I go to the jazz cafe on Jackson Street when I want to remember you. I order a chai tea and sit in the back corner where I can look out of the window. The music is nice here. It’s something that you would like. Upbeat. Strong bass. Just the right amount of piano. It reminds me of early mornings with you in our small apartment across the city.
You had an old record player that your father gave you for a birthday present. Every Saturday morning, you would put on a record and dance while you cleaned the apartment. On good days, you would play piano for me. I would sit in a corner and watch as you recreated various melodies, your eyes closed, and head nodding in time to the music. I used to see God in the way your fingers danced across the piano keys. The way you would lose yourself in the music, sometimes playing for hours on end.
The pianist leans in close to the microphone to speak with the audience. He has a way of interacting with the crowd in a way that the usual musicians don’t. I watch, mesmerized, as he plucks out the first few notes to a slow but unforgettable song.
I tilt my head back, close my eyes, and let the music wash over me.
Your jazz was too slow. I preferred modern sounds with synthetic beats and loud, obnoxious drums. Funny that I didn’t start enjoying jazz until long after I left you.
It all started with those jazz remakes of R&B songs. I played them whenever my silent apartment started to feel a little too claustrophobic. I’d fill all the empty spaces with noise and twirl around the kitchen with a broom as my dance partner. Then I began listening to the artists that you used to play for me. John Coltrane. Miles Davis. Billie Holiday. I even started downloading those songs onto my phone, so that I could listen to them while I went on my morning jogs.
Someone settles in the chair next to me, and I open my eyes to greet them with a smile. The woman, relieving herself of her heavy jacket, offers me a smile in return.
“God, he’s good,” she says gesturing towards the piano player.
I nod my head. “He has a way of making you feel the music,” I respond a little bit later.
“Makes you want to just fall in love,” she sounds wistful. “When I was your age, I used to always go to jazz night clubs. Oh, I could just dance the whole night away. I’m glad to see that young folks like you are still coming to places like this to enjoy the music.”
“An old friend used to bring me to different jazz performances,” I explain.
The first time I went to a jazz cafe was with you and your parents. They were telling you about all the classes that your little sister was taking at college. We sat with them for three hours. The one time your mother looked in my direction was when she asked me to pass the salt. We were supposed to take them out for lunch the next day, but you told me that something had come up, forcing them to cancel. I saw on your Snapchat story that you had gone out to lunch with them at the new soul food restaurant a few blocks over from our apartment. You came home with a record tucked under your arm and a grin on your face. When you asked if I wanted to listen to it with you, I responded by turning the volume on the TV up to the highest setting.
Whenever I asked why we didn’t spend time with your parents, you claimed that they were busy or that they were introverts who didn’t like strangers in their home.
How was it that after six years of dating, your parents still thought of me as a stranger?
“Doesn’t this part make you wanna cry,” the woman says.
My eyes are glued to the pianist’s figure. I want to know who he’s thinking about. His eyes drift shut as his body sways in time to the music. He’s playing as if he’s forgotten about the audience. As if the only things in the room are him and the piano. He looks as though he could play for hours without stopping. I want to move closer, so I can see his hands.
You had brought me to your house one time for your father’s 60th birthday party. I had gotten him a John Coltrane record; I remembered that he was one of his favorite artists. It took weeks of searching different stores before I could find that record. He smiled at me when I handed the gift to him, but he looked at you when he said thank you.
Later that night when your mother thought that I couldn’t hear her, she told your sister that I was a nice girl, but nothing compared to Anna.
Anna, the soulful singer who you had dated during your undergrad years. She had a charming face and a mesmerizing voice. You played piano for her during her senior recital, where her song was so moving that it had the audience in tears. Everyone thought that she going to be a big star someday. She had even gotten an offer to be a backup singer for an R&B artist who was headlining their first tour.
My tea is lukewarm, but I drink anyways. Beside me, the woman is humming along to the music. A few of the other patrons have their eyes closed as they listen to the music while others are unable to tear their gaze away from the pianist.
Outside a young couple walks close together, bundled up in layers of clothing. They hold hands as they dart across the street. As they move closer to the window, I get a clearer look at their faces. They’re both smiling. Their mouths are stretched so wide that I’m certain their cheeks hurt. Neither one of them can go for longer than a few seconds without looking at the other. The boy bends down to give the girl a quick peck on the lips and then they’re off, dashing down the sidewalk and away from the cafe.
When you asked me why I wanted to move out of our apartment, I told you that it was because I couldn’t spend my life feeling as though I was competing with a dead girl.
I haven’t spoken to you since then. But there are moments—like now, in this cafe—when I hear the perfect jazz song, and I can’t help but remember the way your hand would fit in mine as we spun in slow circles across the living room floor with one of your father’s records playing in the background.