a forgotten bar, drawn in by the sounds of smooth jazz being played softly on the stage. He threw himself down onto a stool, unrolled his last five dollars, placed it onto the bar in front of him and ordered a double scotch from the bartender, who was almost too eager to serve.
The bar was empty and cold. A barfly in the corner tried to sweet talk her way into a tourist's hotel room while a young couple at a table up front listened intently to the band.
Brian took his drink, sipped it twice and spun around to watch the show, desperate to take his mind someplace else.
The horn player was a funny looking man, dressed in a tux with tails and donning a pair of sunglasses, he was lanky and long, like he'd been stretched too far. But he played the trumpet to perfection, hitting every note with ease and leading his small band through every song with the precision of a surgeon. His body seemed to sway with every beat, almost to the point of collapse when the intensity began to peak.
Brian took a cigarette from his pocket and placed it gently between his lips. Swiping a matchbook from the table in front of him, he lit it and began to puff away at it idly.
The show carried on, the piano player pounding the ivory keys with reckless abandon while the bass player strummed the strings as if caressing the woman he loved. Meanwhile, the trumpet player, still swooning with every note, seemed to be drunk on the music and losing himself in every beat. His passion grew with every bar and even the street seemed to grow quiet as his horn grew louder and louder. Soon he was drowning out not just his band but the world around him.
Time seemed to slow to a crawl as the other band members stopped playing and watched in awe as their leader ran away with the set. He was entranced, unable to stop, unable to slow down, unable even to control the notes he was playing. He was captivated by a magic that compelled him to play and held the world around him. No one could avert their eyes, raise their hand or blink their eyes. Even breathing seemed to stop as the music kept climbing to greater heights.
The ashes on Brian's cigarette grew long and began to drip into his lap. His eyes were hopelessly fixed on the miracle before him.
Louder and louder the crescendo grew. The notes came so fast that one seemed to blend into the next, all in perfect harmony, Heartbeats began to accelerate and minds began to drift. It seemed no one was there anymore, everyone listening was drifting off to some distant world and the horn was carrying them further and further, taking them places they never thought they could go.
The trumpet player began to blare as loud as he could, capping off his other worldly solo with a series of strong blasts that shook the crowd back to reality and brought Brian back to his mind. He flicked the ashes from his cigarette and tried in vain to wipe the look of awe from his face.
Slowly, the music began to die down, the piano began to play again and the sound of slinky jazz began to fill the room as the magic that had gripped the small crowd began to lift. A stunned applause was offered by those in attendance, applause the horn player greeted with a humble bow and a blown kiss. Though tired and winded, his face was dissected by a Cheshire grin and his eyes sparkled brightly in the stage lights that shown upon him.
“So what's your worry mac?” the bartender said finally waking Brian from his music-induced trance.
Brian spun around quickly, still shaking from the sudden interruption. He looked at the bartender, a round man with a toothy smile and a strange bow tie, and tried to compose himself to speak.
“Ah, no worry,” Brian said trying to avoid his troubles, “I'm just here for the music.”
The bartender placed his elbows onto the varnished wood and leaned forward, he let out a sigh and said, “Everyone who comes here's got problems. You don't walk down Bourbon Street and come into a place like this if you ain't got a few worries.” The bartender paused a moment and looked into Brian's unmoving face, “But I suppose it don't matter anyhow. You ain't going to find the answers here. Just more problems.”
“Maybe…” Brian said, “Maybe.”
The trumpet player was done with his rest and began playing again, joining his colleagues in making the smooth kind of jazz they hoped would draw in the tourists and big spenders. The kind they dreamed would fill this forgotten bar up with society's elite.
They never came.
Instead, the minutes ticked by, song sliding seamlessly into song and nothing changing. Hopelessness and despair began to fill the room again, both bouncing to the beat of the bassist's plucking and sliding to the pianist's melody. Only the trumpet seemed to keep them at bay, a remedy that began to fade as exhaustion crept in and the hour grew late.
Before long, the barfly was gone to enjoy her nightly romp and the young couple was out collecting beads and souvenirs. There was only Brian, sitting with his back to the bar, puffing on his third cigarette and enjoying the last few drops of his scotch.
As the band strummed its last notes, Brian hoisted himself off the stool and walked to the door. As he began to step into the street, he spun on his heels and called out to the bartender, “Hey, thanks for letting me choose my problems for a while.”
The bartender said nothing but idly waved goodbye to him and started work on polishing glasses. Brian turned around and disappeared into the street again.
Once again he weaved through the crowd, dodging humanity any way he could. Once again he was full of apologies and regret, trying to avoid what was around him.
But as he slid by three girls staggering from booze and exhaustion, leaning on one another for support, he felt a drop upon his shoulder. He looked up and felt another strike his cheek and another hit his arm. Soon the sky broke out into a misty rain.
He hunched his shoulders, covered his eyes and pressed onward. The misty rain blending in with the humidity to cling to his skin and make every movement, no matter how subtle, a struggle against nature.
But with every step he took, the mist grew harder and the drops more distinct. Soon, the sky seemed to be filled with water, matting his once-disheveled hair and soaking through his wrinkled shirt.
The humanity that filled the street vanished, taking cover under awnings and inside bars. Brian looked up, thanked the sky under his breath, and kept walking. He kept walking down the center of the street, throwing his coat over his shoulder and parading down it like a king. From countless overhangs and doorways, a thousand different eyes watched the rain-soaked man march triumphantly on his way.
For a moment there were no problems and there were no worries. Even as the rain chilled him to his core, he splashed in the puddles unapologetically and walked down the slick pavement effortlessly, his head held up high and a sly grin curling across his lips.
“Tomorrow,” he thought, “Tomorrow I'll start worrying.”
He paused a moment to look up into the sky, letting the rain drip into his eyes.
“Today,” he continued, "I am a king. A king without a penny to his name. A king roaming down the street of sin. But a king nonetheless.”
No one told him otherwise as he walked down the street, passing the same neon signs as before. Even as he disappeared around the final corner, no one dared challenge his authority.
For, until he left it, the street was his and his alone. He was the king of Bourbon Street and yet, for all we knew, just a humble man playing in the rain.