Magnificent, imposing shadows towered over the winking lights of the city; even in the late twilight hours, the noises of the bustling metro exploded into the colourful night. Patches of light from streetlamps and back-lighted signs broke up the shadows haunting the streets. Amid the luminous message boards advertising new brands of deodorant, Diamond Shreddies, and fast food chains, a woman with a mask of cold beauty gazed impassively across the city, her long dark hair seeming to sway in the wind. Her unmoving gaze fixed itself upon the silhouettes moving below, small nothings in an immense world.
Down in the heart of the city, people seemingly small as ants swarmed the streets with one mind, chattering amongst themselves as they made their way towards one of the brightest buildings in the area, an immense, majestic structure with glowing yellow writing emblazoned across its golden chest: "The Global Theatre." Outside, excited chatter rose to a loud buzzing of voices, and the crowd pressed up against the doors eagerly.
"Should be starting soon." A tall man checked his watch quickly, impatience creeping over his chiselled features.
"They'd better not be late; I have an important appointment after this," stated another pompously. Behind him, a young boy happily pointed out a poster of a lady seated at the piano, a concert pianist; his mother smiled gently and nodded.
Finally, the doors swung open, and the crowd was ushered in by four stately young men in jet-black tuxedos laden with elegantly gilded programs "Programs, fifteen dollars each, the perfect souvenir of your memorable night!" and were led into a huge auditorium. A warm golden glow filled the room, brushing away the cobwebs of shadow until it was bathed in light, and the auditorium in all its splendour was revealed. An awed hush fell over the crowd as they laid eyes upon the ornate, enamelled walls, the intricate patterns in the ceiling, the plush royal blue chairs, the smooth black marbled stage. Slowly, they filed into their seats, and the hum of voices returned to the room as they eagerly anticipated the start of the performance.
Only a few blocks away, an entirely different crowd altogether was swarming the streets. It moved quickly and furtively, each of his own mind, trying as best he could to navigate the busy streets without making the slightest contact, eyes studying the cracked concrete road beneath his feet. Icy cold wind pushed its way into the crowd, causing shudders of discomfort; clothes were thin, and the wind bit like knives into tender flesh. The crowd hurried on, anxious to escape unpleasant conditions.
A lone woman sat in a pile of rags, a filthy violin case beside her. Her back was leaned against a monstrosity that towered above her several floors; it provided a sort of shelter against the ferocious wind where there were no holes that let the frigid breeze pierce through to her. She shifted slightly, contemplating the case now sitting in her lap.
In the auditorium, the orchestra had started to file into its seats; whispers started to travel around the room again.
"Look at them all: there must be a hundred of them!"
"Where's the first violinist, the concert master?"
"He comes in later, when they tune up."
"Look, that cellist's bald!"
When they were all seated, the missing violinist, a stocky man with a thick beard the colour of burnt sienna entered graciously to polite applause, and tuned the orchestra with little flourishes of his hand at each section. Finally, a tall man in a spotless, jet-black suit stepped up to the standing mike at the side of the stage, and cleared his throat to get the audience's attention.
"Welcome to the Niagara Symphony's first concert of the season!" As the man smiled around at the audience, his dark, slicked back hair reflected the bright light. "Tonight we'll be playing for you Mussorgsky's orchestral piece, Pictures at an Exhibition. But first, I have the honour of introducing you to our soloist, the famous Canadian pianist come to Toronto on her international tour: Michelle Boisnault!" The auditorium rang with applause, and he held a hand out towards the shadow moving across the stage, then stepped away from the microphone, and disappeared off stage. As she walked into the bright floodlights, small gasps escaped across the audience; a stunning woman stepped into view, her feet almost padding the stage as she lifted her slim legs with each step. A long black dress hung around her body like silk, delicately outlining the curves of her hips and bust; it rustled gently as she sat upon the piano bench, and the audience held its breath in reverent silence as she caressed the keys with long slender fingers. The beautiful face, framed by a curtain of long, dark hair, considered the instrument, deep brown eyes sweeping over its smooth surface. Then, it began at a slow walking pace, an elegant melody from the piano. The orchestra came in two bars later with a full sound that filled up the room: Promenade, the first movement.
The lone woman sitting at the street edge fumbled at the clasps on her violin case with cold stiff fingers; the hard black case fell open to reveal its tattered interior. Nestled comfortably inside, protected from the harsh wind and cold, lay a delicately crafted, deep auburn violin. She gently lifted it out, and unsheathed her bow, then drew it across the open strings. Harsh, unnatural tones rang out into the air; she began to tune it. A few passers-by glanced her way disinterestedly. However, when deep notes more akin to viola or cello than violin slid their way up the fingerboard, many more eyes made their way to rest on the lone violinist.
"Gypsy," muttered a man with a sneer; accompanying whispers travelled through the crowd, and soon she was greeted by many a hostile glare. A shadow passed over her face, but she continued adamantly with a simple tune that was all but lost in the night.
The orchestra had now moved on to Limoges: The Market; the quick buzzing sound of many instruments playing together made for a loud, intricate sound that cleverly imitated a busy marketplace humming with movement. Above it all, a melody from the piano soared, a high delicacy that winged its way over the heads of the enrapt listeners. As the movement progressed, however, they began to notice things about the music: the buzzing didn't sound like music, it was more of an irritating noise in the background, and the piano solo, well, it didn't soar. The high pitched notes, while piercingly audible over the orchestra, only crashed upon the listener's ears. Relief came with The Catacombs, or seemed to come; the low notes that should have been chilling, full of mystery and terror, were the gruff, drunken growls of an intoxicated stranger. The charm and elegance of the theatre began to wear off, and the discomfited audience murmured and shifted in their seats.
The hostility of the passers-by had begun to dissipate, and soon the violinist was attracting more looks of interest than hostility. As she played a little ditty, quick and lively, people began to gather around her, at first pretending to tie their shoe laces, or take shelter from the wind, then watching her play out of the corner of their eyes. Soon, feet were tapping along to the music, and smiles that had been kept firmly in check up to now begin to release in floods, a small joy that couldn't be contained. The woman began to smile in spite of herself, in spite of the cold, lonely night. Bolstered by the enthused crowd, she took it up a notch, playing with a vigour that seemed to be contagious, and she soon had them clapping along. The joyous sound stretched to the sky, an iridescent patch of pure happiness. When the song was over, thunderous applause greeted her ears, and the violinist smiled contentedly. The crowd was still watching her expectantly, and so bow caressed string; a tender voice that whispered of pain and suffering floated on the breeze, a sweet and yet bitter melody that drudged up memories of things passed.
Finally, the performance was over. As Michelle stood backstage, pulling on her thick, mink coat, a relieved crowd swarmed out of the theatre, anxious to leave the tedium behind. They moved on to their separate lives, untouched, unchanged, the music quickly forgotten.
The lofty woman stepped out of a wooden black door, paint peeling, onto the deserted street, accompanied by two burly body-guards. A strange wailing sound could be heard in the distance, both beautiful and joyous, and yet utterly miserable at the same time; none of the small group made any comment.
"Where's the limo?" Boisnault demanded irritably.
"We had to park it further along; there were too many cars jammed close to the theatre." The bigger man seemed almost afraid of the famous pianist's judgement, but the other simply looked on, his face grave.
A scowl on her face, she turned in disgust, and trudged on, the strange sound she had heard before getting louder and louder. Finally, a crowd could be seen, gathered by a tall building. As they approached, sweet music could be distinguished from the sounds of the city, music that radiated across the street to slip into their ears. It twisted and turned, soaring through the dense night to penetrate each listener to his very core; the pianist shivered involuntarily. Upon closer inspection, those listening could be seen to be moved to tears, yet full of a strange, incomprehensible joy even in this simple pleasure. A final sweet note resounded into the air, and it was moments before anyone broke the silence.
"That was amazing."
"How do you play so well?"
"Please miss, what's your name?"
The violinist seemed to hesitate a moment before responding. "My name? My name is Gitan."
Michelle Boisnault looked up in surprise, and their eyes met; for a brief moment, her cold mask of beauty was ripped away to show her true self underneath, and something unspoken passed between the two women.
"Miss Boisnault?" One of the body-guards had doubled back; the moment passed, and the pianist seemed to realize she had stopped walking. As she meekly followed the large man, her thoughts travelled back to the violinist who had started playing again, a melody that gradually faded into the distance until she could hear nothing more of it, until it was lost in the night. Gitan, she had called herself. Gypsy.