Here was Music
The first time I noticed him we were both ten years old, but I always had the feeling that he was much older than me. Not only me, but even older men were a bit surprised by him and esteemed the child, who could discuss seriously various aspects of life. Whenever I think of him this picture always springs up in my mind - tall, shoulders slightly bent, disheveled hair, oversized coat, with a guitar his height slung across his back. In the morning, going to school, I had to walk on the main avenue. Alex with his friends was always sitting by the wall. A few books lay beside him and a worn cap was lying at his feet. He was so absorbed by his play that he didn't notice anyone around him. At that time it was unusual to see a street musician and particularly at this young age, but, nevertheless, he was known by all in this district. People remembered his parents, who were killed in a car accident several years ago; they also knew his brawler, drunkard uncle, and where this boy was growing up after his parents’ death. The mothers prohibited their children from playing or even associating with him.
Back then, in every district there was -- so-called-- a local flavor, a district’s face. It may have been Kurd the sunflower seller who is still remembered over the generations, or an insane man, or just any such different person that was considered an essential attribute. Our district had Alex.
Nothing special happened; we just got to know each other on a cool autumn morning.
I do not remember the year, but I was already a high school student. Early in the morning, half asleep, I stopped at the tram stop on the way to school. After waiting a few minutes, I mechanically leaned my forehead against the power pole and closed my eyes. Suddenly, I heard the "Lullaby" tune. Intrigued, my eyes shot open and the music immediately stopped.
I looked around wondering, but nobody was around. Surprised, I leaned my forehead against the pole once again, and the music immediately began to play. I spun around and our eyes met for the first time.
His eyes were the color of light honey, twinkling and kindly smiling at me. My heart fluttered and for some unknown reason I felt ashamed. I turned back around just as my tram came in.
I jumped into it, took a deep breath and looked at him through the closed door.
He was still smiling at me.
I felt somehow warmth and joy in my heart and only then realized that I had smiled back.
And that was all… ever since we did not speak to each other and I never met him alone. How would it be possible to see him without his entourage of friends? I met him alone that one single time only because he left his friends hangover in his uncle’s dilapidated apartment and wanted to get a breath of fresh air outside alone.
Our neighborhood scorned both him and his associates; and elder women always warned us to avoid these "vagrants and drug addicts".
Even if I had some feeling towards him (and maybe I did), how would I express them from fear and shame?
From the balcony of my house at night I always heard his guitar, which after 9 pm would be the object of the neighbors' curse:
- Be put in a coffin, let us sleep!
I don’t know about the coffin, but someone’s curse really reached Alex. The Civil War had been launched for two months when he vanished. Nobody knew whether he was killed or if he had escaped (though to where would he have a place to flee?).
Or who would be interested in him at the time; his uncle also was found slain along with others after some time in one of the dead ends of a devastated avenue.
And his friends were dispersed by the war, and without a trace. Alex didn’t appear anywhere, neither among the living, nor among the dead.
Only when the war ended and the people began to move into devastated Tbilisi and clean the streets, was his guitar with broken strings found in our district near the church, riddled with bullets. No blood was on it, and none of his other belongings were found near it.
At that time I didn’t have the courage to ask what happened to his guitar. If I were braver I would have done everything to get the guitar, as a memorial, the price which no one knew. I only remember that when I learned about all this, devastated, I locked myself in my room and opening the window played the lullaby on the piano. I played non-stop until midnight till my fingertips burned and calluses appeared on them. Nobody dropped a word, voice, or curse, but I knew for sure no one slept that night in our district. There was silence and with this silence everyone wanted to buy back all those swears and curses with which they “decorated” Alex throughout his life.
Then, everything changed. Life began with new challenges - lack of electricity, famine, hanging onto the vital forces of survival with teeth… I do not remember, or rather I remember as a dream those few years.
I remember the deaf, voiceless District, which I was trying to revive with my piano in the night. And then we moved to live elsewhere, in an attic-like room. I remember a time of hardship, cans of tomato sauce sent by my grandma from the village, the only food for us. I experienced a life of darkness and a little joy – a yard, where I acquired a lot of new friends.
Alex was almost forgotten for a while. Turns out to be so, too.
I will cite my childhood friend Mark Twain: The elastic heart of youth cannot be compressed into one constrained shape long at a time. And my heart soon recovered and became involved in a new life.
Only years later, one day, when I went to visit my old friend in my old neighborhood, I had to wait for a mini bus at exactly the same bus stop.
That power pole was also there. Leaning my head against the pole, it was as if I heard the lullaby melody again, and I felt as if Alex was standing behind me.
I turned around, and of course, was disappointed.
The wall, against which he would sit, was blackened and pierced with bullets. Someone had written with chalk: "Here was fighting."
The voice, which I had forgotten over the years, I heard again clearly-- the voice of his guitar.
My transport arrived, but I didn’t get in. I stood numb.
I remember running to the wall, erasing the "fighting" with my hand, and with a small stone lying nearby, I wrote "music".
Yes, here was music...
Competition: June 2015 Pen Factor, Round 1
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