He’d sat on that same spot for too many years now. He’s watched the tide breathe back and forth, coyly playing with the shoreline – sometimes with a lovers gentle caress, and sometimes with the fury of a scorned tempest as it vented its wrath on the soft chalk fifty feet below him. He played with them, his ancient guitar mimicking the thunderous booms of the collapsing waves as he hammered out chords, or, when the sea was calmer and the moon was hidden he would enhance the seas low murmur with a slow lilting aria. He knew all the songs that made the sea happy, and he knew all the tunes that made it sad. He’d had the time to learn what the sea liked. He’d been there for years.
Occasionally, as his fingers traced a well-trodden path across the frets, he’d reflect upon why he was there. He’d recall the face that had sat next to him all those moons ago and had spoken to him. He remembered the long aquiline nose and high cheeks. The sunken grey eyes peering from an old face made curiously younger by the portent of wisdom within. The skin had been made soft by the years, but not plagued with wrinkles, except for the few lines around the eyes. The mouth, especially, had no wrinkles, for it was obviously rarely used.
His fingers would slow as he remembered the eyes, and his song would falter and pause. He had tried hard to remember the words the face had said, but the mouth was always closed and the face immobile in his memories. He would shake his head to disperse the memory, and open his eyes and ears again. The sea would whisper to him to carry on playing, so he would, dispersing the notes to a final cadence.
Over a hundred years had passed since that face had spoken to him, yet the minstrel hadn’t changed a bit. His hair never grew, and his stubble remained forever unshaven, yet never too long. Even in the depths of winter he never shifted from that spot – the salt kept the snow away and his hut sheltered him if the winds were too severe. In March, when the winds were high, the waves would drench him in salty foam as they lashed and boiled, awakening from their winter slumber. Through the months of April and May he would join the sea as it rained from the clouds in frequent showers and storms. The summer months were the best, though. He arose with the dawn and played lilting riffs and happy chords to passers-by, who smiled and paused often to hear him strum. He’d play all day in that spot on the cliff top until dusk, when the first stars shimmered into the crimson sky. He’d welcome them with slow melancholic songs that provoked his infinite sadness. Occasionally he’d fall asleep on the cliff-top still clutching his guitar instead of walking back to his hut down on the beach - however, no matter where he slept, he would always awake in the same spot, always clutching his guitar with strings that never broke, no matter how many times he tuned them. He had no idea of how to escape from the cliff-top, and he’d given up searching for reasons why. He drank and ate what he could busk from passers-by, and sheltered in his hut whenever the weather was too bad. Only the songs changed – he learnt new ones every day by listening to the radios the children had on the beach, and wrote his own. He’d covered every chord, every tremolo, every scale, but he still wrote new songs, and remembered every one. That was his punishment for sneering at the coin that face had thrown to him so many years ago. He had looked at that face and said he was a musician, not a beggar, and had thrown the coin over the cliff. The face had looked close at him, and walked away. Ever since, he had woken on that cliff-top and played guitar. The face had been right in the end too – he had had to play for food and sold his art for survival. That face was a Mephistopheles for the price of a penny (which he stall had in the top pocket of his ancient shirt) and his soul was his music.
That train of thought had cursed many of his evenings. He’d tried to kill himself over it, and had jumped from the cliff’s edge onto the stony beach below. The ensuing hours of agony with two broken legs had only ended when he woke up - healed and complete – in the same spot again. He couldn’t win. He’s tried starving, but his emaciated fingers still ached to dance over the fretboard, and he had begged for food to relieve the pain in his joints, to keep himself playing.
So he sat, and played to the sea and the sunset and the stars. Mocked by seagulls and calmed by the tide he played to himself hoping that, one day, that face would come back and that mouth would move and speak the words of forgiveness. Until then, he played.