Vividly lit by the bright spotlight the musicians played for a classy audience at the TANG Korean restaurant at the intersection of Francis Lewis and Northern Boulevards. Only a glass wall separated me from the ensemble, which consisted of a keyboard player, a double bass player, a guitarist, and a soloist who alternated between a saxophone and a flute. The metal of both instruments glistened under the yellow lights and contrasted sharply with the performer’s black shirt and pants. Swiveling on the wooden floor with his Converse shoes and bowing slightly to the tempo, he was the most mobile as the other three players were seated with their backs to the glass wall. Yet they, too, tapped their feet vigorously to some boisterous tune and nodded at their audience’s applause. Young couples and pairs of middle-aged women entering the glass foyer on the right smiled at the musicians before being seated.
I envied them, the privileged customers who could enjoy the sights, sounds, and tastes of the restaurant. For I and the others waiting for the Q12 bus could only watch. We couldn’t listen or hear the melodies of the flute and saxophone, the strumming of the guitar, the notes of the keyboard, or the low tones of the double bass. We could not hear why they tapped their feet. No matter how much we strained our ears, we could not make out a single note.
The vibrant world inside the glass was bright and warm in contrast to the chilly night air. The more we longed to hear the music and tried to get a hint of the sounds by moving closer to the glass, the more we realized the futility of our efforts. The wall was soundproof, but not sight-proof. During one of the last pieces before the bus arrived, the flutist turned full-circle to signal the end of the song to his fellow musicians. And then I think he saw us, looking but not hearing, and understanding for the first time what it might mean to be deaf.