A Flute Player's Story

By Rachel Halpin

Romance

Finding a Job and a Home

I spent my first night away from home sleeping on a statue in front of a building. I had tried to read the sign on the building, but it was in English and the letters kept moving around and making it impossible to read anything anyway. I had been woken up that morning by a group of boys coming out of the building chattering in English. I didn't recognize a single person or understand a single word being said. I spent that day walking around trying to find the theatre I had told Castel about. I finally saw the sign with the picture of the blond lady on it and knew I had found the right place. Finding a job there proved to be a bit more difficult than I had planned, because nobody spoke Spanish or Hopi and I didn't speak English. I had found Medda right away, but we didn't have any way of communication. She tried asking a stage hand to write things down for me, but since I didn't want her to know I had trouble reading, I just looked over the paper before answering. Medda finally motioned for me to follow her as she walked over to a boy just standing there watching a couple walk away. I hid behind Medda until I heard the boy trying to pronounce my Indian name. I poked my head out from behind Medda and smiled, wondering how much he knew. He tilted his head to one side and I decided to play a game and copy his movements, a game Castel and I had played many times as children. He made a few faces before sticking his tongue out. I did that too, making a face as I did so. He laughed and I giggled as Medda asked him something. He sighed and looked at me, asking me questions in Italian. When he asked my name, I told him it was Allegra, not wanting him to know who I was in case Mama or Papa was looking for me. It was going well-I played a tango for them when I was asked to play-until Medda handed me some papers to sign. Not wanting to look the part of a fool, I asked if I could have the papers explained to me. Racetrack-the boy who was helping me-was very patient with me and explained everything. When he held out his hand, I just stared for a moment before shaking it. We didn't move at first, just looking at each other. The moment was interrupted by the sound of a female voice coming. I ducked behind the desk until Racetrack had left. Standing up, I saw that the girl the voice belonged to was still there. She looked startled to see me and said something in English. I shook my head and she switched to Spanish.

"Hello. I didn't see you there. What were you hiding for?" She kept talking and I just listened. She reminded me of Castel. He would start talking and you would have to put food in his mouth to stop him. She noticed my flute and pointed to it. "Do you play? I play flute too. I've been playing for many years. I've only been at Medda's a few years though. I play to support my brother and sister. Tajo-that's my brother-is a newsie. That's a newsboy. He sells papers and brings us the money. Tajo lives in Brooklyn. My name is Maggie, but people call me Magpie. It's because I talk so much. Everyone says so. Do you think I talk too much? You can tell me to stop."

"You remind me of my brother," I told her when she finally took a breath. "He talks as much as you do and the only way to stop him is to make him eat or hope he falls asleep."

"Oh, you have a brother too! We should introduce them. Where is your brother?"

"I haven't a clue. We ran away from home and got separated."

"Oh, that's so sad. You know, there was a boy just in here looking for his sister. His story was similar to yours. You even look like him. I told him to come back tomorrow. Wouldn't it be exciting if it was your brother? Come tomorrow as well. I can introduce you. When can you come?"

"Oh, I work here. Medda just hired me today. I come in at lunch to set up and everything."

"Wonderful! That's when I come in. Let's walk together tomorrow. Can I walk you home so I know where you live?"

"I don't have a home. I ran away and don't have anywhere to sleep."

"Where did you sleep last night?"

"On a statue."

Maggie looked at me. "That won't do. You must stay with me tonight. We'll have such fun! We're going to be best friends, I can tell already."

Maggie held my arm as we walked to her house. She talked the whole long walk to her town home. I learned that she had four brothers and sisters. Tajo was the oldest and Maggie was his twin. Tajo lived in Brooklyn and sold papers. He didn't live with them because of something bad that had happened. Maggie took care of her younger siblings in Manhattan because their parents had died and they didn't have any aunts or uncles to take them in. By the time we had reached Maggie's place, I was almost asleep on my feet. Maggie's siblings took care of that as soon as we walked in the door. They were jumping around the room asking for a story before bed and refused to calm down for anything. I watched from the middle of the room as she chased them down, trying to get them into bed. It was a comical sight to be sure, but Maggie soon looked like she was getting tired out. Thinking of a trick Mama and Papa sometimes used on Castel and I at that age, I sat in the middle of the room and started singing a soft Spanish lullaby.

"A la nanita nana, nanita ella, nanita ella.

Mi nina tiene sueno, bendito sea, bendito sea.

A la nanita nana, nanita ella, nanita ella.

Mi nina tiene sueno, bendito sea, bendito sea."

I kept singing as all four children came and sat around me. I sang the whole song twice and by the end of the second time, almost everyone in the room was asleep. I helped Maggie carry everyone to bed. She thanked me many times as we climbed into the bed we would be sharing that night. I was grateful to be sleeping in a nice, warm bed that night instead of a cold, hard statue. I was also grateful for the new friend I had made. As I fell asleep, I dreamed of finally playing my flute on stage, my brother and new friend watching in the audience.

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