Monday 3 September 2012

Mi Charango

I wrote this in 2004 as part of my coursework

Mi Charango

© 2004 Sam Liddicott

Jorge awoke as the distant sound of the festival music leaked through his broken shutters to accompany the sunlight already spilling over the strings of the charango hanging by his bed. He did not look at it, it mocked him, but he picked it up with a care and tenderness that contradicted his countenance, and began to play.

In playing, he found no comfort. No familiar melodies could move his heart, he felt no joy from the lively dance tunes and became all the more melancholy with each love song. Finally, he found himself playing something unfamiliar, but though each phrase was new, his fingers drew from the strings a gentle melody whose notes fell with a comforting reassurance and familiarity that soothed his soul. He had heard it somewhere before.

A clatter of feet on the stairs erupted through the door of his room bringing him the greetings of a small crowd.

"And how is our maestro today?" – this was not a question.

"Today your music will honour us all."

"Why have you not called at my shop? I have brought for you a suit here that will show everyone from miles around what fine clothes we folk wear!"

"And when you are dressed you must call in to see me. I have a special table laid for you – outside; I will prepare for you a meal that will truly inspire your playing. And my sister, – she will serve you"

"And here is a fine hat for you. When people look at the man who plays the best I want them to see he knows where to go for an excellent hat!"

Jorge said nothing. The little crowd paused. The foremost looked at Jorge and dimly perceiving his mood decided that some encouragement was needed.

"Can't you see he is resting?", he chastised the small crowd, and pushed and hustled them down the stairs, but did not immediately descend himself:

"Don't be concerned, my friend," he entreated gently, “remember, even though you compete against the villages across the lake, you are surrounded by friends!”

Jorge just shrugged, and wearing his new suit, went to join his band of supporters for breakfast.

A special table had been placed in the street for all to see, and covered in a bright white cloth, which already his attendees had stained with wine. To keep the ascending sun from his head, Jorge put on his new hat, the action receiving rapturous acclaim from its giver.

The young lady serving the table paid particular attention to Jorge, though not to take his order, for a special dish was already being prepared in his honour.

Jorge looked at his supporters seated around the table, who, while waiting, contended to give the best account of the forthcoming victory. He wondered when they had first become friends.

His mind slipped back seven years ago:

He was hiding in the framework under the platform. The music from the performers did not drown out the cries of his tormentors as they sought him out, having already spent their money on the first day of the festival. Knowing that he would be found near the music their search was bringing them closer to his hiding place, and although the framework raised him from the ground and thus from casual inspection he knew he would be found before long.


“Shhh! He's thinking! Can't you see he's thinking?”

“I was only going to ask what it was he was playing when we came to rouse him!”

“Yes, Jorge, what were you playing this morning?”

“It's his surprise piece of course! He will play it today and win the competition and show those, those, ... across the lake that real music belongs here!”

“I only wanted to know its name?”

“Yes, Jorge, what was is its name?”

Jorge looked across the table. That tune he had been playing when they disturbed him certainly had the power captivate all who heard it. It was music worthy of a great master. And then he remembered.

It was music from a great master, from the man whose charango lay on the table beside him. Memories so unexpectedly freed raced back into to his mind:

With surprise, the face that showed itself beneath the platform belonged not to his tormentors, but to an old man. Recognizing the situation he immediately withdrew his head and began to scold the young boys for playing so noisily and sent them play away from the music.

The same face returned and begged him to come out, but Jorge refused, "I can hear the music better here", he said.

"You like music?" the old man asked.

Jorge nodded.

"Can you play?" enquired the man.

Jorge shook his head. "I could", he said, "if.. if..."

"Would you like to play this?", asked the face, holding down a charango.

Jorge opened his eyes and looked at the same charango, now in his hands. His fingers alternately strummed and plucked the strings as his mind recalled his first lessons.

"You have a great gift for music," said the man as Jorge, without being taught directly, began to select chords to play against the simple melodies taught him by this friendly stranger.

"If I had a son,” said the old man, “I would teach him the song of our family. But I am old and have no children. Shall I play it to you?"

Jorge, listened enthralled. He had not known such power in music. The melody and rhythm wrapped him in sunlight and danced him over the hills. In a moment he was bathed in the cool stream of the hillside, and in another moment he was soaring in the sky, his loneliness gone, giving way to the joy known only to songbirds.

"I shall play this tomorrow," said the old man, "I have no son, so I shall play for my countrymen, and so win the competition."

Jorge's breakfast was served carefully and ostentatiously by someone's beautiful sister but he didn't notice.

By the third day Jorge could play the piece "Mi Charango" with tolerable skill and his new friend and mentor proposed that he play this as a beginner solo musician before the final competition at the festival. He would lend his instrument to Jorge, and afterwards himself compete to take the seven year prize, and be the pride of his countrymen.

Jorge basked in the memory of the joy he had then felt, more vivid and more brief than life itself. He stepped out onto the platform.

“Jorge, what are you doing?”

“I told you, he's thinking. Let him think!”

He stepped out onto the platform. Beneath the crowd of hats, children running among the crowd, mothers looking after babies, men talking to each other and paying no attention to their wives or babies, children chattering and laughing. And laughing – at him!

“Jorge wants to play, look at him.“

“He doesn't even know how!”

Defiantly, Jorge raised his hand to play, but somehow – either he held it wrong, or started on the wrong strings – he played something that bore just enough similarity to “Mi Charango” to be recognizable.

The laughter increased. Men stopped talking, and women turned away from their children to watch the spectacle. Jorge made another attempt.

"Get off!" he hissed his father, "you have never played music in your life before!" and the crowd laughed even harder.

The old man stepped forward to offer encouragement, but blinded by his tears and fright Jorge pushed past him and ran down the steps and through the taunts of his enemies.

"Where have you been Jorge?" they cried, "We've been looking for you!"

"Give me that!", they said, pointing at the charango, "let us play!"

Running on, Jorge made his way through the village and into the corn where he lay, sobbing. After about an hour he began to play to himself. First "Mi Charango" as he had meant to play it, and then picking out the various melodies that came into his mind, as his mother had sung them years ago. He played on into the dusk, and it was only when the evening coolness turned to chill that he remembered competition and who the charango really belonged to.

With every step home Jorge felt a rod beat his back. Finding his father drunk and asleep he hid the charango under his bed. The next day nothing was said, and so for years he secretly practised the charango after his work, and when his father died he practised it openly.

Jorge looked at the charango in his hands. It wasn't his. It belonged to a man across the lake. An old man who had taught him to play.

Jorge sprang to his feet, and smiled at around the table.

“He's ready!”

“I knew he'd be all right!”

“You all worried for nothing!”

"When he wins, I shall win enough money to by a team of mules."

With the calmness and serenity of seven years Jorge waited by the platform until his turn, heedless of all questions and encouragement. His turn was to be the last performance before the festival broke up for another seven years. This time the crowd was hushed. His fame was known. He stepped towards the front of the platform, found what he sought, and began to play.

As he finished, no-one moved, all ears straining for the final imperceptible echoes from the hills. Jorge broke the silence. "I play for my new home" and ignoring the enquiring calls from the audience, he descended the steps, and passed by his newly generous friends and stopped to embrace a tired old man. That evening he returned across the lake to his new home, as son to a new mother and new father – the only friend he'd ever known.

1 comment:

  1. Some of my close friends or family might recognize characters in this story.

    The story is about a young man trying to understand his feelings and his past.

    For the narrative point of view I chose third person with some omniscience. A first person narrator would oblige the reader to sympathise with the character, or reject him early on. I want the reader to try and understand him, the reason for the characters dis-satisfaction is what the character and reader are both trying to find out.

    By using third person I can show how the character behaves without having to excuse, or draw attention to, the lack of provided motive.

    This “find out” makes it a bit of a mystery genre. In this I withhold from the reader some of the facts the narrator plainly knows, so that the reader won't learn the motives much faster than the character learns them.

    Third person narrative allows me to demonstrate the shallow nature of Jorge's friends without Jorge immediately recognizing this. Then when Jorge remembers his friends youthful unkindness the reader won't need so much convincing and can then start to wonder at it as Jorge does.

    For my narrative frame, I begin in the middle of events, but at the beginning of the characters quest for understanding and peace. I think this is a pretty engaging frame by showing the problem immediately. As the story develops revealing both the cause and solution together the reader can enjoy understanding by degrees .

    I used continuous past tense for story as it supports the reflective mood of the main character.

    I did try straight past tense where Jorge recollects events seven years ago, but it made the recollections seem too much like a fiction.

    By using continuous past tense for the recollections too it makes them seem more “present” for the character as well as introduce a bit of funny temporal blurring as his friends say similar things in the “present” as was being said in the past.

    The mood is one of deep reflection on the satisfying values in life. The state of belonging is important but cannot entirely substitute for self-worth. The fickle friendship of his townsfolk cannot obscure Jorge's own behaviour to someone who showed real friendship, which itself turned out to be the most valuable thing.

    Jorge is perhaps harsh on his shallow friends but he has an older loyalty.