After making my promise, Aleksei became a much fiercer teacher. He still did his gentle corrections musically, but each time I finished, he made comments on my posture and asked questions about why I did certain stuff the way I did it. He told me to make some changes to my fingering to avoid open strings so that I could control the sound of each and every note better. This meant that I had to change all my finger positions so that I would hardly ever play notes without using my left hand. “If there is a way to control it, you should always do so,” Aleksei told me.
Those were all acceptable critics since I could get where he came from, but then he said “And those faces and moves you make… Is that really necessary? It is unsightly. Put your expressiveness into your music instead of your face.”
Why did he always have to go about the way I look. I ground my teeth again and felt the blood rushing through my veins. I wanted to rip him apart. Who says something like that to a girl? But knowing that I needed his help, I decided to just do my best to comply with what he was saying. At least for now…
While my technique was getting refined even further, and my ego getting bashed even more, we were disturbed by the doorbell.
“What is it this time?” Aleksei shouted infuriated. “Is it so much to ask to leave me alone while I am working?” He walked over to the intercom and shouted “What?”
He then looked at me with an accusatory glance and pressed the button to open the gate.
“There is someone here to see you.” He told me.
Me? How is that possible? I don’t know anyone. Let alone anyone that knows that I am here. The only one that knows is… Oh no… I took my phone out of my purse and noticed a series of missed calls and messages. I had forgotten to shut down my headphones, so it had not made a sound.
“Oh no, Aunt Christina is going to be furious!” I said in a panic. Aleksei looked strictly and disapprovingly at me and said, “Let’s go meet her.”
Aleksei and I walked to the courtyard garden. I felt terrible. I had promised to message her when I arrived here. Not only had I forgotten to do so, but I had also not replied to any of her calls or messages. I had never expected her to come here though.
When Aunt Christina saw me, her eyes grew wide and she immediately hugged me and said “Thank God, you’re alright. I was fearing the worst.”
After she released the hug she said, “I would not have known what to do if something had happened to you. You promised you would message me when you arrived here.” It was clear she had been worried sick all the way here.
“I’m sorry. I forgot.”
“You could have at least replied to messages or calls!”
“I’m sorry I didn’t notice them. We were working hard.”
“Just don’t do this again. I was extremely worried.”
Aleksei interrupted us with a cough.
“Sorry to intrude on your mother-daughter moment. But I think introductions are in order. I am Aleksei Fjodorov. I decided to teach uh…”
Was he messing with me? Did he just forget my name?
“Fleure! My name is Fleure!” I shouted.
He smiled at me in a way that said, “Thank you for helping me remember that pointless detail.”
Aunt Christina held her hand out and said “Christina Bogaerts”.
He shook her hand and said, “I would never have expected such a normal person to be the mother of well… and then he looked at me.”
Was he able to live a minute without insulting me?
I could see that comment took Aunt Christina by surprise. When she saw my face, that without a doubt said “I’m about to explode” she started laughing. “She warned me you were a funny one. I can see that the two of you are getting along just fine. But I am not her mother. I am her aunt and her guardian.”
What did she mean we were getting along? Every time I started thinking he might have an okay personality he said something to make my blood boil.
Aleksei’s eyes turned sad and apologetic immediately at Aunt Christina’s words. “I’m sorry for your loss and I am sorry for assuming things. Things must not be easy for you.”
Toward Aunt Christina he could be friendly from the start. Probably because she was an attractive woman who was well endowed in the chest area… I have never seen men act unfriendly toward Aunt Christina after they checked her figure out. Whereas my figure was lacking in many areas in comparison.
“We can only play the cards we are dealt and make the best of it.” Aunt Christina answered solemnly. I could tell that was her standard answer to this question. It is a good way to stop the subject. What could you answer to that?
I hoped it would work and they weren’t going to start talking about my mother…
Aleksei nodded like Aunt Christina had said something profound. “Let’s have some tea, shall we.” Aleksei proposed. Aunt Christina seemed to be happy with the offer, so we walked toward a table with chairs in the middle of the courtyard garden, under the linden tree that was clearly the centerpiece of this garden, and sat down. Aleksei left us for a minute to get us all a cup of tea.
The second we were alone Aunt Christina started scolding me, and I knew she had every right to do so. “You really had me worried. If you promise me to do something, in the future do so, and for crying out loud, keep your phone in a place that you can answer me!”
“I’m sorry, I forgot to shut down my headphone and didn’t hear the sound. It won’t happen again. Please don’t forbid me to come here again.”
Aunt Christina looked at me a bit flabbergasted. “Why would I forbid you? I just want you to do what you promised to do. Is that really how you see me?”
I looked down and said “You are always friendly, but I know I am not something you asked for. And it is not like I am like a ray of sunshine around the house, so it is not really possible that you like having me around, so I do my best to avoid being a burden and try to be as inconspicuous as I can.”
“Y-you’re not a burden!” I could see that my words had hurt her. “I’m sorry, I did not mean to...” But Aunt Christina interrupted me and said in a quite fierce tone, “I might not have chosen for you, but you are my godchild and I love you very much, I always have. I see you and will always treat you as my own daughter. Even if you were in a bad place for a while, I will still love you. You really don’t need to be so reserved around me. We are each other’s only family we have left.” Her rant made me realize I had walked into a minefield and had said something I really should not have…
Aunt Christina was looking at me quite fiercely. I quickly looked back down. I wasn’t very good at doing this kind of stuff right, was I? Having Lise and her cheerfulness around, used to help me with all this social stuff. I was hopeless on my own and always said the wrong things.
“Ahum!” Aleksei interrupted us again. Oh no… He must have heard all that. This was so embarrassing. “Sorry I would have kept quiet a little longer, but this tray is a little heavy for my old bones.” He put down a tray with cups, some marmalade, and a teapot and started serving tea like the atmosphere was perfectly normal at our table. I noticed something peculiar. So, I decided to inquire about it. “No sugar?”. I always put a lump of sugar in my tea. I can’t stand the bitter taste of pure black tea. “This is Russian tea, so we use the marmalade instead,” Aleksei answered.
Was that really a thing? I waited to see what Aunt Christina and Aleksei did, to make certain they weren’t pulling my leg, but to my surprise, they were actually using the marmalade as sugar, so I decided to do the same thing. It was very special to add a fruity sweetness of the berry marmalade to the tea. I decided that I might do this more often.
“I am sorry for intruding earlier, but I could not help but overhear part of your discussion and heard something troublesome,” Aleksei said, breaking the silence.
Aunt Christina and I looked up at Aleksei. Was he going to interfere in how we acted toward one another?
“I want her to stop using headphones. It is bad for her ears. As a matter of fact, I want her to stop listening to recorded music altogether.”
“But how will I discover new music?” I asked a bit shaken. I always listened to music when I had the time. Stopping to use headphones was a nuisance, but I guess I could live with it. But no listening to music at all? From as far as I can remember, there had been always music playing in the house in some form.
“What she is doing is watching the movie of a good book. Recordings are death. Music should be alive. I want her to read music or to listen to live performances.”
“Read music?” Aunt Christina asked a bit perplexed “Can you really do that?”
“Yes, euhm” Aleksei pointed at me and snapped his fingers to try and remember something. “Fleure!” I said irritated. He looked thankful at me and started his sentence again. “Fleure should read scores and let the music play in her head. The music is much more alive that way and becomes a personal experience.”
Was he doing that just to irritate me? Not only was he acting like he could not remember my name, but I also hated the fact that now Aunt Christina was here, he had changed his way of speaking to talking about me in the third person. I am right here you know. You should be saying these things to me, not to her.
As if he was smelling my thoughts, he turned to me and said, “I think you would progress even faster if you made that change.”
That sudden change really took me by surprise.
I had heard about conductors training like that. But not listening to music anymore was a bit much…
“I guess I can try… I’ll need to get a lot more scores,” I said a bit dejected.
Aunt Christina looked a bit surprised at me and said, “I’ll raise your allowance if it is to buy music scores.”
Aleksei talked a little more while drinking tea and afterward, I went to pack my cello. It seemed that Aunt Christina’s arrival had put Aleksei in a different mood, and we weren’t going back to playing music.
When we were ready to leave, Aleksei offered me a hand and said, “We will continue our work next week. Make sure to practice a lot and try to pick your second piece.” I shook his hand and nodded.
Then he gave Aunt Christina a hug and two kisses, Russian style. Aunt Christina said “I do not understand how you do it but thank you. whatever you are doing is helping her. It’s been ages since I saw her react so much to someone.”
“I am here you know,” I said. “Oh, how I loathed when adults talked about me in the third person while I was there next to them.”
“I am pretty sure it is the music,” Aleksei said to Aunt Christina. Ignoring me of course. “I have a hard time myself remembering people’s names whose music isn’t worth my while.”
Did he really just insult my music too while paying himself a compliment? I will bloody make him remember my name. I’ll edge it into his very soul. Just wait and see!
While my blood was boiling, I could not help but notice the difference in how he was treating us. I had done my best doing everything he told me. I had even put some effort into dressing up and he was still treating me like a worthless ugly duckling.
After Aleksei said goodbye to Aunt Christina using her name, I realized his memory in this case had nothing to do with music, but more likely with her cup size. I decided not to make the remark because I could already sense the witty retort that cup sizes are music. That is why they use the same letters as the cords ranging from A to G. I had heard that tasteless joke many times before that I learned not to provoke it.
There was only one reaction suitable in this situation.
So, I let out a loud “Hmph!” to show my disdain before leaving.