THE BUSKER OF TORREVIEJA
Part 1 of 2
(part 2 tomorrow)
Milly was at least ten years older than me – I was twenty-five and she was a bit hazy about her date of birth. Whatever she wore, she always looked stunning. The black sleeveless dress was in some kind of all-over stretch lace and the net underskirt rustled as she turned to gaze at me. “Adrian, be a dear and zip me up,” she said, fixing a pearl earring. Her hazel eyes shone with the anticipation of seeing Tomás, her new conquest for this evening.
“Certainly, Millicent.” She didn’t like me calling her Milly. “You look ravishing, by the way,” I said, truthfully enough, obliging with the zip.
The mood was changed by a rapid knock on the hotel room door.
“That’ll be Tomás,” she said. “Let him in, will you?”
Tomás Rivera had moved from Madrid to Torrevieja ten years ago and thrived on the considerable and delightful cultural delights of the town. In every way, he was Milly’s kind of guy. He pumped my hand vigorously. “You are sure I am unable to twist your arm for a meal first, young man?”
I declined. “Sorry, I have to prepare for my performance later.”
Milly wanted glamor and excitement, while I was only a fairly staid if talented flautist. True, she liked having me hang on her arm at society events, and to begin with she’d sponsored me till I became known. I’d thought we were in love but after a while it became obvious that this was not the case. I suppose I should’ve realized sooner, but maybe I was selfish, not wanting to jeopardise my comfortable life, touring and staying in the best hotels, playing my music and making recordings. Perhaps all artistes are self-centred like me.
As Milly left with Tomás, I tried to submerge any thought of self. I must live for the music. Only the music was important. Not Milly, not my happiness, and certainly not me.
* * * *
It was a hot July. On our way to the Teatro Municipal, the early evening buzz of Torrevieja’s paseo intruded pleasantly enough through the open windows of the limousine. My driver Emilio had explained, “The air-con, it always breaks in summer.”
Then I heard a remarkable, beautiful sound, a violin playing a Tartini sonata, though I’d never known it expressed with such feeling. I leaned forward. “Emilio, turn up the volume, will you?”
“The radio, it is not on, Mr. Jacobs.”
The music was fading, I was losing it. “Emilio, stop the car!” Normally, I didn’t make a habit of being rude, but that music really got to me. I peered out the rear window and glimpsed a figure with a violin on the corner of the block we’d just passed.
Emilio pulled over smoothly, reversed into a side street and, to the accompaniment of blaring car-horns, he crossed the traffic and headed back the way we’d come. Thankfully, not a policeman was in sight.
“Where are we going, Mr. Jacobs?”
“We passed a – a busker. I want to hear him play.”
“Sí, vale, Señor.” His tone suggested that he was humouring an escaped inmate from an asylum. I had to admit, I wasn’t acting rationally. But that music had really affected me.
Up ahead three people were scuffling on the pavement. As we approached, I realized it was two men fighting a woman – and she was the busker.
“Pull in, Emilio!”
“This is not a good idea, Señor.”
He slammed on the brakes and I bundled forward. Fortunately, the drinks cupboard was shut or I would’ve been wearing it.
By the time I’d opened the door and stepped out, the two men had knocked the woman to the ground. “Hey!” I shouted. “What are you doing?” A stupid thing to say, but it got their attention.
My stomach churned sickeningly: the woman lay quite still. I was about to get Emilio to call for an ambulance when I heard something that made my mouth go very dry and my legs seemed to lose all prior knowledge of mobility.
“Richer meat here, eh, Fedor?” said the taller one, eyeing me. He was grinning. I wasn’t. My face felt frozen, the blood draining from it.
And still not a policeman in sight.
Instinct must have taken over from common sense. I reached inside the car and grabbed my flute case. Purposefully, I walked toward them, even though adrenalin pumping down to my wobbly legs told me that I was going in the wrong direction. I guessed – hoped – that they were cowards.
“Just watch, Igor!” said Fedor and rushed me.
I’ve guessed wrong, I thought with a sinking feeling. Somehow, I side-stepped Fedor’s charge and luckily brought the flute case crashing down on the back of his head as he passed. He let out a yelp and slid unconscious to the pavement.
Both the case and flute were broken. What was Milly going to say?
Igor came at me with a knife and I forgot all about Milly.
I was in over my head and knew it. My legs felt like jelly and my heart pounded.
Igor lunged, but I backed off in time and the blade slashed the front of my jacket. Blood roared in my ears; I was angry that my life would end here and now, on this orange-tree lined street.
My back bumped into an ornate cast-iron lamppost. I had nowhere to go.
Igor grinned, and I noticed that he needed a dentist.
The high-pitched squeal of car-tires caught our attention. The limo mounted the kerb and Emilio stormed straight at Igor, who decided to run.
As Emilio braked, I turned to the woman – but she was no longer there. Only her broken violin.
Shakily, with trembling fingers, I picked up the ebony fingerboard and spruce top-plate, pieces of wood that had so recently been an instrument capable of sending waves of emotion that wrenched at my heart. A heart that was now pounding with relief. Thanks to Emilio, I was still alive. But did I really feel alive?
* * * *
When I finally arrived at Torrevieja’s impressive theatre, Milly sounded a little uptight over my delay. That’s understatement. And when I told her what had happened she went ballistic and railed at me for being irresponsible. She held my hands, stroking them. “You can’t get involved in brawls, Adrian! The damage you could do to your hands – it’s too great a risk!” She was simply concerned about my ability to play music.
Very altruistic, I thought. “I couldn’t let those thugs get away with–”
“Your heart’s in the right place, dear,’ she interrupted, ‘even if your head isn’t. You can’t put your livelihood on the line for some silly busker!”
My cheeks felt suddenly very hot but, before I could respond, one of her acolytes said, “Time for the concert, darlings!”
‘We’ll talk about this later,’ I said and shrugged off her imploring hand and ignored her whispered words of good luck. Break a leg? That woman busker had made exquisite music and now her instrument was broken beyond repair. How many buskers were there in Torrevieja? God knows! All I knew was that it was a long time since I’d been so affected by anything like that busker’s music.
My hands trembled with reaction but, somehow, I had to go on and perform. Be a professional, I told myself, as the applause echoed round the Teatro Municipal.
Since the evening was humid, no one remarked on my appearance in shirt-sleeves and cummerbund. I didn’t have a spare jacket but I used my spare flute.
No matter how hard I tried to be detached, I was haunted by the sound of the woman’s violin, so I don’t believe that I played too well. Fortunately for my nerves and reputation, it was a fairly simple programme, Love Themes from the Movies. Popular stuff, like We have all the time in the world, Bilitis, Tara’s Theme from Gone With the Wind, Love is a Many Splendored Thing, and Three coins in the fountain.
I received rapturous applause and was grateful but felt no familiar warmth from the approbation.
Next day, I telephoned the few musical instrument shops in Torrevieja and the outlying area. The F-holes in the violin’s top-plate were unusual and easy to describe. At the third shop the owner recognised the violin. He complimented me on my Debussy solo two weeks earlier in Murcia and regretted that all he could remember about the violin was that a nun had bought it about six months ago. He offered to search his records, but I told him not to bother. Since I had not seen a nun busking, it seemed likely that the violin was stolen. End of the line.
… to be concluded tomorrow…