Diurna: an Anthology of Short Stories and Poems

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Reminiscence of a City at Night (1)

It was nine at night. I sat at the same restaurant I have been coming to for the last fifteen years. The sky was clear, and I could see some stars. I cannot tell which star was which: they were mysteries I didn’t want to solve.

Under those illuminating pearls I sipped my coffee. Not that many people sat there anymore. At those hours restaurants started to close down. Along that old street: bars and night clubs turned their dimmed lights on; music would fill the paved road. The city almost never slept, at least not in that area. But it was neither the raving music nor the raging engine from the street that stole my attention: it was the silent Nocturne played by the invisible woman on her old piano.

I have heard stories about her, but it was my first time seeing her. The few guests who were left didn’t seem to notice, but aren’t most people ignorant in the first place? The music came from another century. Not that many people admire the beautiful night sky anymore: the stars are millions of millions of years old. As her thin fingers danced and jumped from one note to the other, I slowly swept. I sat there alone and swept. Was it because the beauty she delivered or was it something else? Another mystery I didn’t want to solve.

Dissonance: the piano was out of tune. It was abandoned, left there for the sake of nostalgia. That restaurant is supposedly historical; it is something from the colonization era. It was an amalgam of the west and the east: the conqueror and the conquered. This street had contained the peak of its architectural heritage before the revolution burned it down. Revolution burned everything: from the heart of the youths to the corpses of the innocence. But in dissonance we often find satisfaction. From the tension between the dissonance and the consonance, we find pleasure in music: expectation and the disappointment it brings with.

She was a magician and I was put under her spell. The running arpeggios, her phrasing, those articulations: I was mesmerized. Her playing was divine and primeval at the same time. It was sacred; it was sensual. I have fallen into the passion like her many admirers in her day. We want her, but who could own the star that brightly outshines us? We were stargazers, hoping to embrace the unreached beauty.

“More coffee, Sir?” the waitress asked me.

“No, thank you,” said I.

“We are closing down in a few minutes, but you may stay until you finish,” she politely reminded me. She looked at her watch. Almost half past nine.

“Thank you, that’s very kind. I will leave after this Nocturne ends.” The waitress didn’t seem to understand what I meant. I could see her confusion past her smile, but she nodded nevertheless, and left me with my music.

The final part of the Nocturne played the central theme of the music. The return of the familiar, the same yet different: some pathos. I saw the fingers of the girl: white and fragile as porcelain. I was afraid that fingers might break when the girl hit those keyboard too hard. To my amazement, I wished that she would break at some point, crumbling into many pieces of white porcelain. Then the music would end abruptly, and I would be disappointed. But which one is harder? To be disappointed unexpectedly or knowing that thing would finally come to an end? I know that Nocturne too well. The repeated theme almost ended, and the music would finish in a little coda. I could not choose. Whether I decided or not, I would still feel the pain.

I desired her: the star of the night sky. She faded too soon; the fire of the revolution burned her along other things. I didn’t think they ever found her corpse. She looked sad in her nightgown: nocturnal. As her final ritardando came to a long pedaled note, I caught a glimpse of tear made of pearl. The tear-pearl hit the floor and rolled through the shoes and the stilettos: still unnoticed, silently, invisible. Not that long until many tear-pearls flowed on the tiles, as if the stars from the sky has fallen: my prayer was answered. The last thing I saw was her open back as she disappeared. The theme of the Nocturne lingered in my ears.

“Thank you for the beautiful music,” I said. The waitress that had come to me earlier heard that. The waitress smiled at me and answered, “Your welcome, Sir. Come again next time.”

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