فصل 03

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فصل 03

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CHAPTER THREE

Rachel

Tibor and Malgosia became lovers, of course. Even when I think about that now it hurts. After all this time it still hurts. But there was nothing I could have done, even if I had known how to. She fell for him almost immediately. Perhaps it was the scene in the canteen that did it for her. Perhaps it was later in some pub or cafe that she looked at him and felt the joyous pain that love can be. I don’t know. I only know that when I realised what the situation was I thought I would die with unhappiness. Because I was crazy about her too, absolutely obsessed with the thought of her. And though we were the best of friends, and she came to cry on my shoulder every time Tibor ignored her or cheated on her, and even though I was sure she was very fond of me, still she didn’t love me like I, poor fool, loved her. Instead I had to watch her eyes light up with excitement every time Tibor walked into the room. I had to learn to grin and bear it every time she cancelled one of our visits to the cinema or a folk club because she was going to be with him. I had to accept that, compared to Tibor, I would always be second best.

One afternoon, a few weeks into that first term, I went into Duke’s Hall because I could hear the sound of a trumpet. I pushed open the wood and glass doors. Malgosia was on the empty stage making the most beautiful noise I had ever heard. Another student was accompanying her on the organ. They were playing the ‘Trumpet Voluntary’, one of the most famous English trumpet tunes there is.

I stood and listened until she had finished. Then she saw me, and smiled.

‘That was beautiful,’ I told her. ‘I love Purcell’s music.’

‘It’s not Purcell,’ Malgosia said. ‘Everybody thinks he wrote it, but it was actually written by someone called Jeremiah Clarke. I’ve been reading about it. Did you know,’ she went on, ‘he killed himself for love. It’s the kind of thing they did in those days. Isn’t it romantic?’

‘No,’ I laughed. ‘It’s stupid if you ask me.’

‘Ah,’ she replied dreamily, ‘you are just a man, an English man. But to die for love! That takes a more passionate soul than yours perhaps.’


At the end of the first year, when the summer holidays began, Malgosia went back to Poland to be with her family. Right up until the moment she left I had this dream that she would invite me to visit her there, but somehow I knew that she wouldn’t. My parents, who knew nothing of my romantic depression, wanted me to go on holiday with them, but with the arrogance of youth I couldn’t stand the idea. I was much happier busking on the streets of London, playing for cinema queues and shopping tourists with the new student quartet I had joined at the end of the summer term. Our first violin player, Carl Robins, was rather uneasy about playing Mozart’s ‘Eine Kleine Nachtmusik’ ten times a day (because he’d rather be attempting Shostakovich and Bartok) and Rachel Merino, our cellist, was uncomfortable with the long metal spike which allowed her to play standing up.

‘Still,’ as Matt Jenkins, the second violinist said, ‘it’s good performance practice, and were earning quite a bit of money too. No-one’s complaining about that!’

It was true. People seemed to like the way we played, and my open viola case soon filled up with small change. We earned even more when a law student who lived with me came to help us by going round our audiences with a hat, asking for donations. Ken, a Nigerian, wasn’t very keen on the music we played but he was a magician with the hat. He almost ran around the crowds that were listening to us, smiling at them, laughing and joking, telling them we were poor refugees, anything to make them put their hands in their pockets. It looked like it was going to be a good summer. Sometimes I even forgot about Malgosia. But not for long.

One evening, as we packed up our instruments for the day, Rachel suggested that we go to a pub by the river in Chiswick where she lived. The next day was Sunday so we weren’t going to play, and anyway we needed a break. The others didn’t want to go all that way because it’s a long journey from central London but I had nothing better to do, so I agreed.

It was a lovely evening. Rachel and I sat outside and watched the life of the river in front of us. There were birds, the sounds of a great city all around us, planes starting their final approach to Heathrow airport, rowers shouting orders at each other, and a little police boat making its way down river, its blue light flashing as it went as fast as it could towards some emergency.

I liked Rachel. She was quiet and gentle. She had light brown hair, and pretty, brown eyes set in a round, pleasant face. When she smiled she looked like a happy child and you knew you could trust her. She was very easy to be with.

That night we sat and talked about what we hoped for the future. I told her I wanted to make enough money as a musician to have a nice house, travel a bit, that kind of thing. She told me that her dreams were much the same. She wanted children one day, she said, but for that she’d need to find the right man.

‘Well it’s no good looking at me,’ I said, as a joke.

‘I know that, you fool,’ she said, laughing at me. ‘You can’t see anybody anyway. Not while Malgosia is in the way.’ I blushed.

‘Maybe,’ I replied. I didn’t like talking about it.

‘Can I say something?’ Rachel asked, nervously.

‘It depends what it is,’ I replied. Around us people were talking and laughing as the night got darker. I saw the lights of a party boat travelling along the river in front of us.

‘It’s just that, well, I know Malgosia is beautiful. I mean really beautiful. I wish I was beautiful like that. And I do like her. But she’s crazy about Tibor, and anyone who’s crazy about Tibor, well…’ She stopped and looked at me, wondering how I would react.

‘Well what?’ I answered. I understood what she was saying, I think, but I didn’t like anyone criticising Malgosia.

‘Oh God, now you’re cross with me,’ Rachel said. ‘Sorry. Sorry. But it’s just a pity to see you and her. She’s not right for you. You’re wasting your time, wasting your life on her and you’re not getting anything back. It doesn’t look good. That’s my opinion.’

‘Well,’ I snapped back, without thinking, ‘I don’t care what your opinion is, OK? Me and Malgosia, well, we’re…’ I wanted a word that meant more than ‘friend’ but I couldn’t think of the right one, ‘we’re special, all right? So it’s none of your business. Just keep out of my affairs, OK?’ Rachel had gone red and I had gone too far. My only excuse is that I was very confused then, and still very young. But I suppose, if I am honest, that wasn’t it. It was because Rachel had said something that I didn’t want to hear because it was the truth. Now I think that if only I had listened to her then, if only I had understood what she was trying to tell me, I might not have made the decisions that I did and my life might have turned out very differently.

We finished our drinks in silence. I tried to start conversations again once or twice, but she only answered with ‘yes’ or ‘no’, so it wasn’t much good. In the end, when closing time was called by the pub landlord, we just said goodbye and I caught the tube back into London.

As the train made its way noisily through the darkness I thought about the conversation I had just had and I realised that it probably meant the end of the quartet.

‘Oh well,’ I thought, ‘I can join another one, or we’ll find a new cellist. It doesn’t matter.’

And then I suddenly saw Rachel’s face, Rachel’s sad gentle face, and perhaps it was the drink, or perhaps it was because it was a warm summer’s night, or perhaps I was just lonely, I don’t know, but anyway, at the next station I got off the train, walked over the bridge and got on the first train which was going back the way I had just come.

Half an hour later I was at the door of Rachel’s house. I rang the bell. The door opened.

‘Derek,’ Rachel said in surprise, ‘I thought you had gone home.’

‘I was going to,’ I replied, ‘and then I just thought…’ but I didn’t really know what I had thought so I kissed her instead. She didn’t seem to mind so I kissed her again, and it was very nice and soon just kissing didn’t seem to be enough and, well, you can imagine the rest.

The next morning we couldn’t look at each other. We had gone too far, too fast. All I could think was that I had somehow betrayed Malgosia (which was ridiculous, since she didn’t love me), and all Rachel could think was, that I had used her.

It was raining when I reached the tube station. I didn’t feel good and wondered how to cheer myself up. When I got back to my house the first thing Ken said to me was, ‘Where have you been? You look awful.’

‘Thanks,’ I said, ‘thanks a lot.’

‘Hey, don’t you worry about it. You can sleep it off, whatever it was,’ Ken said.

‘I don’t know,’ I answered.

‘Well, how about a coffee while you’re thinking about it?’ he offered, so we sat and talked and I told him about Rachel, even though I knew I shouldn’t. But I needed someone to talk to.

‘Well,’ he said when I had finished my story of the previous night, ‘things like that don’t happen to me over here. Not yet anyway. You’re just lucky.’

‘Then why don’t I feel lucky?’ I asked him.

‘Well now,’ he laughed, ‘I can’t help you there. Maybe you’re crazy or something. Yes, that’s probably it,’ and we laughed, and after half an hour in his company I felt better because he didn’t seem to think that I had done anything terrible, and because he let me tell him about Malgosia and he didn’t say that I was wasting my time.


The next day the quartet met up outside Covent Garden tube station as we had done every day since we started busking. I wasn’t sure whether Rachel would be there, but she had already arrived when I got out of the lift which had brought me up from the depths of London and walked out into the sunshine. She avoided my eyes and wouldn’t talk to me at first, but later, when we were setting up at one end of the old market building and the other two were getting their violins out of their cases, she came up to me.

‘Derek,’ she said, ‘can we have a quick word?’

‘Yes,’ I said nervously.

‘It’s just this,’ she announced seriously, looking away from me, ‘what happened happened, I know that, but it’s not going to happen again, is it?’

‘No,’ I said, and I meant it.

‘Right,’ she said in a controlled way. ‘And you want the quartet to continue, don’t you?’

‘Yes. Yes, I think so.’

‘So can we just be friends?’ she asked. I wonder how much that cost her.

‘If that’s OK,’ I said. I felt a great sense of relief, to be honest. I had expected more problems than this.

‘Yes, it is OK,’ she said and started to walk away. But then she turned back, came right up to me, and for the first time that day she looked me full in the eyes.

‘One last thing,’ she whispered. ‘I don’t want anyone else knowing about our … knowing about it. And we won’t talk about it ever again. OK?’

‘OK,’ I agreed. She relaxed then, smiled at me, walked away again and before long we were halfway through the first movement of the Mozart and the money was falling into Ken’s hat.

But one afternoon two weeks later when we broke for lunch, Rachel refused to go on playing, and she wouldn’t say why, and that was the end of our little band. At least for the time being.

We watched her walking away, her head down. She hadn’t said goodbye to anyone.

‘What was that all about?’ Carl asked as Rachel disappeared round a corner. ‘Does anyone know what’s going on?’

We all looked at each other. Nobody had any idea.

‘What about you, Ken?’ Matt said, as our money-collector came towards us with four pints of beer on an old bar tray from the pub behind us.

‘What about what?’ Ken answered.

‘Why did Rachel go off like that? Do you know?’

‘Me?’ said Ken. ‘Why should I know? Don’t ask me. Must be some musician thing. Why are you asking me?’

‘Hey,’ I told him, ‘don’t be so defensive. I’m sure it wasn’t your fault.’ But of course it was. His fault and my fault. Rachel and Ken had been walking towards the pub together (Ken told me later), and he’d asked her how she felt about me now. And Rachel had said, ‘What do you mean?’ and Ken had answered, ‘You know, after that night of yours, that night together?’ And Rachel had stopped in the middle of the street, gone bright red, and said, ‘Who told you that? How do you know that? Did Derek tell you that?’ her voice getting louder with every question. Then she’d marched past Ken, packed up her cello, told us she was leaving, and walked away without a word of farewell.


The summer holidays ended and the autumn term at the Academy began. There was no sign of Malgosia the first day, and she hadn’t answered either of the letters I had sent her, so I was pretty miserable. I tried to talk to Rachel, but she refused to speak to me. I asked her, begged her to play with us again, and all she said was, ‘How can I play with you again? You told Ken all about us, didn’t you? Why should I spend any more time in your company than I have to?’

Things also weren’t going well with my studies. My viola teacher was ill and the man who took her place for that first week didn’t like me and I felt the same about him. My piano playing wasn’t getting much better either. Carl and Matt wanted to get another cellist for our quartet, but somehow I could not agree to that. I had already done enough damage there, and I still hoped, one day, that Rachel would change her mind. And Ken wouldn’t talk to me because I had lost my temper with him about what he had said to Rachel.

So I suppose you could say that my life was a mess. I was playing badly. I didn’t have many friends, and the person I thought I loved had disappeared from my life.

But not for long. One evening, six days after term started, I was sitting in my room watching a bad old Hollywood movie on my small television when someone knocked at my door. I opened it. Ken stood outside.

‘Hi,’ I said, ‘come in. You haven’t been around for a few days. Where have you been?’

‘Don’t worry about where I’ve been,’ he replied, not looking me in the eye. ‘You’ve got more important things to think about.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘There’s someone downstairs to see you,’ he said, ‘and she doesn’t look very happy.’

‘Who is it?’ I asked him.

‘I don’t know,’ he replied. ‘I’ve never seen her before, but she’s really lovely. If you’re not interested, just let me know. I’d love to try and cheer her up.’

I left him and walked downstairs. The front door was still open. It was beginning to get dark outside and a heavy rain was falling. Malgosia was standing in the passageway with two suitcases, her beautiful hair dripping wet and a look of complete misery on her face.

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