In the old city of Marseilles, a lively and bustling atmosphere emerged at night, with narrow streets filled with taverns, music, and people from all walks of life. One night, the narrator and his companion, K., ventured into a low-ceilinged, stuffy tavern, where they encountered two young women who shared stories of their lives in exchange for drinks and money.
The women spoke of the dangers and troubles they faced when sailors drank too much and became violent.
On another night, the narrator and his companion met a group of intoxicated sailors who kindly escorted them back to their hotel. They also encountered a group of Englishmen in a Spanish bar, with whom they shared drinks and sang songs together.
One memorable night, an old man with a homemade musical instrument entered a crowded tavern. He played beautiful and enchanting music that captivated the entire room.
The cigar box of this curious old man sang with silvern sounds, just like a distant, splendid choir, composed of children, women, or angels.
After playing several songs, the old man refused any money offered to him, stating that he played for himself and not for the audience.
I did not play for you, nor for them. But, had you in reality listened to me attentively, and if you do understand anything at all of music—you must be aware that this is such a rare occasion that it is not you that have to thank me, but I that have to thank you.
The narrator, feeling embarrassed by his faux pas, invited the old man to join them for a drink, but the musician declined, saying he neither drank nor smoked.
The old man disappeared into the night, and the narrator spent the following days searching for him in the various taverns and bars of the old city, but to no avail. The narrator took solace in the fact that the mysterious musician's performance was a rare and special experience that would likely never be witnessed by the wealthy or privileged.