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Human Experience

The Night the Drums Began to Play


“I wanna go to the park! I wanna go to the park! Why can’t we go to the park?”

Life as we knew it ended on March 15th of last year. At least it did here in Spain. It was the first day of 40 that my two kids didn’t see a blade of grass. It’s hard to believe my youngest has lived close to half his life inside this mess.

I’ve been trying to think about what was going through my head that day. I’m guessing it wasn’t very good. Probably something about how I was gonna survive being locked inside a small apartment with two young kids. We played Uno. I remember that for sure. The times we lose are harder to forget.

“The world’s comin’ to an end!

We might as well play some cards!”

It was raining that first day. I remember that too. The days were getting longer. But it wasn’t quite Spring. I remember that because it was dark that night at 8 o’clock when the drums began to play.

It started with my neighbor. Banging his kit and blowing his whistle on his terrace just like he does with the band he leads during street festivals. Funny seeing him out there drummin’ hard into the steady rain. He was lit up for sure. Hand-rolled cigarette dangling out one side of his mouth. Shit-eating grin creeping outta the other. While people were busy hoarding toilet paper, I saw him over the weekend with a shopping cart in the elevator stacked with plastic bottles of rum and cases of the Bud Light of Spain. Quirky guy. But smart. As long as you have running water you can always keep your ass clean. But it’s tougher to make booze.

“The world’s comin’ to an end!

We might as well load up on double-ply!”

But I wasn’t thinking about that when the drums began to play. Because once Migue found his beat, the whole town joined in. We couldn’t make out many faces. But we knew they were there. Some were banging pots. Others hitting pans. Some even blew those damn annoying things you see at South American football matches that sound like you’re about to get hit by a truck. I remember that because as soon as the first one went off our youngest began to cry.

“The world’s comin’ to an end!

We might as well scare the shit outta people!”

But that didn’t last too long. It was my neighbor’s drum solo that moved everyone to stop. I don’t think he came up for air for a good four minutes. He was really in a zone. Totally outta body. I think he must’ve blacked out. He doesn’t handle the 34 steps in our apartment building too well when the elevator’s out. But he sure has stamina when it comes to beatin’ a drum. The magical power of the Bud Light of Spain.

“The world’s comin’ to an end!

We might as well drink cheap!”

I don’t remember much from that first day. But I do remember those ten minutes. Or at least how I want to remember those ten minutes. It was supposed to be a thank you to the people working in hospitals. That first night, though — or even each night after for that matter — it was for all of us. Catalans. Moroccans. Chinese. Americans. Poles. For a moment, we were all the same. Neighbors making art. The making of music once again bringin’ people together. We said goodnight to each other when Migue’s solo was done. We waved to each other the next day. Smiled even. “Necesitas algo? Are you doing okay?”

“The world’s comin’ to an end!

We might as well see if we can help each other!”

The next few days the numbers got bigger. Over the next few weeks, we learned first-hand they’re not as scary as the small numbers. It’s the small numbers that leave a mark. It’s the small numbers that we’ll remember. Nine is our number. Family friends. Parents of neighbors. Friends of friends. Burly men shaking uncontrollably in empty garages because they couldn’t say goodbye to their moms. How unnatural it felt to stop ourselves from giving them something as natural as a hug. We made a lot of phone calls those first days. I’m thinking about the people I first reached out to. Those that took the time to reach out to me. A dozen people. Friends. Family. They’re the ones worth holding on to. They’re the ones that matter.

I’m beginning to forget all the details of those first few days.

But I still see flashes.

Phone calls. Uno. Waving at neighbors. The Bud Light of Spain. Glasses of water. Drums.

The world’s coming to an end!

We might as well look for moments of beauty inside the chaos!"