The piper looked at the money in front of him. ‘Nearly ten pounds,’ he thought.
The thought made him sad…and happy. He was happy because it wasn’t far from ten. But he was also sad because he knew that he must continue until he had at least ten.
‘When will it end?’ he asked himself. It was a question he had asked many, many times before.
Ten pounds wasn’t hard to get. He was on the corner of a busy street in Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland. Apart from the citizens of Edinburgh, many tourists also went past him. Often they would stop, take a photo with him and drop some money in the collection box.
He wished he could say: ‘Quick – run away!’ in a hundred languages, but he couldn’t.
He was playing ‘The Barren Rocks of Aden’ when the next one came. He looked Scottish, but that was just a guess.
He was a man in a dark suit, aged about fifty with short, grey hair and a round face. He was about to walk past; but then he hesitated.
‘No, please don’t,’ thought the piper without missing a note in the tune that he was playing. ‘If you really must, then make it a lot of money!’
But it was too late.
The man brought out a fifty-pence coin, dropped it into the collection box in front of the piper and smiled.
‘Heart attack,’ thought the piper. He changed the tune that he was playing. He chose ‘Flowers of the Forest’. It had a gentle, sad melody. Not really the sort of tune to attract people on a sunny, spring day.
A woman, slender with a navy skirt and auburn hair that was pulled back tightly from her forehead stopped and listened. She was just standing there.
The piper continued to play ‘Flowers of the Forest.’ ‘Please don’t do anything,’ the piper thought as he pressed the chanter with his fingers, but the woman was reaching into her bag.
A pound coin fell into the collection box.
‘Car crash,’ thought the piper.
The amount in the box was now nine pounds. Perhaps one more patron if he was lucky – or two or three if he wasn’t. That was the good thing about people who gave him lots of money: it meant the ten pounds was reached quickly. Once, someone gave him the whole ten pounds. Just one person! He felt wonderful that day, but of course it all started again the next morning.
The piper changed the tune again. He felt like something to cheer himself up. ‘If I play a happy tune, perhaps someone will give me a pound; then I’ll have the ten that I need.’
He played ‘Scotland the brave’. He must have played it thousands of times. In the three hundred years that he had stood on that exact corner he must have played thousands of tunes thousands of times. It was difficult to say which ones were the most popular.
Some people paid for the happy tunes, some paid for the sad ones.
But they all paid the piper; and neither he, nor the people who gave him money, could escape their fate.