When the violin bursts, all conversation in the coffee shop stops. The barista switches the espresso machine to “Off.” The table of laughing 20 somethings beside the wall mural of a cobblestone village in France hesitate to even breathe for fear of distorting the melodic pleas for sympathy reverberating from the deepest part of the instrument on the cramped stage in the corner. Newton’s three Laws say nothing about music, but there is no denying the gravitational pull the bow and four strings have on each and every individual within earshot. The boy holding the violin to his body — no older than 15 — does not play the violin. On the contrary, the violin plays him.
Some people make music; other people are music. This unsuspecting teenager — a scrawny, shaggy-haired, Mexican-American with lanky, spaghetti arms — holds captive a room full of strangers as the music travels from within his awkward figure, through his too-long fingers and onto the wooden miracle-maker he holds tenderly to his chin. The strings melt together into one perfect sound as the piece comes to a crescendo, easing down into a soft, lonely farewell.
Though most participants in this surreal instance would later recount the event to friends and family as merely an amazing display of musical prowess, few people realized what they had seen was actually salvation. They had witnessed the only way this particular boy could cope with loss. By transformation. Metamorphosis. Into music.
What they heard were not notes, but passionate laments. Laments of a boy who found out hard work and honesty in life don’t guarantee you a thing. Who found out the world is separated into us and them, and even if “them” want to join “us,” try to contribute to “us,” and even pay “us,” “us” can send “them” away, no questions asked.
In this case, “them” was his parents — Mexican citizens who had lived for 18 work visa-wielding, income tax-paying, home-owning years before being asked not-so-kindly by the U.S. government to get out. And stay out. His parents loved him so much that when they heard similar pleas from his violin, realized they could not take him with them. Realized his opportunity was away from them. So they reluctantly, tearfully, lovingly released their baby. Left alone in a now-foreign country, he grew closer to the violin than ever before. It spoke to him, it embraced him and it turned his lonely tears into music.
The wondrous thing about music is angels tend to gather around it. Some months previous, as the boy was unleashing his scarred soul through the impassioned friction between bow and strings, an angel flitted into his life. She wasn’t an actual angel, you see, but she may as well have been. She didn’t flit, but not because she couldn’t. Her flitting days had largely passed during her youth. However, hearing the boy give birth to the slow, drawn-out dirge made her forget that her own youth had passed, her own children had grown and her own father had gone away — not to another country but to another existence. She listened, eyes closed, smiling in perfect harmony as the very same barista stood idly behind the register, waiting for the piece to end.
As the sobbing violin began to inhale — leaving each listener in quiet anticipation of a powerful blow to their hearts — the boy stopped abruptly and smiled at his beautiful child, caressing it as he lowered his left arm.
“Why did you stop playing?” the woman would later ask.
“I haven’t listened to the second half of the song yet.”
“You mean, you haven’t learned the second half.”
“No, no. I’ve not heard it.”
“You just listen to music and play it by ear?”
The boy nodded, tossing his straight black hair from the front of his eyes with a quick thrust of his head. The woman gasped in amazement. In love.
And as the boy lifted the only true member of his family that could not be told to leave his side by authority back to his chin, he turned into music once again, and the woman took him in as family. Figuratively and literally. Took them both in, the boy and the violin, for you cannot separate the music from the maker, the padre from the niñito.
The boy continues to share himself, his music, his passion, his pain with any welcoming ear. It is no longer a choice. The woman continues to watch, sometimes from above like an angel, other times from below — depending on how high the stage. The violin has since learned to sing songs of joy, songs of surprise, songs of peace. But it lives to sing songs of sorrow, songs of loss. Canciones para los padres.
Back in the coffee shop, the bow comes to a rest at the boy’s side. He bashfully raises only his eyes to meet the audience. Nobody in the crowd wants to begin the applause. The barista holds a patient hand up to the customer at the register, refusing to shatter the moment. The act of forcefully striking two hands together to express appreciation for something so magical seems primitive, cheap and not enough. Because of the limits of societal displays of approval, though, a man sporting a tangled head of brown, shoulder-length hair stands up and enthusiastically shouts, “Yeah, baby!” before giving a rousing applause some reproduce. Others — the twenty-somethings, the barista, the woman — cannot bring themselves to fracture the delicate peace enveloping the atmosphere.
The humble boy gives a humble bow before humbly shuffling offstage and placing his baby into its cradle. Tucking it in.
—Louie Centanni is a creative writing graduate student.
—This piece of fiction does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Daily Aztec.