My students and I work in a classroom on the second floor of a building that used to be someone’s house. Or maybe it was a small apartment building. It is nestled between another two-story building and a fire house. It is small and awkward and funny and cozy all at once. We have the smallest of the classrooms, and the space suits us well, because ours is the smallest class.
Everyone is reading — or at least acting like reading — and the room is silent. It’s midway through the night, and I am about to turn a page as I review my notes when I hear it: the faint sound of … is that right? … is it? … yes … bagpipes. I cock my head slightly, look over at Joshua who is sitting closest to me. “Is that bagpipes?” I ask. He doesn’t even raise his head. “Yeah,” he says and keeps reading. Just like that, as if he hears bagpipes all the time. I look around the room and see that no one is expressing surprise or amazement. No one even seems to have noticed. Exactly as if they hear bagpipes all the time.
I strain to hear better, but the sound is so quiet, I still can’t be sure I’m hearing what I think I’m hearing. And then it’s gone, and I can almost believe I imagined it. I shake my head and go back to work.
Then the sound comes again, louder, closer. I close my book and look at Joshua again. “Ok,” I say. “Now they’re just messing with my head.”
I go to the window and look out at the street below. Nothing. I can see that the big door of the fire house is open, but still nothing. And then one of the firemen walks out to the sidewalk, playing as he walks, the sound growing to its loudest.
I have seen pipers march in big parades, playing en masse. I have seen pipers play outside churches, honoring fallen police officers and fire fighters at their funerals. I have seen a piper play outside a church to welcome guests to a wedding. I have never seen a piper just play for the sake of playing.
The fire fighter below me is just playing. He walks back and forth in the light of the open station door. He plays one song all the way through and then bits of several others. He strolls up and down in the limited fan of light and then, just as apropos of nothing as the beginning of his performance, he walks back into the station and the music stops.
I love the randomness of this moment, how small and wonderful it was. I’ve been teaching in the second floor classroom the entire time I’ve had my night job, and we’ve never had a bagpipe serenade.