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Unexpected Music: A College Memory (A Poem)

By Joyce Jacobo

[Author’s Note: Based on a true story of something that happened while I was a university student.]

On a rainy evening deep in the Spring  

             (I believe) on a Friday

   I sat alone in a study room

      on the fourth floor of

      the university library

             after a hard day (I forget why)

                                            and waited for my computer

                                                            to finish its updates

                                                       …2 out of 100

                                                  …then 3 out of 100

                                              … then 4 out of 100

            With intermittent warnings that

            I should refrain from turning off

                    the system in its task

                             or else face

                  unspecified consequences

Four white walls surrounded me

                                                    all else was silent

                   even more so than usual

                                 because so few students were still around

As if I were alone

      in a world

           where none knew

                I even existed

                           …and for some reason

                                    that idea made me feel

                                                just a bit

                                                                  like a



                 …10 out of 100

                         do not turn off the computer

                                …15 out of 100

                                       do not turn off the computer

                          more echoes




      the sounds of rain failed to intrude

            because it was all the way outside


I enjoyed moments of quiet and solitude—

                                                        even sought them out


             I wished                          right then

                   for a reminder of another presence

                                    aside from me

                                            and the updates

              …20 out of 100

                   …30 out of 100

                        …40 out of 100

Footsteps rang out                     alongside hushed giggles

      then the door of the study room next to mine

                  opened           and           closed

The wall that separated one room from the other

       was thin enough for me to hear they were deep

           in an animated conversation while

                  they shifted objects about on the table inside

                                   which I assumed to be computers

              …50 out of 100

I heard a familiar tune

        or at least its instrumental

                    followed by a wavery voice (which crackled a bit)

                           of someone who sang the opening lines

                                                 to “I Will Survive”

                         joined soon by another singer

                                          this one in shrill tones

These two students           thought to enjoy a private

                    karaoke session

           without the knowledge they had anyone

                                    as their audience—

                                                     except each other

One of them exclaimed,

           “We are terrible at this!”

                  and they laughed

                 yet all I could think    

       was how happy I was to hear them

 “You are wonderful”

              I thought

                       “Thank you”

At which point my computer screen flickered

                            ….100 out of 100

                        and turned off at last

I packed up and left the two friends

     to enjoy other tunes

        by themselves on the fourth floor

            but I carried them along

                  in my memory

                         as a testament to

                              the miraculous ways in which      

                                  we help each other

                                       …perhaps even without

                                                our knowledge of it.


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