Two tingling reviving hours that were worth impoverished decades of waiting.
|My Dear Train Station Boy ▼ |
You are such a marvel of innocence, and I'm so glad to see you. How pleasant to settle down here and talk!
On this lovely, sunny, twelfth day of March, the year so modern - 2013 - what could stop us from being content?
Oh, but that is right. There is no sun. It is raining. It is cold, but I know we can both use our imagination.
Young man. You could be doing so many other things. I spy your iPod wires hanging over your shoulder to fall into your hoodie. Be careful someone doesn't feel they need them more than you do. Now that would be a shame.
You could be elsewhere playing computer games, or - what's this?
A tattoo on such a rosy faced lad - yes I see it once again, on your other wrist.
But, you quickly turn your hands over and place them on my lap. You are not usually shy, are you?
Ah, you cannot fool such an old lady like myself. I see the dirt encrusted nails, the damage. I sense that all is not so well for you, hail young fellow! You could be away doing your own thing, but here you are again.
Yes, please give my beautiful, black cat plenty of attention. He's all I have left these days - follows me everywhere. My mind is a little confused, but I seem to recall the same feline friend keeping close at other times in the past.
His name is Romeow, but you can call him anything you like. Oh yes, his is a name like the Shakespearean suitor, but melded with the dulcet tones of his singing. You should hear him some nights, serenading his Juliet on the pavement near the Taxi rank outside.
But he never goes far out of my eyesight, and no one ever trips over him; isn't that a marvel now?
There is no urgency in your posture; you'll not be rushing off in the middle of our conversation, but someone has taught you to sit up straight. I like that! I feel we have a lot in common, more than you'll probably ever know. Of a certainty, I like good posture, especially when I have the pleasure of meeting someone for the first time. First impressions, yes? I think I'll call you Price. Hmm? Yes, you should humour an old lady who spent her younger years in the dawn of Ragtime, Jazz and Stride. Ah those were the days!
But let's not - I can't bear to talk about James Price Johnson, who visited me often when he was about your age; perhaps a couple of years older. Mmm, he was a rascal, with his modern ways, nevertheless quite tame compared to the antics of today.
Hmm, lame is how you'd say it these days, I guess?
You stroke my cat again who is purring in pleasure under your soft caress. That gentleness will win you hearts one day, wait and see. Don't be sad - we have each other for company son. Come on. Look up at me, and let's share our secret smile for the day. I know it's there. You only let me see that special smile of pleasure, as we talk together.
This is not the first time I've met you, is it, boy? You fiddle again with the scratches tattooed into your cruddy flesh. There is a ring separating dirty forearms from wrists. You've washed your hands, as you do each time before coming to talk to me.
Oft you've sat on the seat in front of me, and we've whiled away the day together. No one else notices your tears.
That is all beside the point young man! I am so excited to tell you what happened yesterday evening. You remember how awful the weather, the rain, the coldness, the delayed trains. Something happened that quickened my old heart to breaking point.
You've leaned forward as if to hear me better and perhaps my whispering trailed off. Sometimes I forget what happened a few minutes ago and no wonder you may be puzzled.
I find myself silently terrified by these mind devils that plague us elderly folks. However, my memory of the tumultuous decades since The Great War is as sharp, and quick, as a Runnin' Wild Charleston dancer.
Now you've moved off the seat onto the ground, and you slump against my weary bones, your head resting against my shoulder.
I can feel the same despair in you, the same exhaustion and dismay I felt while trapped in my prison experience.
You are ready to listen to me, to my incredible story of yesterday. Now you want to hear of the miraculous awakening that happened right here on this platform, while people rushed by; as trains blurted out their contents, gorged themselves, and then slid off down the tracks to do it somewhere else.
As I absorb a few drops of moisture, though necessary for life, the damp under my aching bones brings it's own diseases to my body; unavoidable.
People must have noticed our converse, your animation, my raised voice, our pale imitation of those enraptured hours. Not that your company is undervalued...oh how...you cannot imagine it!
My life, my existence - nay - my purpose today, shouts, groans with unspeakable joy. My breathing, though deep and invigorating, can hardly express what has happened in the last few hours.
I pause and look about us at some bystanders gathering. They stare upon me, hoping for what I have no clue. Rudeness! But that's been my life since being cast out to live on the streets.
You, Sir, over there! You have no idea what I'm saying, do you? And you, Mademoiselle, with your children standing around your trousseau-clad legs, staring in such a blank fashion at my aged body, wrinkling your noses at my appearance, which I acknowledge is not as clean and tidy as it once could have been. Oh what a bunch of cold, grasping strangers, none of you who'll just sit and talk to me.
I hold myself still, and let the bitterness go. Old ladies know that haughty retaliation brings no gain, for anyone.
Where is James P Johnson, and where is Cecil, when I need them?
My memory crowds me with shapes, shadows and vaporous understanding of how long it had been since anyone paid me attention, like yesterday.
Back in the early times, the days I was born, barking dogs of war were let loose, to spell the end for my family. Yes, most of my relatives were lost, virtually overnight. The year 1932 was the worst. Not even a reunion of the few scattered weary survivors, in 1960, could bring back those heady days of yore.
Oh they were so grand times, and I tell you now, until yesterday those yearnings were such that I thought they were buried, lifeless, gone forever.
Being treated cruelly, abused, bashed and left alone for years does that to you. There is an eternal and constant hunger, a need, an appetence that grinds you down to the depths, where your mind ceases to record. You are left desolate and yearn for even a sound, a vibration, however clumsy the approach; in desperation for the feel of someone's touch you even crave to be attacked - so great is the emptiness within. If you could you would attack yourself, just to feel something, and there it is.
You have already - the tattoos on your wrists are your own handiwork; the outline of teeth, no, not teeth. They are surely finger shapes?
Yes, in the early days, through the war to end all wars (what a joke - except it wasn't) and during the mid '20's, when people were dancing around the East Coast of America like mad things, I was treated like a queen. Apart from the occasional uncouth loud mouth, life for me was genteel. It was not unusual to clothe oneself in the latest embroidered design following, I'm sure, after Queen Victoria's own wardrobe, her fashion ensemble.
Often I presented myself arrayed in splendour, and I'm not ashamed to tell you, that I was the centre of attention at many parlour parties.
And now, here I am tossed out on the street like the penniless beggar that I am, and the strange fact is; I love living here.
The crowds who pass by are much better entertainment, for me, than you might think.
It's a sad picture, though, when you realise that I could entertain them in a far better fashion, if they cared to talk, and listen.
Why should I love living here on the street, sitting amongst the garbage and flurry of public life?
Because not so long ago, over the space of a few frightening years, I was kidnapped and forced to live in a dusty shed, on a farm.
This was cunningly out of screaming or shouting distance, remote from any help. The couple of times I was briefly intruded upon by my captors, I overheard talk about burning me alive.
These ignorant savages openly declared that they were tired of me being old; so outdated, so useless, so boring.
It was a one way conversation.
They knew nothing of the heat of that place, the summer sweltering - poured upon my delicate skin by corrugated iron sheets of malice. They knew nothing of manners, nothing of etiquette, of decorum, deportment, or how to speak to a Southern Lady.
Not like a gentleman. Not like James P Johnson.
I feared for my life, and the brief, heart thumping times anyone came. It was profitless to complain about my starvation or thirst.
They had no compunction about leaving me there, once again, turning off any artificial light source, extinguishing the light of day by closing and barring my way of escape.
I don't care about light, but I thought I would go mad in that dark dungeon of cobwebs, because of the quiet.
That limitless silence holds only despair for a bouquet, only my flowing tears to wet my burning tongue, and fall onto my dusty feet.
For an eternity, I beheld my scars, my blemishes, my unattractiveness, in a filthy wardrobe mirror that grudgingly reflected only the barest glimmer of light, only on the brightest days.
Then, miraculously, I was set free one hot summers day, by a young man and several of his companions, who tenderly carried me away from that horrible dark pit, and set me carefully upright. I was stripped of my clothing, and what could have been a shameful expose was instead such a rejuvenation of my inner being that I could scarcely take in what was happening.
Yes, it was as if they didn't notice my naked frame, and their efforts to help me regain my health were selflessly, freely given, day after day. There was no self consciousness to the manner of these charming young benefactors.
Someone kept leaving notes, around the warm and comfortable room they had provided for my recovery. I found them scattered here and there, but then the next visit, the young people handed all the notes back to me without a word. I was free! They carried my weary carcase - uh!
Yes you might grin at the term lad, but you'll be in my place one day, way too soon, mark my words.
They brought me here where I could feel the sun on my face, the moisture on my head, hear the sounds of people, see the colour of life! They left me here, but every so often come and visit me as they journey to places unknown. That is of no consequence, you see, but this brings me back to making the long story short.
Oh dear, I feel your weight pushing heavily against me now, and hear your quiet breathing, see your nostrils flaring in the trusting rhythm of sleep. Your cheeks have tell tale tracks upon them where a couple of rare tears have rolled down through the dirt.
But I'll continue on with my story, lest you should wake, returning to this cold world of misunderstood youth and older, worried generations.
If my arms were not so leaden and riddled with the history of the past, I'd take you up in them and hold you to my wasted breast. My poor boy, and your home is here with me, on St Pancras Station!
Then, well, it's on with the telling of yesterday! Pity you aren't awake to hear it, but so be it.
I was sitting in this exact spot, would you believe my creaky old voice, and the only people nearby were turned towards the tracks, waiting with thick coats on against the cold, and rain outside. The train to Paris was delayed. I might be getting a bit unresponsive in my belfry son, but I heard that announcement.
With no warning, a woman with flaxen hair sat right down on that black seat, still warm from yourself these minutes. A couple of people waiting for the train noticed her straight away, I'm not sure how - my memory for faces these days isn't that good.
There were a few cameras pulled out of pockets, and others set up tripods within seconds. All very odd. I wondered what she wanted with me, and felt a bit uneasy. You know I don't look up at people very much, in case their attention is attracted, particularly the unruly ones, and they might do me harm; hit my body, abuse me with their taunts and jibes. Sometimes it's so cruel, as if they think I'm completely deaf and blind. Thoughtless is what it is, and make no mistake. Sad.
Ah, but lad. The next two hours or so, the glory of it I can hardly explain to you. This person, this woman massaged my poor fingers each one. She carefully, and with great sensitiveness, talked to me about everything you could think of. Time seemed to slow, and all other noise ceased.
A couple of times I looked around and saw the crowd had increased, but not because of me; they were staring in wonder at this lovely caring daughter of mine. That is how I feel. She was like a daughter, yet I had lost any hope of having my own daughter many years ago.
I cannot think how she must have viewed me, with my horrible sores, my wrinkled visage, my damp and musty smell of the street. You know how it is, boy. With no hope, there is often no hygiene, and with the hours of sleep so few, the feeling and smell of cleanliness is soon lost and forgotten.
She touched upon every chapter of my life, on each scene, every moment, every book, page, note; her skill and kindness brought me awake for the first time in many neglected years. I really can't remember anything else about her, and couldn't seem to get a word in to ask about herself, as she disturbed - and blew away - the accumulated dust of my hundred year old thinking.
Yet, this isn't a cause of sadness; I felt like I had known her all my life. That is a true friend my boy, a true, close friend indeed.
She is not only my daughter, but my sister. Her hands were soft and warm as she stroked me tenderly, as she deftly smoothed the tightness from my sober face, smoothed the worries from my elderly brow. She brought serenity into my mind, and a new song to my heart. Yes, those were the hours we spent together yesterday, and then she was gone.
Just as well you are asleep dear Train Station Boy. St Pancras seems to be getting busier all of a sudden. You'd only be scampering away in anxiousness at all the activity, all the people coming here again. Why, I think something strange might be happening just now! Not as strange as in the Blitz of course, with that dreaded bombing. Thankful I wasn't here then.
A loud remark nearby; a goofy looking tourist, strutting around waving his camera in my face, awakens you, and I secretly curse the rude photographer, until I feel a tentative recognition of something he said.
She's here again! Thank Goodness for train cancellations! Valentina. Valentina Lisitsa is returning!!
Movement flickers among the bystanders, furtive rushing, gathering of an audience who can hardly believe their luck.
So that's her name. I heard it yesterday but in the hubub I couldn't retain her title. She sees, and steps straight toward me, hesitates as the cat, Romeow, purrs around her ankles. Her eyes crinkle, mouth twitching as she glances down, feeling the insistent welcome.
I feel the stirring again, open my mouth almost before she touches me, ready to speak to her, ready to ask her about herself.
But this time there's the boy. Train station boy is now on full alert and jumps up, but she has already moved in close.
I hear her whisper in his filth encrusted, scabbed ear.
Please stay. I want you to help me with this old lady. Help me talk to her. You talk to her don't you? I had the dearest conversation with her yesterday, and I have a feeling that you are her friend too. I think you might like some help. I want to help, to teach you. I heard you talking to her yesterday, when no one else was here. You have such potential! Please stay.
Before he can run away with shyness, overwhelmed by her loveliness, she asks his name. Even I don't know his name. The only names I've ever heard him called are not fit to repeat.
With downcast face, shaking hands and chapped lips, he quietly replies; Danny...my name is Danny.
Now he sits next to her on the seat and listens, watches, waits. Then she begins to talk to me.
She begins to talk to all 88 of my keys.
I realise then, that Danny's tattooed wrists are not in the shape of teeth, nor fingers, but are keys. The scratches are shaped like piano keys. Keys to hope. Keys to creativeness. Keys to green pastures. Keys to freedom. Keys to peace.
She whispers my name to the boy, and to the cat. A name unfamiliar from lack of use. A name no one has appreciated since I was young. A name that brings me to life. A name that is music to my cracked and unvarnished ears.
I love you. You are my favourite...a B'sendorfer!
Now the performance draws to a quiet close, a feathery final note. Her supple, willowy hands rise up from my yellowed and missing ivory, the crowd clapping - calls of bravo!- and I cannot believe what is coming.
My mouth gently closed by those lively fingers as she joins hands with Danny boy, the stool; my beautiful black cat, is pushed close to me to nestle under my arms, and with terror dawning through the cavity of my soul, where seconds before the lustful vibrations rose and fell, the realisation sits in my belly; thrusting, bitter-sweet agony knifing through my body.
She leaves, taking with her Train Station Boy, and the last view remains with me long after their departure, swallowed up by a train leaving for Paris. There, or wherever she lives, she'll no doubt bring such a change to the homeless boy's miserable life, that he'll no longer be Train Station Boy, nor Danny Boy....
No, perhaps he'll be moved into her legal care, he'll be enveloped with love; nurtured. He'll be taught, praised, disciplined, shown the steps to take towards his destiny.
Perchance, one day in the future, Valentina will present a new Concerto written from memory, memories of a one hundred year old lady - a dysfunctional Player Piano, Romeow the black piano stool, echoes of those surreal Keys of Remembrance; the brief hours spent on a lonely platform, in St Pancras Station, where she met...
The B'sendorfer Boy.
(2:52 Chopin's Nocturn)
The real Romeow
Street Piano in Paris
"Valentina Lisitsa was born in Kiev, Ukraine..."