Benni Salazar had two things on his mind upon exiting the coffee shop and crossing the three blocks and two crosswalks to the Laurette: the obnoxious flittering of the sparrows above and the way Lacey's words sat on his thoughts, like the way a bad meal sits in your gut.
"You're kind of...simple, aren't you?" She said. Again and again she spoke, her words repeating as he walked, as he stopped at an intersection, the blur of cars passing on the street—white, silver, orange, red, yellow—streaks of color and noise and fragrant, noxious fumes. Kind of simple. Simple like the sky whose heavy grey hue hung high and absent, distant. Simple like the withered brown husks of weeds poking through the cracks in the pavement, or the bare limbs of the dead trees, scraggly and reaching. A simple that retained an echoing ugliness.
He was walking again, wishing he wasn't simple. It wasn't his fault he was simple. Overhead, a sparrow lighted on a telephone wire, cocked its small round head, and bleated into the day. Passing cars drowned out the majority of its statement, and Benni wondered why they bothered, why they never stopped singing, twittering at his window, waking him in the near-dark of 6am with their incessant speech. But now, the world was louder—so much louder—and the little twittering song was nothing to the buzz of a motor or the roar of a diesel engine.
Soon his shift would begin and he wouldn't have to hear those birds. You couldn't hear them in the lobby of the Laurette, at the front desk where his music—Gershwin mostly, or Copeland, or Wagner, depending on how he felt—played to drown his thoughts between the questions and concerns of the dozen or so guests he'd see in a day. Simple. He listened to music and composed his own on blank notebook paper or in the gaps of his thoughts, and if the music was simple—if he was simple—then it wasn't his fault, was it?
It wasn't his fault his family had been so poor, that his parents divorced, that his peers at school all descended into confused, pubescent madness while he imagined he was the only one in the world that retained some measure of sanity, that all the while—while the whole world twisted into a whirlwind—Benni plugged in to the simple, safe currents of his own mind and dwelt there. He had made it through everything through his own force of will, had he not? He had gotten himself here, got his own apartment—in and out with simpering strangers rather than the aunts and uncles and grandparents and cousins he was accustomed to. He had put himself through school. And maybe all he did was work and study, and that was simple, and maybe he was alone, and that was simple too, but hadn't it been the getting there that had been complex, as bustling and complicated as a piece by Stravinsky or Wagner? Wasn't the result something grander—even if it was simple—like the peace that comes from just listening?
He clocked in, slumped behind the desk, sat his bag down, and glanced around the dim, empty lobby with its fluorescent lights, shaded lamps and beige tiling. He ran a piece of music he'd been toying with through his head.
A noise interrupted his thoughts: the flippant twittering of birdsong. Outside, a sparrow had made a nest in the awning over the front doors, finding a way to make itself heard even here.
He started the composition over in his mind, and wasn't the melody simple, didn't it sound—even in part—like the twitter of that birdsong?
He set his phone on the desk beside him and barely looked as he typed the message: What did you mean last night when you said I was simple?
Between the noise of his thoughts, he didn't want to hear the birdsong, so he let Pandora choose something for him on the desktop.
Her reply came quickly.
just that you know what you want. like you have simple clear goals. not like me I don't know what I'm doing
Outside, the sparrow flitted and jumped, issuing long chirruping bursts of song that came in through the glass and over the Vivaldi playing through the lobby speakers.
And Benni thought that simple was what he wanted in his piece. That there was nothing wrong with simple.
He texted back, again barely looking at the phone.
You want to get coffee or something sometime?
In his head, his piece smoothed itself out, the problematic measures falling or rising into place as the sparrow jumped and flew and sang outside, itself the song. Benni turned Vivaldi down to a minimal hum and let his thoughts and music crescendo with the bliss that comes from peace of self, as rare and difficult to capture as the sound of a sparrow in the confines of song.