© 2004 Sam Liddicott
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.
"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.
“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.