He came every day. Before sunrise he would wake and dress in silence. Kissing the muslin wrap and whispering prayers, he carefully pulled the turban into place on his head. He packed his flute, a few crusts of bread, a bottle of pomegranate juice mixed with water, and a pouch of tobacco into his pack, draped it across his narrow torso and slipped into his sandals. He washed his face and hands, and gazed into his dim reflection in the small mirror above the basin. He stared into his own eyes, but barely recognized the reflection. Before his head wandered too far in the direction of doubts, the call to prayer would begin and he quickly dried his hands, and face and set out into the street.
The cool morning breeze blew through his tunic’s hem, brushing the hairs of his ankles, cooling him peacefully. There were never many people in the Mosque at this hour. Most people stayed at home to pray with their families, but as dawn broke through the dome’s ceiling he was standing in the atrium composing himself for the day’s arrival. The mosque was lovely, it was a breathtaking symbol of devotion to God, but Khumarawaih had been a frivolous ruler, and the country was now in ruins. It mattered little to the musician, he played music for the stones, and they were attentive in times of great wealth, and in abject poverty as well.
As the heat began to spread through the city, and life began to awaken in the streets, he made his way to the back courtyard of the old municipal building and sat down. He gazed at the stones thoughtfully, licked his lips, extracting his instrument from the canvas bag beside him. He paused, his eyes searching the stones one by one, the flute gently held in position. He wondered if they would dance for him today. He wondered if they would ever dance again.
With a deep breath, a sweet melody wafted up from the end of his instrument. Haunting and slow, a song wrapped itself around the stones before him. He closed his eyes and concentrated on his breathing, his fingers knew what to do, and the music was always an equal surprise for him. What came next, he did not know. This was the music of his soul, the music of God. He merely meditated on his breathing, and prayed to be used by his Master to sing the stones to sleep, or to enchant them into a wild dance of passion. I did not matter to him, he was only there to be used by the Czar of the heavens, nothing more.
Some days the stones would dance. They quivered, and seemed to vibrate until one of them broke from the ground and danced above the others in the air. As each stone witnessed the levitation, they too would vibrate and alight into the air. The dance was dictated strictly by the music, one day they would be whirling in circles, the next they would simply hover before him, shimmering, almost singing along.
Once in a torrent of swirling stones, one of the smaller rocks flew out of the group and in through the window of the tea house at the end of the alley. As the window shattered the other stones hovered in awe of the escape, and then softly fell to the ground without making a sound. He stopped playing his flute and turned to see what had happened. There was a man standing in the doorway of the tea house with a red face, and a cloth held up against his head. He scowled at the musician, and shouted something. He stood there for a long time staring at him. The musician gazed back softly without saying a word. It took four of the tea shop’s owner’s friends all afternoon to lift the smaller stone up out of the lobby and back into the courtyard. While it was impossible that anyone could have thrown the stone in through the window, or that such an elaborate vandalism could have been perpetrated, the culprits vanishing into thin air in the moments it took the shop owner to get his bearings, clasp the towel to his skull and rush outside to see what had happened. But the shop owner kept his eye on the musician for some time afterward. He did not go into the tea shop. He would sip his pomegranate juice in silence, and imagine that tea and mint were in the bottle with the bitter juice. Tea cost money, and the musician had none.
Today as he began to play, the stones made no notice of him. His fingers began to move rapidly, the tones swirling wildly into the air. Only dust danced with his melody, the stones did not so much as vibrate. After several hours he stopped playing and slipped his flute into the bag with a sigh. He had played all the notes, he had concentrated carefully, and devoted himself to the awkward chunks of stone. And yet the stones had not responded.
What he did not know then was that the stones would remain still for more than a year. During that time he tried playing more passionately, playing unconcerned, playing seriously, adopting the challenge before him, preparing music the night before, carefully selecting the scale and devising plans to move the rocks with his flute. But the weeks passed and as winter approached, they would not dance for him.
Sometimes he would weep, sobbing quietly into the reed of his instrument. “Why have you stopped dancing?” He would cry. The stones were neither defiant, nor indifferent. They were stones, and everyone knows stones can not speak. He would select a stone which seemed more emotional, or reasonable than the others and crouch beside it whispering his heart’s contents to the grey lump. He would rub the surface of the rocks and try to encourage them to dance again.
People passing occasionally stopped to watch the crazy man with the bright red flute waving his arms in the air, talking with the stones. Even the owner of the tea shop would sometimes step into the afternoon sun and watch the musician rant and rave. The entire quarter felt sorry for him, and he became known as a lunatic.
At the end of a very long day, the musician walked slowly home through the city streets. He had not been sleeping well, and he was exhausted. He had given the stones everything he had, there was nothing left of him. He was asleep before his body touched the straw mattress of his bed. He slept deeply, and dreamt of stones dancing in the night sky.