Sam couldn’t believe their luck. Not only was the bagpipe set a minimal part of the museum exhibit, and not only did they have to pick it up them self, and not only were they given the whole thing in one piece in nothing but a plastic bag from a grocery store, but they missed the last bus of the night.
They collapsed on the bench and the bagpipes sighed in their lap. They knew they could call a cab, or just walk, but they decided they needed to take a break before they could bear taking another step. The expensive, giant, useless instrument was heavy and awkward to carry, and Sam just wanted to throw it on the ground and dig their heels into it. It was only going to be in the museum to show a modern set of bagpipes as compared to the ancient set in the “Instruments of Yore” exhibit. It wasn’t even important. There wasn’t even any history.
Sam closed their eyes and held their head in their hands, their elbows joining the tangle of pipes and plaid in their lap. When they finally raised their eyes they nearly screamed in surprise—a man was sitting next to them, a disheveled man with clothes that matched the bagpipes and skin nearly as black as Sam’s (though, very few people are as dark as Sam). Sam fought the urge to run. The man smiled, and his mouth smelled like the subway.
“I was wondering if you were alright, Ma’am,” the man said. “Are you alright?”
Sam nodded, not quite looking in his eyes.
“Is that a bagpipes?” he asked. He must be fifty, maybe sixty, Sam thought. Sam was barely twenty. They searched for another person, for help, but the two of them were alone on the darkening street.
“It’s for a museum,” Sam said, and their voice cracked. They tried to keep their face neutral but weren’t sure how they were doing. The man kept his hands folded in his lap, but somehow that scared Sam more.
“Mind if I play it?” the man asked. “I used to play; my mom bought me one when I was little.”
Sam handed him the bagpipes, and his grimy fingers grazed their wrist. Sam couldn’t imagine telling their boss that they let a strange homeless man play the museum’s bagpipes. They didn’t care at the moment, as long as the man didn’t try to touch them.
The man played pretty well. Better than Sam expected. Amazing, even. They played a jumpy dance tune for nearly five minutes, his hands squeezing the fabric and adjusting the pipes as he went. It seemed like he may go on forever, which Sam may not have minded, but he suddenly succumbed to a coughing attack. The coughs were wet, violent.
“Sorry,” he said, between hacks louder than gunshots. “Pneumonia, I think. Thank you, Ma’am. That took me back.” He was smiling with smelly teeth. “See you around.”
The man left. Played a beautiful song and left. Sam made it back to the museum and even had time to arrange the bagpipes behind the display glass. In the end, though it was scary, they were glad they had met the Bagpipe Man. Now, in the halls of sculptures and crowns, even the useless modern bagpipes in the “Instruments of Yore” had a bit of history to them.