I pressed the bell and a couple of minutes later I heard Aleksei’s voice shout through the intercom “WHAT? DID YOU FORGET SOMETHING?”
“Euhm this is Fleure, you told me to visit you?”
“You told me to practice to practice Bach, and now you are acting like you don’t know me?”
“Girl, I can see you on my viewscreen, I have never met you before in my life”
I heard him put down the receiver.
What the hell. Did I come here for nothing? I felt like I wanted to tear that man to pieces. He was the man that made me practice Bach of all things, and it appears it would be all for nothing.
A bit dejected I pressed the bell again.
“We met a little while ago in Frank’s store.” Was he just messing with me?
The line remained quiet for a second.
“Oh! The creepy girl! But you look nothing like her.”
My blood was starting to boil. I was not yet inside, and I had already been insulted. I could understand why that girl just left shouting angrily. I wondered if I would be leaving in the same manner.
Aleksei pressed the buzzer, and I could enter the house.
When I opened the door, instead of getting inside a house, as I expected, I walked through a gatehouse into a small courtyard garden. The scent of the blossoming spring flowers completely washed away the smell of the traffic that you always had to face in a city the size of Brussels. The vibrant colors everywhere made it look like I entered a fairy tale. This was the kind of place I could imagine a composer would use to get their inspiration.
Unfortunately, I was quickly brought out of my admiration for the garden and nature’s beauty by a sarcastic remark.
“By all means, spend your day in my garden, if you think that is going to be more interesting than what I have to say.”
I gnashed my teeth. This was going to take every ounce of patience that I could muster.
I walked over to Aleksei. After looking at me for a second, he said “Yes, now I recognize you. Well, at least you look acceptable now. But I can see you still have ways to go. A girl should always make herself as pretty as she can. Girls are like flowers after all. They are beautiful but wilt way too soon.”
Calm down, Fleure. Don’t get riled up by his insults and sexist talk. It will get better once we talk music.
I decided to just give him a fake smile and nodded. I really did not know how else to react, but I could understand that angry girl from earlier a lot better after this short exchange. Aleksei just had that effect on people.
“Ah, the silent type. I can respect that. My granddaughter could learn from you. You are right, in fact, we should let our music do the talking. That will be much more interesting. Welcome to my humble home.”
That’s right. He retired to take care of his granddaughter. I wondered how old the little girl was.
After entering the house, I could not help but think that there was nothing humble about this home. If it proclaimed anything, it was abundance, with its colorful carpets and paintings. It was like walking into a 19th-century novel.
Aleksei took me inside with him to a room that was clearly intended for the sole purpose of playing music.
After excusing himself, Aleksei brought in a second chair from another room while saying “I never play music with other people in here, so there was no need for a second chair before.”
Again, I nodded to acknowledge what he said.
I prepared the new chair for my cello by placing my wooden slat* on the ground. I was surprised he played with a slat too and that there wasn’t carpet in this room.
After tuning, Aleksei sat down on the chair in front of me, gave me an intriguing look, and said, “I’m interested to see what you made of Bach.”
I took a deep breath to calm down and gather my focus and started playing. I was focused on my grief for Fleure and my wish to bring her back. While playing I made myself relive the horrors that I had witnessed and the loneliness that I felt. All of my despairs were packed in the music I brought… and then there was uncertainty. Because I did not know if I was doing the right thing or going in the right direction.
While I was playing, Aleksei got up and picked up his own cello and started playing some bound notes here and there that were directing me to play in another way. Every single one of his notes seemed to say something to me and touched me deeper than any normal word ever could. After our first playthrough, I was out of breath. It was like I had run a marathon and I had only played for 10 minutes or so.
It all made sense. I had been selfish, hadn’t I? All I had been focused on was how I felt. How I was affected by Lise’s parting. I kept myself into my darkest selfish desires to get Lise back. I, I, I; Me, me, me. Our love was about us. Not about me. I should be celebrating what we had, and incorporating how I longed for I to become us again.
When Aleksei spoke with his cello, his message stemmed from the gentlest of touch to direct me, but when he spoke normally, he became such a butcher. He should learn to act more like his music in real life. But one thing was crystal clear. My music should not be about wanting things. My music should be about us, and the times we spent together.
“I understand…” I said while a tear ran from my cheek.
“Good. Then you do not have to torture that cello anymore. It didn’t do anything wrong to you.
I put myself into the position to play the suite again. Different this time.
I reminisced about Lise’s embrace. How her touch felt. Her beautiful smile would always cheer me up. From time to time, Aleksei guided me back with a few notes when my thoughts became selfish or too dark, but I could feel how my sound and playing had transformed with just a few notes of his. My music became a celebration instead of a lament.
At the end of the suite, I felt like Lise stood behind me, looking over my shoulder at the score. It really felt like she was actually in the room, but when I opened my eyes that feeling immediately dissipated.
“You actually did it, didn’t you?” Aleksei said, with a little excitement in his voice. “I thought you had potential, but to do the first step so quickly. You must be the youngest ever to achieve this feat.”
“Wait, does that mean, that was not just a feeling? Lise was here?”
Aleksei just nodded.
“What do I do now? How do I progress from here?” I immediately asked eagerly.
“I do not know.” He answered pensively. “I am not much further than you are. I can only sustain that state a little longer. A short visualization is the furthest I got. “
Talking in a rambling voice he continued “All the sources I found say that for the next step, there will be a sign from the spirit world, and if you understand the sign, you will be able to bring your loved ones back and talk to them.”
“Then how do we continue?”
“You are the first one to understand music as a language that I met in quite a long time. Not even my Nastya gets it. She claims there is only mathematics and technique.” He said, just ignoring what I said.
“My granddaughter. She plays the violin.”
Nastya… Where did I hear that name before? My eyes turned big. The girl earlier… She was that girl in that intro video.
“Nastya Fjodorov is your granddaughter?”
“Oh, you know her?”
“I know of her. I saw her in the video to promote the school I am trying to enter.”
“Oh, yes, that is right she is planning to take the exam too. It’s why we moved to Belgium. She plays her father’s violin.”
The atmosphere turned heavy in a second. I could feel the sadness emanating from Aleksei. No wonder. After all, during my research, I found out his son committed suicide.
“I should warn you. My son was doing the same research as us. He became completely obsessed with it. It is because of him that I know so much of it. He spent years frantically researching the subject. But in the end, he turned to madness. He just gave up and decided to join her again on her side claiming that that would be the only way. He didn’t even care enough for his daughter to stay with us.”
Aleksei stared a bit vacantly out of his eyes before snapping back and grabbing me by my collar and saying “Promise me you will never do such an irresponsible thing. I am sure that together, we will find a way.”
I was surprised by the intensity he suddenly grabbed me with.
“Promise me. If you won’t promise, I will not help you any further, and I will know if you lie. Because you cannot lie when you play music.”
I wanted Lise back, but if I was honest, the thought to cross that line if I failed did cross my mind, so I could understand Aleksei’s son.
If the few interactions that I had with Aleksei had taught me anything, it was that if I wanted to bring Lise back, the only way that I would ever achieve that would be with his help. Remembering the presence that I felt during my playthrough earlier, was what convinced me. There was no option for failure. I was willing to put everything I had on this, so, I said.
Aleksei gave me a warm smile and then I saw him doze off in himself again. I heard him whisper “I should not have refused him. He might still have been with us then. I will not let the same thing happen again.”