For an instant he moved his languishing great eyes away from the music sheet to stare into the fingertips of the sun, he noticed his nose tickling him and he jabbed his tall finger into his narrow right nostril. “Ali, hands out!” A man with the voice of a herring and the redness of raw meat shouts at the boy, whose name has to be Ali. Ali stops and looks back at the music sheet. Now the pervasive silence, like a full-stop on a blank page, is filled with pssting whispers. Next to the tall, balding man, stood a young frauline with brown hair and blue eyes, writing notes on an open copybook.
Ali could not yet decipher the entirety of German; he listened like a fly eavesdropping on a mosquito. Buzzing buzzing, but not mine. He hates the way the man uses his hands. Clasped together, punching the air, straight and stern. The woman is indifferent, she nods, a frown always looming, her hand writing sharply and her eyes peering from behind her black-rimmed glasses. “Let’s continue.” She tells Ali, shrugging the man away. Her voice sounds tired, but Ali is eager.
“Let’s start from the very beginning. What is the first scene going to be?”
Ali looks around the room, digesting her words, seeing the whiteness of the sky outside the large windows (how can it be so sunny and cold?), there is marvelous disarray in the room, a large piano like a beached whale in the centre, all around random instruments strewing the floor, and the walls filled with posters of old concerts, and above them, in the centre of the room, a simple wooden crucifix. Was he watching too? Four, five, six, seven, eight, Ali, reply:
Ali told her the story, in his fracas of proto-German, which we will here reproduce in perfect fluency, of when he first escaped Syria and made it over the Turkish border and was taken in by a Kurdish spinstress called Fatima, who lived in a small mud brick home halfway between the mountains and the nearest town. She was a woman prematurely aged, with eyes in the shape of a parrot’s beak and the skin of an elephant. She had a fixed routine which she followed stringently every day: getting up early to take the sheep grazing, eating soup at midday, then spending time weaving on the threshold of her house until sunset, when she would go inside and play an endless game of solitaire. And every day, at exactly seven o’clock in the evening, she would ask Ali the same question: “how old are you?” Ali would always reply with tenacious faith: “I am ten.” But never did Fatima reply in the same manner. She would reply by saying “I know of someone in Heaven who is ten”, but every day it would be a different name, or a different relation. Ali thought her mad but her kindness was indispensable.
Then one day, a group of armed children emerged like an unwanted sunrise from the nearby border. Ali, seeing the boys bearing AK47’s as if they were water guns, ran from the house, urging Fatima to follow him. But she wouldn’t, indignantly saying, “these are my children.” It was past noon then, so she was eating her soup when the boys forced down the door to her house. She got up, her ankles straining like tortoises, and walked up to the boys. Wiping her mouth with the sleeve of her black dress, which had been her mother’s before it was hers, she asked them: “how old are you?”
“We are ten.” The leading boy replied. That was the unwritten cue. The ten-year-old ghosts from across the haunted border opened fire and transformed Fatima the Third into Fatima the Bee-hive.
“I see. Did you see her body?” The woman, whose name can now be revealed as Hannah Hackenbruck of Munich, asked Ali as she listened to him with her fingers wrapped around her chin.
Ali nodded. “I went back to see her. I kiss her head. And I run.”
“You think about her?”
At this, the man rolled his eyes in the background. Hannah saw him and bit her lower lip, straining her eyes as she spoke to Ali.
“Beethoven wrote this piece, a violin sonata, which he dedicated to a woman who had helped him. Listen, then follow, ok? It’s called Violin Sonata no. 5.” Hannah moved to the right of the piano and picked up a violin and begun to play. As she played Ali closed his eyes and saw Fatima walking in the fields with her sheep, dead and mutilated, and behind her, beyond the fields, he could see his home, the Syria ravaged by the resurgent crusades, and as Hannah’s playing rose into a crescendo of melancholy, Ali saw the face of his mother in the very sky.
Then the lightning came and pierced her face like bullet-holes.
Ali played Beethoven’s violin sonata as soon as Hannah finished. Hannah walked up to the vicarious vicar called Friedrich and spoke to him the way a peahen speaks to another peahen in the presence of a peacock’s tail.
“My God, he’s only heard it once, and he’s playing it note perfect. It’s as if he’s known it his whole life!”
“Maybe he has.” Friedrich said smugly.
“Friedrich! Don’t be absurd! The boy has known nothing but war all his life, do you think he ever had the time to be taught how to play this specific sonata of Beethoven! Really, you are a fruit sometimes.”
Friedrich walked out of the room in a storm that refused to abate. As he walked out he cast a gaze like an infanticidal lion at Ali, who saw him as his cheek hugged the warm violin. “That’ll do wonderfully.” Hannah said in diapered enthusiasm when he finished. “We’ll do just one more for today.” She said quickly before Ali had time to ask about Friedrich’s absence. “Tell me, what will be the next part of your story?”
A fly buzzed on Ali’s straight Canaanite nose and he sneezed, his hands covered in bilious rain, but the sneeze opened his mind, and he pierced the path of memory’s mountain.
Before he fled Syria, in his small village outside Aleppo there was held a funeral march. A procession. A parade. A great jostling. In coffins laced in the tattered Syrian flag, the bodies of half the village was carried aloft atop a great sea of weeping hands and sweating palms. One-hundred and nine bodies does a ghostly procession make. Among the one-hundred and nine lay resting the entirety of Ali’s family.
Just as the night follows the day so Ali’s future followed that procession of imposed past. A great wailing but he bit his lips. By the tears that the others wept he consoled himself. By the night that loomed upon that day he swept aside all the anguish he could bear. By the souls of those who now ventured into the Gardens he swore to avenge war and peace with the peace of war. By the moon that follows all he found his light in the ethereal dark.
Much much silence will follow from the funeral of the one-hundred and nine, but from the silence, more deaths will rise: from the sky, from the horizon, from the very homes and the very same bloodlines: death will rise and rise. Before it could return, Ali fled, not an orphan not a martyr, just a child with nothing left to lose and even less to gain.
“Ali, you don’t have to continue, you know.”
“Is that what Father Friedrich says?” Ali said with clenched fists.
Hannah nodded and sighed.
“He’s wrong. I want to do this. Tell me, what’s next.” By this Ali meant the concert that would tell a story that drowns out all stories.
It was the first thing Ali heard as he entered Europe. In a shopping mall in Hungary overflowing with the herds of exile, he heard, over the bustle of the grumbling living-dead, the Für Elise of that deaf Beethoven, that composer he had never heard or known of. The lilting piano silenced all the groans of hunger and gnashing of teeth and in that instant, in the grasp of the music he could never have known, he felt himself free of grief, free of history, free of futures and terrors – but free of joy and hope too – just full of Elise, only Elise, and the piano, and the notes that didn’t exist but demanded the existence of everything else.
“I know just the piece for this part. Listen, and try not to cry. This is Piano Sonata no. 12 Op. 26. Play with me, Ali.”
Ali sat next to her on the piano. The stool was cool, the keys freed ivory, he watched her fingers dance as if they were infinite, and with his eyes that had seen so much, he watched her play as if there was nothing else. He wouldn’t even let her finish. He lay his mammalian fingers on the exalted piano and began to play according to the film of his heightened memory – for that was his elegiac consolation. A curse turned gift. For, we all know, that those who are deprived of their past are doomed to constantly remember. Ali would remember the death of his family and his village and playgrounds and unborn nieces until death came and placed on his cheeks the final kiss of sleep. But he would never, never forget a single note Hannah played. He was a miracle to watch.
Hannah watched him furiously playing, his body immovable, a Colossus fingering the waves, his eyes half-closed, his neck locked in stasis, his head meticulously following the notes, and the music that emerged from his energetic playing was his one and only non serviam.
“That’s enough for today, Ali. It was beautiful. Go get some sleep.” Hannah left him without a kiss or a smile.
When the night came, as nights always must, Ali lay in his bed, the surrounding room tidy, spotless, full of video-game posters and pictures of pop-art Beethoven, beside his bed a photograph of his entire family, beneath it a phone upon which is saved his mother’s last message on What’sApp, saying simply “I’ll be home late, I’m going for your sister”, and Ali’s mind wanders into a dream without sleep, to be disturbed by the raised voice of Friedrich from the room next door.
“You’re spending too much time with that boy, Hannah! You’re becoming obsessed.” The wall mumbled.
“You always wanted me to do something meaningful. Now I am.”
“Hannah, that’s not fair!”
“What do you know of fair? What do you know of suffering, and war, and losing half of your family at the hands of the other half of the family! Would you rather do it your way, tell him to trust in Christ and everything will be magically ok?”
“I never said that.”
“Because you know I’d bite your head off if you did! I told you from the start, Friedrich, before we were married, that I would never know God and I never wanted to.”
“I’ve kept my promise, haven’t I?”
“But now, now you want to do to Ali what you could never do to me. Pluck him from the ravages of terror and give him angel-cherub peace! I won’t let you.”
“I can accept you not having faith in God, Hannah, but not having faith in me is hurtful.”
When Ali began going through the concert in his bed he fell asleep, his dreams louder than the shouting; he dreamt dreams that wouldn’t let him sleep, from the other room, from another consciousness, Hannah spoke to him, she showed him, apologetically, her youth, showed him the day when the Wall finally fell, and all of Germany was a feast celebrating the reunification of its history, showed him how she searched for her parents, amidst the crowds, her parents whom she hadn’t seen since she was five, and that she would never see again, because, unlike East Germany’s fatigued survivors, her parents had died before they could be reunited with their daughter, had died before the regime that killed them finally fell, and Ali, forced into maturity as he was, now felt guilty for worshipping his troubled life: suffering is a great narcissism, O, but no one will let us drown, heaven forbid!
The next morning, at six a.m., Ali went into the music room. The freshness of morning mingled with the musty disarray, and Ali revered the same air he felt when he set off for his journey, at four a.m., the brutal winds carrying morbid optimism from the distant mountains. The memory terrified into a familiar, relaxing horror. At seven Friedrich burst into the room. He was eating a cereal bar, beheading the nuts from its body, and drinking a tepid cup of tea. His walk struck Ali as unmanly. Like he was constantly about to fall. No man in his family ever walked like that. Maybe it’s the walk of the pious. No man in his family had ever been pious (enough). That’s why they were the first to be killed.
“Where’s Hannah?” Ali asked Friedrich with bowed head as he sat on the piano.
“She’s coming. But before she does, I wanted to speak to you.” He turned to face him, his elbow sacrilegiously leaning on the keys of the piano as he drank his lukewarm tea. “I want you to tell her that you don’t want to do this concert anymore.”
“Ali, this concert is a waste of time. Yours and hers. If you tell her that, and if you start taking Bible lessons with me, I will buy you whatever you want. A Playstation, a new iPhone, any toy you want, anything at all. Agreed?”
Ali didn’t say a thing. He kept his head bowed and his eyebrows frowning, his breathing as deep as a bear’s. He wanted the ground to open up and swallow him up to the neck.
“Ali! Are we agreed?”
At that moment, before he could reply, Hannah entered the room, a cup of coffee in her left hand and the musical notes in the right.
“Friedrich, what are you doing here?” She asked pleasantly surprised.
“I came to see how it’s all progressing.” He said smiling, looking at Ali the whole while.
“Oh, that’s nice.” Hannah said in a high-pitched tone of awe. “Well then, Ali, let’s not waste any time.”
“Yes,” Friedrich the Pious said looking fixedly at Ali. “Let’s not waste any time.” His eyes broadened and his head nodded. Ali turned away and went to pick up the violin.
“Last thing we did yesterday was the Piano sonata which we’re going to use for the funeral march in your village. Shall we follow that up with something more hopeful, Ali? Ali?”
Ali was distracted looking outside the window, where birds were sprinting past and dark clouds were conglomerating in a distant revolution. He could hear his belly gargling, the morning hunger was on him, but he felt no desire to eat. He looked over to Friedrich and noted on his face the expression of a self-satisfied mullah. Bedouin arrogance mixed with Germanic aggression. Somehow. A grotesque parody of the grotesque. “Ali?” Hannah kept trying to get his attention. He knew what her voice was beckoning him to do. Recall, remember, bring back to life everything irretrievably taken away, just for that one moment, marry music to the past so that the past shall be omnipresent. The more she called him the more aggressive Friedrich’s stare became. Ali was being torn by brutally opposed magnetic poles.
“Ali!” She went in front of his face now, and he could not help un-forget. He wouldn’t. Onwards and backwards!
Ali told Hannah of the football game he played as he made the journey, on-foot, alongside thousands of other Syrians, across the Turkish peninsula. They had arranged a boat to take them over to Greece whence they would march on into Europe, but a few days before they reached Turkey’s Mediterranean coast Ali met a group of Turkish boys outside a remote hillside village. They told Ali to sneak away from the other refugees in the evening and when he did the boys led him to an old, abandoned football pitch on a plateau overlooking the town and the valley below. The pitch was dusty and arid, the goalposts had no nets and there were no stands or lights.
Their boys’ names were Mustafa, Mesut, Hakan, and Mehmet, and they were between eleven and thirteen and they took a liking to Ali because he was wearing a Barcelona shirt with the name of Arda Turan at the back – Ali had stolen the shirt from a dead boy in Lebanon and he had Fatima clean it for him. During the game, as night fell and the boys played by moonlight, two against two with tall Hakan playing as goalkeeper. Ali and Mesut, after three hours playing in that sand-pit atop the pitiless plateau, beat Mustafa and Mehmet seven – four. The game was high-tempo, furious, and as they played the boys sang, cursed, flew, died and were reborn; it was the happiest three hours Ali had ever known. (When he went back to the temporary camp he found all the other refugees were gone. He was forced to make the rest of his journey alone.)
“Wonderful! Really beautiful stuff, Ali. And I know just the composition for it. These are among my favourites. The Diabelli Variations. Listen to this, O, I think it’s wonderfully uplifting!”
As she played and Ali watched Friedrich, arms and legs crossed like a suicidal mantis, watched Ali, with puffed out cheeks and straight asymmetrical eyes. His foot was tapping against the wind, heating up particles – imagine, particles that had travelled here from the farthest reaches of the cosmos would now have their fate altered by a solipsistic man’s nervous foot. Ali could feel him looking at him. Friedrich had promised him a reward if he accepted his offer but had not stipulated a punishment if he refused; and that omission made him nervous.
“Ali.” Friedrich broke up Hannah’s playing. Both of them turned towards the vicar. “Why don’t you tell Hannah you talked to me about this morning.” This morning? Was it already eleven a.m.?
Ali sighed and now his foot was tapping. O the massacre of particles!
“What did you talk about, Ali?” Hannah asked turning from the piano with a sidelong glance at Friedrich.
“I, he, he.”
“Go on Ali, tell her. She won’t mind.” Friedrich cajoled, that Lutheran Lucifer. Ali hated Friedrich now with the same vehemence that he hated all the corrupt mullahs and all the armed bullies. If Christ took on all the sins of man on the cross, as Ali was later taught, so Friedrich took on all the evils of evil men in that one moment.
These are the moments that make boys into men or force boys into perpetual boyhood. Ali, almost on the verge of tears, tears he denied himself on account of his Y-chromosomal birth, turned ferociously to Hannah and spat out:
“He told me to stop the concert! He told me to do Bible with him!”
“What?” Hannah said with her mouth and pores agape.
“He said he buy me Playstations and iPhones! I don’t want. I don’t want!”
“You lying pig!” Friedrich gasped rising up out of his seat. “That’s not true at all! You told me you wanted to stop the concert! Admit it, own up, you bastard!”
“Friedrich!” Hannah shouted sharply, herself verging on tears, the eternal threat of divorce that hangs over every marriage now coming into clearer focus for her.
“It’s not true, Hannah! You have to believe me! He told me he wanted to stop the concert.”
“Why would he want to do that!” Hannah said with lupine determination.
“I don’t want, I don’t want!” Ali the pup yelped like an alpha.
“I’ve had enough of this, Friedrich, I’ve had enough of you!”
Noticing her serious, vindictive anger at Friedrich Ali’s mind loomed with a damning realisation, the kind a chess-player experiences who has just realised he has made a suicidal move.
“It’s ok, it’s ok, I stop concert. I will.” Ali said half-cajoling Friedrich and pleading to Hannah. “Is better.”
“No, no Ali we won’t stop the concert! He’s had his way long enough!” She was bordering on the hysterical now. Her cheeks flushed red and her eyes blinded with the vale of tears. She got up and walked towards Friedrich, pointing towards the door. “Get out, go away, leave me the hell alone!”
“Hannah! Calm down. You don’t know what you’re saying. You’re throwing me out for a damned concert?” Thus spake the muted lion.
“GET OUT!” She screamed a scream to frighten bats and banshees, and, more in anger than remorse, Friedrich made the sign of the cross and stormed out, leaving Hannah as he had found her, on her knees, weeping, her head in her hands.
Ali stood between her and the door, looking around, a confused primate, torn and tearing, he had seen death untold and suffering geography, but the hysterical tears of a woman fallen out of love were new to him, he was not designed to know what to do. But, he did what he felt he should do, the Mount Sinai of emotional instinct softly guiding him, sans tablets. He goes on his knees and puts both his arms around her in a fragile embrace. She clung on to his arms and dried her tears on his arms.
“It’s done for, it’s finally done for.” She said with a calming hysteria that melted into his arms like honey on an impossibly hot future day.
“No, I’m sorry.”
“It’s not your fault Ali.” His apologia seemed to sobre her up suddenly. She moved back from his arms and looked him in the eye, her cold hand on his cheek, his young face that had already seen so much a few feet away from her white canvas painted on with the acrylics of long-ago experience.
“This has been coming, you see. Every single day of married life I’ve been falling out of love with him. Gradually but consistently.” Ali wasn’t understanding everything now, but it didn’t matter, this was her monologue. “And I don’t mind. I’ve fallen out of love so many times before. Every time, it’s like a death; how can you grieve for feelings, you just can, you know. Even in Communist East Berlin I fell hopelessly in love. With boys I could never have, I was only a little older than you, but as long as I loved them they were my only obsession. I’d eat drink and sleep with them. And it was the same with Friedrich.”
She hesitated for a while, her face down, sideways, looking into the pit of her emotional memory. “No, no you know, I don’t think it was the same with Friedrich. I, I fell in love with him after I was in love with him. With Friedrich there was no time to idealise him, no time to chase him, to make myths out of him; Friedrich just saved me and I returned the favour by politely loving him. It was never a passionate love. It just felt right because it felt mature and proper. But this concert,” she sighed and forced a smile. “Has had more passion than my entire married life.” She smirked, still rubbing Ali’s face. “Who knows, maybe you’re my next infatuation.” She smiled sincerely and Ali smiled back, obliviously. She hugged him tightly rubbing his back, imposing her scent onto his; she hugged him long enough for maternal, platonic love to start germinating into a love that demands more – from both of them.
With nothing resolved but closure open to all, they left the music room and went to have lunch in the kitchen. It was quite the mime’s pantomime; she made a salad with chicken and fenugreek whilst he sat on a stool around the island watching television and reading the sheets of the unfinished concert. Not a single one of them uttered a word, the only language was smiles that it would be wise to mistrust, for they were fuelled by bubbling emotions that would not restrain themselves. The spectre of obediently disappeared Friedrich malingered around the room. Not his past shadow but his potential future ghoul; what if he came back, does she want him to, will he fight back, will he plead… and the midday transmigrated into the afternoon under the tyrannical clouds of hope.
Hannah would see Friedrich again that day. But not before she did her citizen’s duty and turned on the five o’clock news. Write routine into your life and you shall share in the eternal youthfulness of the species. Ali was immersed in writing – he who had never learned or read music before in his past life – when the news reader announced something alarming in forced stoic tones.
“Breaking news this hour, a large-scale clash has erupted in a Munich train station between migrant groups. Riot police have been called in to the scene, and we understand that nine people have already been hospitalised. It is still unclear what sparked the fighting but police spokesmen say that there is danger of escalation.”
The footage showed refugees hurling debris from the floor at shielded police, whilst others were caught on camera throwing punches at other refugees in the train station, some women carrying children whimpering in the corners, others running out of the station risking a stampede. It’s just like fucking Syria! Ali found himself thinking, with a dawning, cognisant alarm. This is how all the trouble kicked off. The mob getting out of hand. The police moving in indiscriminately beating and arresting rioters and those simply caught in the riot. The innocent turn bitter. If I’m to be lumped in with the radicals, might as well be a radical. It’s the ones who are innocent you have to fear. There will always be the ranks of the guilty, but they are powerless until they start filling up with recruits stained by innocence.
“We have to go!” Ali said sitting up from his stool, confused, swaying like a wind-vane in a storm.
“Ali, we can’t go there, it’s too dangerous.”
“That’s why we go. Now is time for concert. Now and only now!”
“The concert? But Ali it’s not even finished!” Stop him, stop him, Hannah’s inner daemon beseeched her. But something inside her was too infatuated to listen.
“It doesn’t matter. We have to go, please, before it is worse!” Hannah saw something new in Ali’s eyes. Something she had never seen before that triggered something old and familiar in her.
Ali was a bull in the bullring, ready to charge, his eyes focused on the red, bloody and crimson. He was a child with a terrorised past and a future to fight for. He was a Crusade incarnate. This made him mythical. Heroic. And Hannah wanted nothing else but to be with him to see his destiny unfold. A ten-year-old boy had been her first infatuation, now, she was damn sure, a ten-year-old boy would also be her last.
They got into the car and drove to the nearby train station with keyboards, violin and flute in the back; Hannah positively sure, the whole while, that she would have driven them both off a cliff if he had asked her.
When they arrived at the train station, so white in the dusk, and clean, even amidst the familiar chaos, they found a line of riot police barring their entrance into the industrial battlefield.
“I know a way, follow me,” Hannah said carrying the keyboard under her arms and Ali running around with the cased violin. They ran to a nearby subway entrance that had been forgotten like a vandalised ant-hill and walked down its eerily derelict stairs. Look at him: Orpheus descending into Hades. They only walked a few metres inside the silent, glistening station, all the restaurants and shops barred up as if Armageddon had come specifically for retail outlets (near you), before they encountered the chaos. They could see hundreds of refugees breaking into shops, hurling chairs and entire counters at the other side – the other side of what, themselves, their own comrades?
“This is awful.” Hannah said with her hands to her Scream-mouth.
“It’s normal. Force people into cages and they fight like animals.” Ali said stoic in his fortress of familiarity.
“But Ali, there’s no excuse for this!”
“Don’t blame them, blame what made them.”
“No, no, it’s just not an excuse!” Hannah said visibly shaken, her own memories of large, violent crowds disturbing her, weakening her.
“You say that because you see everyone fight. But it takes one person to start fight. One person. Bad. But the good fight too.”
Hannah was wrecked with doubt but as she stood and watched that chess-board of civilization being toppled and stripped bare by the pawns of barbarity, Ali had begun setting up the keyboard and the violin. He went up to her and put her hands forcibly on her cheeks, his face of steel a few feet away from hers. “Now, we have to do it now.” He was so close, so violent… she wanted nothing better than to kiss him weeping. But no, calmly, set up, regain composure, this is what the world is waiting for. You’re there, Hannah, at the gates of Jerusalem, side by side with your crusader. Love him, love him well, for he has brought you to the threshold of history.
They started, at Ali’s insistence, breaking the script, with Für Elise, the song he had heard when he first entered Europe, in that consumerist church in Hungary, the song that instantly, as if from another time, spoke to him about his parents, told him that their deaths, tragic and inexcusable as they were, were necessary, necessary for them to be free from any future horror, necessary so that he himself might escape the death-lands and escape their fate. The song, written for an Elise he would never know, had made him, even at the frontline of death, fall in love with life. It rang out from underneath his fingers from the keyboard and at first was drowned out by the screams, breaking glass, and stampeding hubbub.
But it wasn’t long, it wasn’t long at all, before rioters, migrants, and refugees seeking refuge from other refugees, began running past and stopping, stopping to look at the surreal scene of a child playing music in the midst of a riot, broken glass at his feet and flashing, stunned lights blinking above him. It was a Syrian man with curly hair, in a leather-jacket that first stopped to listen. He was a man – Ali later learned – that had lost his son in the crossing from Turkey to Greece. He was one of those that began the riot. How could he not? Well, well, there’s a dialectical question! When he stopped, others stopped around him. Children fleeing from the crossfire, middle-aged men who were the crossfire, women, swords in the right-hands of their husbands; they all stopped, listening, curious at first, but then, somehow mesmerised.
Ali played Für Elise from the beginning and now there were over a hundred people listening to him. The silence of the notes had permeated the dense fog of battle. And this time, when he finished the song, there was a hundred-strong round of applause, like the fanfare of victory, an applause so loud that it caught the attention of those that were fighting outside, at the entrance of the station. The applause drew them in, Ali watched them come, and then signaled to Hannah to take up the keyboards whilst he took up the violin as a warrior takes up his sword.
“Violin Sonata no. 5.” He said to her. And she played. She played as if Ali was the only boy she had ever loved. A man she would never stop loving until she was ready for the grave.
The fighting had stopped, even outside, it sounded like a calm autumn day, they all watched him, their eyes steely and silver, who knows what they thought of the music, but no one could resist the brave confidence oozed by the boy. One of their own, no less. More and more people came inside the train station and, after Ali began playing Piano Sonata 12, even some of the riot police came inside, to see what had happened, and they too listened, from behind their shields of war, with attention, to the Syrian boy who played the compositions of one of their own.
It wasn’t long before the leeching reporters and their parasitic cameramen followed suit and they began filming the impromptu concert to an audience that now numbered nearly a thousand souls. Ali played with a half-smile, caught between pride and memory, and Hannah kept her eyes steadily on him, thinking what to say about him in the inevitable post-concert interviews.
But the concert wouldn’t end soon. As soon as Ali laid down his violin the crowd began applauding again – imagine, a bunch of rioters and riot-police asking for encores! Ali would start again, this time improvising, continuing the narrative of his journey, marrying it to all the other migrants’. It was nightfall by the time he played his most melancholic, powerful piece, a composition inspired by the time a Yazidi woman jumped into the frigid, nocturnal Mediterranean water to save him from drowning after having fallen off an overcrowded dinghy. The woman, a beautiful, young twenty-something with a long equine face and smooth black hair, was taken by the currents just as she helped him back on the boat. It was a death he could never forget; he played Für Elise this time imagining his Yazidi saviour was Elise. It was a performance, on the tired keyboard, that brought tears to most of those present.
Just before midnight, the train station now cold and crowded, Hannah went up to Ali and told him to stop. He had to let history take its course. But as she went up to him she saw a ripple in the crowds. A bobbing head pushing its way through to the front. Were the riots ready to burst again? So delicate is beauty. Yet, it is our only duty to defend it. It must be defended! There’s no need this time, for the man squirming his way through the crowd was none other than Friedrich. When Hannah saw his face excited and eager like she had never seen it, she walked up to him and, carried away by the passionate furore of the moment, hugged him for what seemed like tick-tocking ever.
“I saw it all on the television, Hannah, it was beautiful! I was wrong. Forgive me, I was completely wrong!”
Applause: ringing out: behind them, for them. For Ali. Then a gentle stampede as the gathered crowds swarmed around Ali, the riot-police keeping close watch and the reporters pushed temporarily aside. Hannah, from behind a wall of giants, heard Ali speaking Arabic for the first time. She felt as though she was hearing the poetry of the desert and it made the blonde tufts on her arm stand on end. He seemed so fluent in his native tongue, a banal observation, but one that had to be made. Everyone was shaking his hand, asking him questions; she didn’t have to understand the words to know what he was saying: he was telling them his story, about Beethoven, about his hometown in Syria, about his wanting an end to the fighting. All fighting. Everywhere. An impossible dream accomplished for one night only. A night not to be forgotten by the historians and mythmakers.
“He’s a star!” Friedrich said walking up to Ali, that little messiah surrounded by his new converts. When Ali saw Friedrich with his arm around Hannah he lit up, a fire that didn’t go unnoticed by all those present. All he could do was smile, blush and nod. When he looked up he saw Hannah wink at him… it wasn’t over, nothing had yet begun… her infatuation would not fizzle away, even with Friedrich back in the picture.
The reporters were by now interviewing the spokespersons of the police, as they arrested the instigators of the riots – getting arrested, after all, was all they wanted, that way they could at least stay in Germany a little while longer. All the others, the media revealed, would be pardoned, leaving them with the long journey to acquiring refugee status still in front of them. Technicalities done now it was time for the sharks to festoon around the golden sob story. One by one they came, reporters and cameramen, gathered around Ali, mikes pointed like index fingers, camera lights flashing like a plagiarised sun. Ali didn’t seem fazed. He knew. He couldn’t be surprised at the effect music had on everyone. He knew the music to be powerful. This was bound to happen. The reporters spoke to him like a child, he replied like a man who had just discovered the Enlightenment.
“What were you thinking?”
“How old are you?”
“Are you surprised?”
“Were you scared?”
“Where did you learn to play?”
“What’s next for you?”
It was machine-gun fire from all quarters. The reporters were as haphazard as the rioters had been. He could not answer quick enough. So he didn’t. Ali, looking at Hannah and the temporarily reinstated Friedrich, had only one thing to say. He said it to the reporters so as to say it to everyone. He said it even as he felt his nostrils tickling him and the temptation rising, rising.
But he stayed his hand, and said the only thing he could say:
“When they fight you, you, with violence, you fight them with music. No excuse!”