A week, only a week until that day when he lost her… He was used to the silence now, the absence of her voice.
The piano player felt at home, especially because the villagers never criticized him for his unusual attitudes. Sometimes he sat at the wheel of the rusted truck forgotten near the old gas pump, listening to the silence of birds and crickets, the wind, the rustle of leaves and the creaking of the wood in the old shed, a symphony directed by an invisible maestro.
The villagers simply walked by and waved a friendly hello. They cherished the presence of this eccentric middle-aged man whose wish for solitude didn’t really bother them. They respected it and simply accepted it as they accepted anyone else’s peculiarities.
There was one place where he would sit often, sometimes till night time took him by surprise, a staircase that embraced the side of the cliff and ended abruptly at a gate. This gate, covered in old branches and weeds, semi-opened as a hopeful promise, was dangerous. It made him want to play the piano again. He knew it that first time he walked down those steps. So, unintentionally, he sat at the foot of the stairs by the gate more and more, and looked at the rock that created a plateau with a view over the soft surface of the sea where he imagined a weave of pictures floating about, reminding him that he could not hide forever.
He was not alone. He didn’t know it, but the little girl had been following him, determined to find an answer to a very simple question, why he never listened to music. Her mom explained to her that he was terribly sad, and that’s why he stopped playing his piano. That much she could understand. But she didn’t understand the fact that he never ever listened to any music.
She noticed him staring at the rock. Every day, longer and longer, he would sit and stare at that rock. Sometimes he even seemed to cry, knees up, his head resting on his folded arms. She sat at the top of the stairs, watching in silence from a distance.
The piano player dreamt of pictures floating on the water surface. At first, he could not make out what the pictures were. Then he slowly realized that they were the pictures of the village, the lighthouse, the pathway to the café, the Buddha, the lake by the playground. In his dream, they felt more like reminders than lost recollections floating away. They would rotate discreetly as if saying “look, look, here’s your life”.
Surrounded by silence and safely anchored in a routine of solitude and contemplation, he had been living in that village for almost a year by then. That fact didn’t go unnoticed to the villagers. A newspaper featured a full-page article about the famous cosmopolitan piano player whose loss, a year ago, made him choose to hide away in the middle of nowhere. They knew he would be sadder.
That Saturday, no one felt like playing any music or dancing. No one had ever talked to the piano player, but everyone felt his pain. They all understood his need for distance, all but the little girl who still couldn’t grasp the need for that heavy cloak of silence.
The villagers sat around the dancing floor, the old record-player patiently waiting. They muttered about what to do. Some suggested they should throw a party for the piano player, a chorus of protests firmly dismissing that possibility. The mood was not for parties. Others suggested a gift, some flowers or a freshly baked apple pie. Many nodded in agreement. An apple pie would be good, everyone liked apple pies. But the little girl didn’t seem to agree. She kept shaking her head silently. It had to be something with music, she thought. The grown-ups’ discussion lasted until the late hours of the night without a final decision.
There was something bugging the little girl though. The newspaper article had a picture of the piano player’s last performance and that picture made her think.
A week later, a group of villagers knocked at the door. He sat straight in his sofa, undecided. However, the villagers were insistent. The knocking continued. He opened the door. An elderly man surrounded by villagers of all ages urged him to come along. The piano player waved a hesitant negative, but the villagers would not take no for an answer, so he reluctantly went with them.
They followed the coastline under the light poles to the windmill rotating merrily. There seemed to be an energy building up that made the piano player extremely nervous. They took him to the top of the stairs leading down to the waterside, in silence, watching him.
As he walked down the stairs, he saw something on the rock. Could it be? He got closer and closer, his heart pounding uncontrollably, his footsteps echoing against the wall of the cliff. He couldn’t believe it, he simply couldn’t believe it. His feet splashed in the water, as he rushed to the rock.
Suddenly, everything flashed before his eyes, the concerts, the success, the interviews, the cars, the houses, the vacations abroad. Helen… Oh, Helen, how he missed her. The funeral, the excess of flowers of all colors and shapes and sizes weighing on his pain, and the time he spent hiding in his apartment, wishing no one would try to be nice to him with soups and stews and apple pies. And the flight, the flight to this village of strangely silent and friendly people who sang and danced every Saturday but who never overstepped the boundaries he had set.
Now this. He looked at their faces beaming with joy, complete strangers he had never even tried to get to know. He sat down dragging a silence along that seemed to last forever, until the little girl stepped from behind her mother and sat beside him, one little hand on the hopeful whiteness. The piano player smiled and played. He played one song after another into the sunset, the villagers sitting on the rock around him, happy.
The little girl set her hand on the piano player’s arm while he played. She closed her eyes and suddenly she understood. He had never stopped listening to music. He had listened on to the waterfall, to the birds, to the waves splashing, the wind, the crickets, the branches brushing against the old gate.
And he played on and on till the last song, Helen’s favorite by Pearl Jam. He looked at the villagers and sang in a low whisper “I’m a lucky man, to count on both hands the ones I love… stay with me”. Thank you. In his mind, the music sheets flew away softly, finally free.
“My name is Lisa. What’s your name?” the little girl asked.
“Paul. Would you like to learn how to play the piano, Lisa?”
And the little girl smiled.
A short note before I wrap up, this narrative was inspired by Second Life’s sim Misali. I encourage you to visit this location where you’ll recognize many of the elements mentioned in the story. And the piano does play Pearl Jam’s “Breathe” (click the music sheet), the perfect finish to the story. Enjoy!