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  • Chaitanya Kirtikar

A Fly on the Wall

The smooth, polished keys of the pianoforte gleamed in the light as delicate fingers danced over it, gliding across the keys with an unmatchable grace and unsteady pace. The room grew happier and sadder with every passing note that echoed in it. Every moment was enjoyed with bated breath by the weary eyed listeners gathered around the player in the dimly lit cafe in the peaceful county of Hertfordshire.

The music eventually faded away, and it's only remains played on in the listener's minds, lingering melodies that they hummed under their breath. The musician, having taken her final bow, now receded to the most secluded corner of the room; enjoying her meagre lunch in peace, with the sole company of a book.

She gave no attention to her surroundings, her sole concern in life at the moment was the incredibly compressed collection of dead tree fibres bound together by thread and filled with characters of ink meticulously formulated by someone out there. So focused was she that she did not see a young man take a seat at her table and begin his dinner in silence.

Presently her eyes were drawn to the cafe entrance with the sound of the departure of a rather rowdy crowd of young students, whose exuberant joy knew no bounds at the end of the term examinations. She almost started to see the stranger whom she had not known to exist just moments prior, and although the inconvenience of company when so very engaged with a book almost at its climax was unsettling; resolved to give up her comfort for the sake of propriety.

“I must apologise, I never quite saw you there.”

A hastily swallowed morsel of bread delayed the answer.

“Nevermind, I do not intend to disturb you from your seemingly well enjoyed occupation.”

“I have never seen you here before…….is this your first time?”

“Not really. I used to come here as a child, with my father, but since then I haven't returned for many a year.”

Silence again presided on their table as the waiter arrived to clear their now empty plates, replacing them with two cups of tea. Steam rose into the air in ghostly spirals, circling their heads and dancing around the lamp nearby.

“You seem to be a common visitor here.”

“True, but as an employee, not a visitor.”

“You work here? Am I intruding on your break then?”

“No…my job is done for the day. I entertain the customers with a ballad or two, occasionally something merry for the more hopeful ones to live for, until the evening ends and the crowd no longer needs music.”

“So you are the one who plays desperate melodies at ungodly hours for this unhappy joke of a society. I’ve heard your tunes echo through the street at times when I walk back home.”

A little bashful at being described in such a manner, she said, “Well I’m very sorry if I’ve been a nuisance to anyone.”

“Not at all, I like to think of it as the sound of darkness.”

“I’m not quite sure whether I should be offended or flattered by that.”

A slight chuckle on both ends interrupted the conversation. At the same moment, an old lady fell asleep at her lonely table, her head drooping lower until her nose touched the polished wood, waking up with an embarrassingly loud snort that resounded in the cafe.

“She’s quite old to be here at this hour, is she not?”

“That is Madame Bennet. Her husband died in the Old Mine Explosion.”

Presently the waiter moved to Mrs. Bennet’s table at her behest, stooping to hear her whispered words.

“The waiter is quite a swift fellow, is he not? I never did see a place so full well attended by just one man.”

“He is Mr Crawford's son. Very adept he is, indeed.”

“It must be an insipid duty to run around all day serving cold meals to a weary working underclass crowd.”

“He once used to dream of more. Do not suppose him to be the ambitionless type.”

“Why? What blasphemy did he attempt?”

“Not quite blasphemy, just far-fetched ideas. He wanted to become a playwright.”

“Indeed? Whatever happened to that?”

“Well he wrote one. Long ago. It was snatched up by the crowd, but in all the worst ways possible. The actors were pelted with tomatoes on stage, total chaos ensued in the theatre. It was not really a bad play, but it cannot be considered to be any good either.”

“What was it called? I believe I remember something of this sort.”

The Signet of Nevermore”, she said, dramatically flourishing her hand.

He almost choked on his tea trying not to laugh aloud.

“Do you know the story of everyone in this cafe?”

“Mostly…..yes. The old man with bags under his eyes is Admiral Ferrars, he has spent every minute of his life in smoke and drink after the loss of his sister. Miss Rushworth, his niece, is surrounded by the company that wealth provides but always feels alone. Then you have the Parkinsons, whose son will never walk again after a single unlucky encounter with a carriage on 5th avenue. The old man with the cigar sits there every night, waiting for the day his wife comes back from her trip; blissfully unaware she died six years ago. Of Old Madame Bennet you already know, the waiter too.”

“And what of you?”

“What of me?”

“What is your story? Why do you sit at this cafe and play melancholy tunes for these hopeless people?”

“I am but a fly on the wall. I know these people, I know their troubles and sorrows, I watch them sink deeper into the darkness of their minds everyday. I observe them, and play their solitude on black and white keys so that it may be dissipated to the masses.”

“....and none of them observe you.”

“They don't.”

“Well what if I want to know your story?”

She seemed amused upon hearing his wish, and leaning forward, smilingly whispered, “Then I wish you the very best of luck”, before getting up and walking away.

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