The Nightingale of St. Petersburg

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Chapters 6-7


Chapter 6

At least I knew where my mysterious voice resided even though everything else about her was still a mystery. I was quite sure this ‘nightingale’ was indeed a human. How could it be otherwise? Her voice told me so. But when I had asked her if she was human she had never really given me a concrete yes or no answer. I became determined to try and figure all this out.

The next day I played as usual for Margarita Vladimirovna, and once again she fell asleep to my playing. I didn’t know how long my luck would last, perhaps tomorrow she wouldn’t feel like sleeping and then I would have to stay and keep playing for her till the time was up, so I decided to make most of that day.

I pride myself in my good memory and my ability to remember things and avoid accidents that I have caused before. However, in getting to the door, I still managed to forget the placing of certain furniture and stumbled over a table and a chair. Thankfully Margarita Vladimirovna was a deep sleeper and she didn’t even stir when I created a little noise. At last I got to the door and opened it. I figured Margarita Vladimirovna didn’t know about this door; she never once mentioned it, nor did she mention knowing anything about the person who sang to her in her dreams. Also why wasn’t this door locked? Did anyone in the house know of the mysterious voice and secretive owner who lived in a room at the top of the staircase? Maybe she wasn’t a real person after all, but a ghost of some sort. I never believed in ghosts before and wasn’t about to start believing in them now, but the idea did cross my mind. Was this house haunted? I pondered such thoughts as I walked up the stairs and to the door. When I reached the door at the top of the stairs I paused and remembering how angry she had been when I just barged into the room the day before I decided to knock.

“Who is it?” the now familiar voice called.

“The blind musician who visited you yesterday,” I replied.

“Why have you come back?”

“To visit you.”

A pause ensued, then she called, “You may enter.”

I opened the door and stepped through it.

“There is a chair on your right, about five or six steps away; you may sit there if you wish.”

I nodded my thanks, turned to my right, walked five steps, crashed into the chair and knocked it over. Inwardly cringing at the fool I was making of myself, I picked up the chair and mumbling my apologies, sat down.

“What is your name?” she asked when I had settled

“Alexander,” I replied. “And yours?”

“I thought I told you that yesterday.”

“You told me that I could call you the nightingale, you never actually told me your name.”

“That is my name.”

“Oh.”

“Why do you where those over your eyes?”

“What, the shades?”

“Yes.”

“I’ve been told I look quite frightful without them and I don’t want to scare people when I walk in the streets.”

“Is there something wrong with your eyes?” her voice became very curious.

“They can’t see.”

“No, no, I mean with the way that they look, there must be some reason for you to hide them.”

“I don’t know what they look like, and if someone were to describe them to me, I wouldn’t understand them anyway. All I know is that they look different from the way the eyes of most people look and that is why I keep then hidden.”

“Why wouldn’t you understand if someone were to describe them to you?”

“I was born blind, so I do not know what people’s eyes are really supposed to look like. You could take great pains describing it to me, but having nothing to compare it too, it would all be empty words.”

“May I see them?” she asked in a timid voice.

“If you want to,” I replied. “But I must warn you, I’ve been told it can be quite frightful.” So saying I reached over and pulled off my shades.

“Oooooh.” Her voice was filled with understanding mixed with pity, but there was no fear in it. “Yes, I understand why it could frighten people.”

“But it does not frighten you?”

“No, after all, I was prepared. But without a warning it would come as a great shock.”

I put the shades back on.

“So, do you wear them all the time?”

“Except for when I sleep,” I said with a laugh, “that would be dreadfully uncomfortable.”

“Do you live alone?”

One question followed another. This nightingale was a very curious nightingale; her voice was filled with a desire to know all about me. I couldn’t help but think it a little unfair that she would want to know so much about me and refuse to tell me anything about herself. Yet at the same time, I wanted share my life with her so I answered, “no, I live with Martha Ivanovna,”

“Is she your mother?”

“She is not my real mother, though I treat her as my mother and she treats me as her son.”

“Who is she?”

"She used to be my neighbor but now we live together as mother and son. She has a son of her own but her turned out badly and was killed in a duel, or so I heard. Apart from me she has no one in the world."

“Where is your mother?”

“She is dead, as is my father.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” her voice became soft.

“Don’t be, I don’t like it when people feel sorry for me.”

“You don’t?” there was something in her voice that I couldn’t put my finger on. The question itself sounded rather strange to me, wouldn’t it be natural that I wouldn’t like it when people pitied me?

“Just because I happen to be blind doesn’t mean I like people carrying me around and doing things for me. I have my pride and a sense of independence. Yes, I do need help for some things, but if I can do it myself, I will do it myself. Why have others do it for me? I don’t like it when people tell me how sorry they are that I do not have my sight and how I must be so sad that I am limited and all that. I am glad for the life God gave me and there is no use complaining over it.”

“You are happy with the fact that God didn’t give you sight?” There, I caught it now; there was a tinge of bitterness in that tone.

“Well, I figure I have two options, I can either be sad or happy about it. There’s nothing pleasant or enjoyable in being sad so I have made up my mind to be happy. After all, I may not have my sight, but my hearing is excellent and I have a good ear for music and thanks to that I have work. What more do I need?”

There was a long pause, so long that I began to fear that perhaps she had left.

“You are still here are you not?” I asked, reaching out my hand, hoping that perhaps I would be lucky enough to catch hold of her arm, or perhaps even a fold of her dress. The only thing I found was thin air.

“Of course I am still here, where could I have gone?”

I shrugged, “I don’t know, perhaps you’ve flown away or something.”

“Very funny.”

At that moment the clock struck and I quickly rose to my feet, “good grief the time! I must hurry down; no one knows I am up here.”

“You will come again tomorrow won’t you?” she asked.

“If I can manage to put Maragrita Vladimirovna to sleep once more I will.”

I have to admit, I was very pleased that she invited me to come back, pleased that she wanted me to visit her. I only wished she would speak more about herself. It felt very weird speaking to a voice and not having anything physical to tie it down too.

Chapter 7

The next two days Margarita Vladimirovna was not in a sleepy mood and I was not able to go up and visit my nightingale (having no other name, I was obliged to call her that). Every night after work I would continue to stop and listen to her sing. On the fifth day of my playing music to Margarita Vladimirovna, I managed once more to put the old lady to sleep and slip out. This time I was able to get away without knocking over any furniture and climbed silent as a mouse up the stairs and to the room. I knocked and was invited to come inside. I half expected her to ask why I hadn’t been able to come the two days before, but she didn’t. It was as though she understood why I had not been able to come.

“I’ve noticed that you have sung a new song last evening,” I spoke once I had taken a seat. “Margarita Vladimirovna noticed it too, for she asked me to play it to her. Tell me, does she know of your existence here?”

“No,” her voice became tense and pleading. “She must not be told. Please sir, do not tell her about me.”

“I won’t if you don’t want me too. Does anyone know of your living up here?”

“Not really.”

Something in her voice told me that she wasn’t telling the full truth. She sounded a little insecure and not sure of what to say. I could tell from the tone she used that she was hoping that I wouldn’t ask any more questions, and I figured that perhaps it would be better if I didn’t. I had learned that if she didn’t like a question she wouldn’t answer it.

“How long have you lived up here?” I changed the subject.

“A long time, too long it seems.

“Do you like staying up here?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean do you ever leave this room?”

“No, no, I never leave the room.”

“Not even to attend church?”

“No.”

“You don’t attend church?” I couldn’t hide my surprise.

“I thought I just answered that question.”

“But, why don’t you attend church?”

“How would I get to church?”

“Can’t you just, well, fly out the window; since you keep insisting that you are a nightingale?” I hoped this question would give me a little clue to her mystery. Surely, if she wasn’t actually a nightingale (and I was quite sure she wasn’t) then she would have to confess to me who she really was. “Can’t you just fly away from here?” I asked again, seeing as she did not answer.

“I cannot.”

“Why not?”

“My wings have been clipped,” her voice became gloomy. “I have been placed in this cage for safe keeping. A bird that cannot fly is a bird that cannot hide from danger. I would be lost if I dared to leave the safe confinements of these four walls that shelter and protect me.”

She was so good at driving me round in circles and telling facts about herself that made absolutely no sense. Well yes, if she was the bird that she claimed to be, then I could easily believe what she had just said. A bird in the wild with clipped wings wouldn’t get very far or live very long. But I knew perfectly well that birds do not speak or sing with human voices, and even though her voice had celestial beauty it was still perfectly human. I shook my head and decided to drop this subject as well. I had begun to notice that any subject we spoke of that had to do with her usually ended up in my being thoroughly confused and deciding to speak of something else. Honesty at that moment I was seriously beginning to wonder if perhaps I was going insane.

“It is a lovely day today,”  her voice, which a moment ago had been not far from me; had had become distant. I grew alert, trying to determine what part of the room it was from.

“The sun is out and the sky is blue and I have the entire view of Petersburg from my window, and today it looks lovelier than ever. The roof tops and the river and…” she stopped short. I had risen and followed her voice while she had been occupied with describing the city. I had gotten very near her, at least, I believed myself to be very near her as her voice was very close. I almost thought I could feel her breath as she spoke. I reached out hoping to maybe catch hold of her hand, but as usual all I found was nothing.

“You don’t understand a thing I am describing do you?” She asked. Her voice got a little farther from me, but only just a little, as though she had thought me too close and had taken one step backwards and figured that it was a safe enough distance.

“No, I don’t,” I decided to stay where I was. There was no point in trying to go near her. She would interpret it wrong and think that I was making advances at her, when in real life all I really wanted to do was touch her hand and just confirm that she was really flesh and blood human.

“You don’t really understand the meaning of beauty do you?”

“I don’t understand the meaning of beauty in the visual sense,” I explained, “but of course, I understand it as a sound.”

There was a moment’s silence as she pondered what I had said, then she spoke again, her voice had become a little timid, “how would you describe beauty?”

“You,” I said without a moment’s hesitation.

“Me?” Her voice became filled with surprise; it was obvious she had not been expecting such an answer.

“Yes! Never in my life have I heard something as lovely as your voice. If anyone will ever ask me to describe beauty, I would simply answer the sound of your voice. It is the one thing that I think of when I wake, it is the one thing on my mind when I play music, and it is the one thing on my mind when I lay down to sleep. No matter what part of the day, your voice is always there with me. You, my nightingale, have given beauty a voice.”

She did not speak after this, but the soft sounds that I did hear, told me that she was crying. I suddenly felt very foolish for the passionate statement I had just said.

“I hope I didn’t offend you,” I hastily added, reaching out my hand in an attempt to comfort her.

“No, no,” she said in a soft voice filled with tears, “how could anyone be sad when they have heard such words spoken of them?”

The clock chimed, breaking the moment. I bid her goodbye, promised to come again and made my way back the stairs.

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