Peter stepped off the bus into the close and lively air of the city and made his way purposefully up the street, away from those he'd spoken with on the bus. Let them wonder. He was soon around the corner of a shining skyscraper, and completely alone.
He walked one more block, let out a sigh, and sat down on a cement ledge, bordering a garden of white pebbles and symmetrical fountains. Then he gazed across the smooth black street, watching the shiny, indoor cars as they breezed down the long corridor between the mirrored faces of the office buildings.
After a moment, he began to play.
At first, the flow of pedestrians was constant, but as the flute moved into a higher melody, people began to slow. Eyes moved across the little boy and his flute, and footsteps faltered. After a few minutes, someone came to a complete stop, listened for a moment, and then continued down the road, a soft smile upon their lips. And by the time the boy had moved into a new song, a crowd had begun to gather. And then his song was interrupted.
"Where are your parents?" came the sudden demand.
Peter stopped. He gave the authority a close look. "My father is in that cafe across the street," he said. A few people lost interest and moved on. A few turned their heads to the cafe.
"And my mother took a short walk to the bookstore, two blocks down thataway." He jabbed to the left with a thumb.
The authority was unimpressed, but did not question further. He was an irate business man in a black straight jacket with slick oily hair and hollows beneath his eyes. He shook his head and moved on. Peter resumed his song. Then the next interruption came.
"Well, where can I place the money? You haven't got a hat."
Peter stopped and looked up at the woman with the wispy hair and gray-rimmed glasses. She seemed rather irritated. She wanted to give him money.
"Miss, it's illegal for me to collect money on the street."
Her mouth opened in surprise. Her hand holding the bill dropped a fraction. "Well." She seemed exasperated. "Take it." And she dropped the bill on the ledge beside him and strode away.
Peter continued, as if oblivious to the money, and soon, more was placed gently beside it. He acted as if he had nothing to do with the growing pile of coins and bills and was here only to play his flute. But after an hour had passed, he calmly collected the money, packed his flute away, and began to walk down the street.
After another moment, a man moved away from the wall and began to follow him.