The lobby of a hostel is the meeting place for travellers. Because everyone travels on a tight budget, you have to share a room with 5, 7 or even more others; therefore your room is for sleep only. At other times you pass time in a communal space, often the lobby.
The one I am sitting in at the moment is big, there is a bar as well, the reception is immediately next to the entrance, there are plenty of chairs and tables, some sofa's, a public phone, a piano, a television and a pool table. Several school children prepare to go out for the night, making the noise that apparently is necessary when talking about the disco's and bars where they will spent their limited budget. Some more experienced travellers gather together at other tables. Some Dutch youngsters play pool, a group of Canadians sit together and on my table I am talking with some Australians and a Zimbabwean. We discuss the merits of the city, the art of travelling and where to get cheap booze.
One of the Australian guys sits next to the piano, where an Asian girl unveils the keyboard. This happens approximately a few dozen times every day, most people then touch one or two keys to check if it is real, a few even manage a single line from "Frere Jacques" or "Riders on the storm". He moves aside, so she can actually sit at the instrument. Very gently she starts playing, as if warming up. I'm not an expert at all on classical music, but I immediately realise that this girl is talented.
She continues to play, sits down in a chair and makes me completely lose the plot of the conversation I was in. The Zimbabwean is continuing his point, but the words are no more than a distraction in my ears. I think the style she plays is described by many as modern classic. I even recognize some of the tunes she plays, from compilations of classical music I own, though, barbarian as I am, I couldn't actually name the tunes. When she stops between two pieces, I applaud and the Ozzies hesitatingly join me.
When she continues I try to signal to the guy behind the bar that he should lower the volume of the music his cd-player is playing. I don't mind Bob Marley, yet I feel he is out of place at this very moment. Luckily he understands so the background music fades. She decides the atmosphere in this busy area, it is as if everyone knows that this is a special moment. Not that everything stops, the school children are still there, the black ball still needs to be potted at the pool table, there are still newcomers checking in, but everything goes a bit more civilised, with less volume, with less energy.
I think she played for about 20 minutes. Only one guy interrupted her, perhaps he is her boyfriend. I am sure the piano can't have been up to scratch, she probably hadn't had much chances to play while she is travelling Europe and it doesn't help to be playing here in these circumstances, but to me it sounded brilliant. After playing she got up, acknowledged us clapping by a short look in our direction, not knowing how to react, then walks off to her boyfriend. Only a few minutes later the place is alive again. As if nothing happened.