The Nightingale of St. Petersburg

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Chapters 5-6

Chapter 5

I slept poorly that night, everything that had just happened during the past few days weighed down on my mind. My wife noticed my pensiveness, but I couldn't quite explain what was the matter with me. Early the next morning when I had only just gotten up and dressed Sonya softly came in and said in a rather embarrassed voice that Marina was begging to see me.

"Godfather, I wish to see Sasha again today, but only, only I wish to go alone this time." She softly stated when I entered the room,. "Alone as in without you."

I looked at her a smiled, "you may go alone, do you want me to send for the doctor?"

"You can if you want too, though I don't know if a doctor will help. I'll only take some broth with me and the medicine that I took when I came down with a cough. It will give him a little relief, ease the pain for a little, give him strength for a little. It will be the least I will be able to do. Oh, and one more thing. Godfather, I have written to father Alexis and asked him to come and take Sasha's last communion. You will send the letter, won't you?"

"Can't you have another priest..."

"Father Alexis is the only priest knows all about me and he is the only priest I feel comfortable being around."

"Do you think he will have the time to drop everything and come here?"

"I don't know, but I hope he will. Please, you will send the letter, wont you?" Her eyes filled with tears and her face looked at mine so pleadingly that I didn't have the heart to say no. I sent the letter. I sent it in great haste. And, what is more, Father Alexis reacted in great haste. I was expecting a reply that he would make it when he could find the time, only two days later, he showed up at our front door.

"Godfather," Marina softly spoke to me the morning after Father Alexis' had arrived, "He's asked to see you today, would you find the time to drop by some time?"

"I'll try my best!" I comforted her.

It was only closer to the evening that I came to the little building where Alexander's room was located. There were more people this time. Some of them noticed me and stared wide eyed, not understand what a man such as myself could want in this poor, miserable place. I walked up the stairs and knocked softly on the door. It was opened by the old woman whom they called Martha Ivanovna. She looked grave and sad. I wondered if I had come too late. She silently let me in and led me to the bed. I heard a deep cough and felt a little better, at least he was still alive. I could see Marina and Father Alexis sitting by him. They both looked up when I approached.

"My godfather is here," Marina spoke to the sick boy as she rose to greet me. "He wishes to talk to you." she told me as she rose and limped off to the far off corner of the room. She was followed by Father Alexis. I walked over and stood right in front of the blind boy. I had never seen such a pathetic human being in all my life. My mother had also been very ill, but her last days had been pleasant and comfortable with her every need attended too, while this poor suffering boy was wasting away in such meager living conditions. He held out his hand, trying to find mine, I took it and held it a little awkwardly.

"You have a strong hand," he spoke in a voice so weak I could barely hear it. I leaned closer, he must have felt it, for with his other hand he reached out as though trying to find my face. "I should very much like to know what you look like," he said and I leaned over even more and allowed the thin hands to feel my face, my beard, my hair. "You are strong man, a good man," he whispered, "I could tell that from the moment I first heard your voice. How long ago that seems." He broke off coughing again. I sat at the edge of his bed and lifted him, to help him get the cough out. He sank back again when the fit had finished, his hands stained with blood, which he wiped on the corner of his blanket.

"I'm dying," he said once he had recovered his breath, "I know that very well, I shan't live very much longer, I grow weaker and weaker by the minute. But you know, I'm not afraid, I suppose this is what one would call dying grace. I have made my peace with God, I have had my last communion, and there are only two things I was afraid of. One has been put to rest, thanks to your goddaughter, the other I wish to ask you." He paused to regain his strength as I sat silently, waiting for him to continue. "It concerns your goddaughter. I would like to apologize for seeing her for so long and keeping it a secret from you, but for a long time it was such a mystery to me that I was afraid to talk about it, thinking everyone would call me mad. Still, I believe I owe you an apology."

"There is no need for that," I hastily said, "I know your intentions honorable. My one fear, or shall I better say regret about the whole thing is that my goddaughters communication with you may have exposed her to such pain. Now you are going and she will be left alone with nothing but painful memories of you. She loves you, I can see that plain as day, and she has had so much suffering as it is, I wish I could spare her from this one. Still, if you think you need my apology, I give it to you freely."

"Good sir, such pain is something you cannot keep anyone from. We all must go through it. But you know, wounds can heal and I believe that Marina's will. She has been cooped up for so long with nothing to do and no one to see, but I believe she needs to be given some purpose to life, some reason to exist, and then she will take joy in life. I love your goddaughter and had circumstances been different, I believe I would have even liked to marry her, but all the odds are against us and we'll just have to leave it there I only wanted to thank you sir, for all you did for you goddaughter, for taking her in when everyone else turned away from her. I know that. I can never thank you enough for bringing such a beautiful person into my life. I wish there was some way for me to reward you for what you have done, for the care you gave her, but I will leave that to God, He will do it better than I ever could." He ceased to talk here, obviously exhausted from such a long speech. I pressed his hand in both of mine and called Marina over. He heard her coming, held out his hand and she took it. I noticed she wasn't wearing her veil, and when he reached to stroke her face, she did not pull away. I stood up and giving a bow to Martha Ivanovna turned to leave. I had done what I need to do here; any lingering would be intruding.

I went home and waited for Marina to return. My wife noticed that I was pensive and quiet and asked what was wrong. I told her of all that had transpired, adding my fears of how Marina would cope with it all. My wife was of the opinion that perhaps it was not all as bad as I thought.

 "I know we had to hide her from the the eyes of everyone, but we could not hide her from everything." she softly told me. "We have to let her live, and life often brings pain and grief. It will be good for her, she will grow from it." It was perhaps the first time my wife had shown any sympathy for Marina ad I tried to make myself believe that she was right. Marina did not return all night and because of this I found it hard to sleep. I wanted to go and see where she was and how things were going, but I knew I was not welcome there so I waited.

The sun was just beginning to rise when I saw the little carriage ride up to the back of the home and I saw Max lifting Marina out of it. I waited till she had been carried upstairs, then went up myself and knocked on the door.

"Come in." Her voice was gentle, but sad. She looked up when I entered. "He's dead," she softly said. "He died in his sleep. His long, dark night is over and he will open his eyes and see the dawn for the first time. No longer will it be nightingales singing to him, the songs of the morning and of spring will be brought to him by the larks. Oh godfather, he had such a beautiful smile on his face, you really would have never thought he was dead." She sighed and wiped a tear from her face, "I'd rather not talk a lot about it now, but I will tell you what you want to know in a little while, once I have made sense of it all. Oh, we will arrange a funeral for him won't we? He had no money and Martha Ivanovna has no money and I should hate for him to be given a paupers burial!"

"I will see what I can do." I reassured. Placing a kiss on her head I left her alone with her grief.  That day I did not go about my usual business. I ordered a coffin and arranged the necessary things for the funeral. I did not know any other way to ease my goddaughter's pain and figured I would do what little I could. The next day was the tiny funeral. Only myself, Martha Ivanovna, Marina and two of Sasha's friends were present. Marina sat quietly in the carriage, her head covered with a veil watching everything from a distance. The ceremony was small and over quickly. Martha Ivanovna went home, so did the two boys. I wished Marina would say something to me, but she was silent the entire journey home.

"I need to speak to you about something," she spoke up once we neared the home, "could you find an hour or so this evening?"

"I believe that can be arranged," I reassured.

Chapter 6

"Before Sasha died," Marina began when I had come up to her, "he told me he was worried about Martha Ivanovna. She is old and he was the main source of income. She will sink into deep poverty without someone to take care of her. I promised him that I...that we would take care of her, look out for her, make sure she has a place to live and food to eat. Was that the right thing for me to do?"

"It was the right thing to do," I nodded my head.

"The only problem," Marina continued, "is Martha Ivanovna is a proud woman and she doesn't want charity. I've been thinking and thinking how to make sure she has enough money without hurting her pride and sense of dignity. At the funeral a thought struck me. What if we were to find some simple work for her, something that would keep her busy but that wasn't too difficult and would not take up much of her strength. That way she would feel as though she was actually earning something and not just wasting away, but at the same time, we would make sure that her rent is always paid and even if she isn't making much money she has enough food and warm clothes."

"Go on..." I wasn't sure where Marina was leading all this too.

"And then I thought, what if she were to sell flowers? Surely you could arrange for her to have a little stall somewhere. People always want to buy flowers, and if it is in a place where there are a lot of people, she could earn a little money. It won't be a lot, but like I said, we could cover the rest of the financial problems."

"And where would she get the flowers from?"

"Well," Marina grew a little fidgety, "I was thinking, that is, perhaps, perhaps, I thought I could grow them."

"You could grow them? Where?"

"Here, in my room. There is plenty of light coming in from the window, I am quite above the rest of the roof tops, and since I'm not like other girls an don't need endless dressing tables and cupboard filled with  dresses and shoes, I will have plenty of space to place pots and fill them with flowers. It could also give me something to do and keep me busy. If I get started now I could have the first batch of flowers ready by spring, and it will be warm enough for Martha Ivanovna to sit outside and sell them. What...what do you think?"

"You want to turn your room into a large flower garden to help some old lady whom you hardly know and from what I heard, doesn't even seem to like you very much?"

Marina giggled a little. "She can't help not liking me. People usually looks upon the outward appearance and you know that my appearance is very repulsive. That was what I loved about Sasha," she gave a little sigh and brushed away a tear, "he always looked at the heart. He was blind yet he saw so much more than the ordinary man. You know, I still look for him out in the streets, waiting for him to come by, to come up and talk to me."

"I'm sorry it had to be like this," I softly said. "I wish it didn't have to be. If only I could somehow have spared you..."

"The only way you could have spared me," Marina cut me off, "was to have made sure that I would have never met him. But godfather, having Sasha in my life for just a little while is better than if he had never been there at all. Yes, it hurts me to know that he is gone, but the memory of him is the most precious thing I have. I would have lost so much more if I had never known him. He taught me that every life has a purpose. Even if it seems to be the most unneeded, ugly, unwanted life in the whole world, there is a reason it was born. It's just that sometimes we get so caught up in the misery of our life, we forget the purpose of it. Our lives purpose isn't something that is just going to be handed to us on a platter; we have to seek it out, we have to find it." Marina smiled and brushed off another tear, "Before Sasha died, he told me that I had been his purpose, that I had been the reason why he felt he had been born. I don't know if I am worthy of such a high praise, but he was so earnest about it. You know, I begged him to take me with him, that I didn't find any meaning in my life without him being there, but he scolded me for saying such things. He said that life isn't only about being loved, it is about loving. It isn't only about getting, it is about giving. He told me that he knew I still had so much to give, so much I could do, if I would only take the time to figure out what it was I could do. He said that I had not yet discovered my purpose to living, that I had not yet even begun to truly live, and so it was wrong of me to want to leave this life." She laughed a little here, "he said I could not leave this earth having nothing to leave behind me, and he urged me to try and find some way to make this world a better place before my time comes. I have searched my heart and mind these past two days and I find that I do have will to keep on going and keep on living It will be hard godfather, it will be hard, I will not hide that fact, but I will not let that stop me. This is why I want to help Martha Ivanovna, and that is why I want to grow the flowers, I want to keep my mind and my hands busy and do a little good while I'm at it. Don't you think it could be arranged?"

I smiled at her, at my brave little goddaughter, who had to fight so many battles in her life. She had found love and lost it, but at the same time, she had kept it and would keep it forever. Perhaps it was good that this blind musician had found her. And now, even though he was gone, he had left his mark on her. He had taught something with his life, he had given her so much and now she was finding the will and strength to go on and do something with her life.

And this is where the story comes to its end. I allowed my goddaughter to turn her room into a greenhouse; she and Sofia would spend their time tending to the flowers that they would then give to Martha Ivanovna who would sell them. The dear woman soon warmed up to Marina and every so often Marina ventures out to visit her new friend. Marina's flowers soon became very popular, they are fresh and sweet, with large blossoms and beautiful scent. I asked her once what was the secret of her success, and with a laugh she replied to me. "It's really no secret. I sing to the flowers, I sing to them of everything that is wonderful and beautiful and in response they grow large and tall."

Just the other day my own daughter came home with a beautiful bouquet of them that some suitor had given her. I was not at all pleased with this random suitor courting  my daughter, but the fact that she held in her arms flowers that had been grown in this very house amused me to being less harsh to the man who gave them. My daughter still does not know of Marina's existence, neither does my son, nor most of the household for that matter. Marina expressed a desire to be kept hidden as she has been in the past. She does not know how people will react to her and is still afraid of others seeing her. She is known to me and my wife, to Father Alexis, to Sonya and Martha Ivanovna and to the friend of Alexander who has been ordered strict silence as to speaking about her and who has on numerous occasions tried unsuccessfully to catch a glimpse of her.

To the rest of this world Marina remains a secret, just as she always has been. Yet, at the same time, she is no longer the same secret she once was. I suppose the best way to sum it up would be to say has become a happy secret.

And if you happen to pass by our home on a warm evening and hear a voice singing from somewhere above, consider yourself very fortunate, because there are precious few who are able to hear a nightingale singing in the very heart of the great city.

The End

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I hope you have enjoyed this little story about a blind man and a nightingale. I had a lot of fun writing it and I hope you had just as much fun reading it. It is perhaps bittersweet, but I think it is because of the bittersweet tone that I like it so much. Thank you for reading it and may God bless you all :)

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