فصل 04

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فصل 04

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CHAPTER FOUR

The new trumpet

‘I was really excited when Tibor came to Warsaw,’ Malgosia told me as I put on the kettle to make her a coffee. ‘I went to meet him at the airport. I had told my family all about him. They were a bit suspicious because he was the first man I had talked about like that, but they were interested to meet him.’

I gave Malgosia a cup of coffee. She had dried her hair and changed into some fresh clothes. She looked thinner and whiter than I remembered.

‘So what was the problem?’ I asked. ‘You met him at the airport. It must have been fantastic.’ Malgosia was so involved in her own thoughts that I don’t think she heard the note of bitterness in my voice.

‘Oh, it was fine at first,’ she replied. ‘He was so pleased to see me, and I, well I was ecstatic. He came out of those sliding doors with a big grin on his face and we threw our arms around each other and I…’

‘It sounds great,’ I said. I really didn’t want to hear the details of this happy romance after all.

‘Well, it was. I drove him back to my parents’ house, and everything was absolutely fine. Even my grandparents got on with him, although he doesn’t speak any Polish. But he speaks a bit of Russian, so they managed to communicate in a limited way and I think they liked him at first.

‘We had a lovely few days in Warsaw and then I took him to see Krakow - one of our most beautiful cities - and we travelled around the country. My sister came with us too. It was a very happy time.

‘When we got back to Warsaw everything still seemed to be going well. Tibor and my father were soon very friendly with each other, but when my father asked him about his plans he said he was bored with music. He just wanted to be incredibly rich and live in the sun. “I have a dream of great wealth,” he said, “and nothing to do except spend it!” ‘ ‘“That’s some dream,” my father said. He had been in prison under the old political system because he was a member of a banned trade union. Now he works in a hotel. His life hasn’t been nearly as exciting as he had planned. Well not so far, anyway.’ Malgosia stopped talking and slowly drank her coffee.

‘One night I had to go out,’ Malgosia started again after a few minutes, ‘to my friend Irena’s. She was going to get married the next day, so all of her girlfriends, we had organised a party for her. We had a wonderful time. We laughed a lot and I’m afraid to say we drank quite a lot too. So at the end of the party I stayed at Irena’s house. I rang my father to say I wasn’t coming home. He said that Tibor and my sister had gone out for a drink. I was pleased they were getting on so well. You always want your family to like your boyfriend, don’t you?

‘Anyway, I woke up very early and because Irena was sleeping soundly, I left the house without disturbing her. I caught an early morning tram. When I got home I let myself in quietly. I wasn’t feeling very good, as you can imagine. I hung my coat on its hook. I kicked off my shoes. I made a cup of coffee. I didn’t want to wake anyone. But in the end I realised that I was feeling so bad that I would have to go back to bed so I went into the room I shared with my sister…’ Malgosia paused, frowned, and then continued, ‘and my sister Anja was there, of course, fast asleep. So was Tibor. Next to her. In her bed. For a moment I didn’t recognise him. Or perhaps I didn’t want to recognise him.

‘“That’s nice,” I thought, “she’s got a boyfriend,” and then it hit me and I dropped the cup of coffee I was carrying. It made a terrible noise and coffee went everywhere. Tibor woke up at that point. He looked a bit surprised. Anja opened her eyes too, and when she saw me she let out a little scream, something like “Oh no”. And I started screaming too. I mean, I know what Tibor is like, I’ve always known, ever since I met him. But I thought he had changed, I thought he really loved me. And the one place you feel safe, you know, is in your family. But my sister. My sister! I couldn’t believe that she would do that. I couldn’t believe he would do that.

‘The noise woke my parents, of course, and they came running into the room to see what was happening. Soon everybody was shouting and I said some terrible things. Tibor left later in the morning. And since then it’s just been getting worse and worse. Anja and I, we fought all the time, and yesterday I said some unforgivable things to my father.’

‘He must have realised you were upset,’ I said, to be helpful.

‘Yes,’ Malgosia replied miserably. ‘But I asked him why he loved Anja more than me and why he’d been prepared to fight for his union in the old days but now he wouldn’t even stand up for me against my sister. I called her a lot of names. I threw something at her. Then my father threw me out of the house. So, I’ve come here to you,’ she said. ‘It’s the only place I could think of. I’ve lost Tibor, I’ve lost my family, I have no home anymore. What am I going to do?’ And she burst into tears.

Much later I put her in my bed, and after she had cried some more she fell asleep, and all night I sat and watched her.


Malgosia and I got married three years later, and I thought I was the happiest man alive. The woman who I worshipped as if she was a god had agreed, after a great deal of persuasion, to become my lover and then, in the end, my wife. For her even second best was better than nothing in the end.

Malgosia’s parents and grandparents came for the wedding. (Though her sister Anja didn’t - there was still an icy distance between her and Malgosia.) My parents were on their best behaviour too. When they had first met Malgosia they had expressed their concern. My father had even gone so far as to say, ‘I don’t think she’s really your type, son! She’ll cause you pain. I’m sure of that!’ and I had been terribly offended and we had an argument. But on our wedding day they were all smiles, and I was grateful to them for helping to make it such a special occasion.

I liked my new mother-in-law. She was much calmer than her daughter.

‘You must not to blame Malgosia if she is always exciting,’ she told me in her rather broken English. ‘You must understand. The mix up with that Tibor. And before. It was a difficult time, her childhood, with the politics, police are coming often. She is very romantic now, very… What is the word…? Passionate, yes, passionate. But I think you know that already. I think she is lucky, my daughter.’ She kissed me on the cheek. ‘You will be careful of her?’ she asked, and I said yes. That’s exactly what I would do. It was such an easy promise to make, such a difficult promise to keep.

The trouble started a few years later. By then our quartet was doing well: Rachel had stopped feeling angry in the end (back in those days at the Academy) and the four of us had stayed together ever since, improving our playing, developing a musical understanding between us that made it all worth while. Malgosia’s career was going well too. She was getting work in musical shows in the West End. Both of us did some teaching as well and our lives seemed to be very comfortable, although Malgosia often looked bored and we had some days when we hardly spoke to each other. But all marriages are like that, I thought, so I didn’t worry very much.

But then one day, when I was practising in the music room, the phone rang. I was just about to put down my viola and go to answer it when I heard Malgosia’s voice coming from the kitchen. And for some reason I half listened. I couldn’t hear what my wife was saying, of course, but it was a long conversation and sometimes she was silent, but sometimes she talked urgently in a low voice. I nearly went to listen to the conversation properly, to see who it was she was speaking to, but the piece of music I was working on was very difficult, and the quartet were due to play it in a concert next day, so I kept on playing.

After twenty minutes my curiosity got the better of me. I opened the door. As I did so I heard Malgosia say ‘goodbye’ in a loud and unnatural voice.

I walked into the kitchen.

‘Who was that?’ I asked.

‘Rosemary,’ she said.

‘That was a long conversation,’ I went on, wanting to see what she would say.

‘Well yes. We’re friends. She’s got problems,’ Malgosia answered in a bad-tempered kind of way.

‘What problems?’ I asked, though I knew that Rosemary’s husband had left her. I just wanted to see how my wife would answer. I suppose, subconsciously I knew that something was wrong.

‘You know, Ted has left her, and she has to look after the children on her own, and he’s not giving her enough money. The usual. Look,’ she said suddenly, as if a thought had just come to her, ‘I’m going for a walk. Do you mind?’

‘A walk?’ I replied stupidly. ‘Why do you want to do that?’ Malgosia never went for walks on her own.

‘I don’t know. I’m just feeling a bit on edge, a bit depressed. About Rosemary, probably, so I’ll just go and walk it off.’

‘I’ll come with you,’ I said. I didn’t like her to feel sad.

‘No,’ she answered immediately, ‘I’d rather be on my own.’ And before I could protest she had walked past me, taken her coat from the hall, and walked out of the house, slamming the door behind her.

When she came back she was calmer. She said she was sorry. She asked me to understand that she was a difficult person sometimes, that was just how she was. I knew that already of course, and I loved her very much and so I said of course I understood.

‘Only please,’ I said pathetically, ‘do think of me sometimes, of how it feels to be me.’

‘Poor Derek,’ she said, and kissed me. And the next day, when I came home from the concert I had played in with the quartet, Malgosia was waiting for me. She had cooked a special meal and there was an open wine bottle on the kitchen table.

‘Why aren’t you at the theatre?’ I asked, surprised. She was playing in the band for ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ at that time.

‘I have taken a few days off,’ she said sweetly. ‘Come on Derek darling, sit down and have a glass of wine.’

‘You’re not working there for a few days?’ I asked. ‘Why not?’

‘Because I need some time to myself. I need to be alone to think about some things.’

‘What do you mean “I need to be alone”? How are you going to “be alone”?’ I asked her.

‘Well, I wasn’t going to say this straight away…’ She sat with her back to me, and spoke in a soft nervous voice ‘… but now that we’re talking about it, well, I’m going to go away for a few days. If that’s all right.’

I didn’t say anything. This was typical of Malgosia. Sudden decisions, surprises, always doing things for herself. It is what I loved about her. It was what caused me pain.

‘Look, Derek, I’m sorry. I know you think I’m selfish. I know I cause you trouble sometimes. But I couldn’t live without you, you know that.’

‘I know,’ I answered, believing her. I always believed her. ‘But what’s all this about going away?’

‘Just for a few days, that’s all. I just want to disappear, be by myself, have time to think.’

‘But what about?’ I asked again. ‘What do you need to think about?’

‘Life. My past. My parents. Us. The music. Everything,’ she said. ‘Everyone needs time on their own sometimes. You’re going to Birmingham for two days next week with the quartet. I thought it was just the perfect time.’

‘OK, even if I agree with you, where are you going?’ I asked.

‘I don’t know. I haven’t decided. Maybe Scotland,’ she said dreamily.

And so I let her go. She didn’t tell me where she would be staying and she didn’t get in touch with me while she was away. But I was out of the house as well so it wasn’t too much of a problem. I just thought, ‘poor old Malgosia, such a complicated woman, so intense, so special, so different. Of course she needs her “space”, her time away. There’s nothing wrong with that.’

When she got back she was happier than I had seen her for some time. There was a brightness about her, an excitement, a sparkle in her eyes. She came running into the house and flung her arms around me.

‘Oh Derek,’ she said, like some actress in a movie (which I suppose is what she was). ‘It’s so lovely to see you.’ She told me she had been in a convent in the north of Scotland, a hidden-away religious order somewhere I’d never heard of. She said she felt much better now, much calmer. She said that many of her doubts about herself were over with. She made me happy.

And so I never asked her where she went. I trusted her.

Looking back I can’t believe that I was so naive, but she was so different, so wild and passionate, just as her mother had told me. Her troubled childhood had affected her, that terrible business with Tibor, all that had made her the person she was. I still couldn’t believe my luck that she had agreed to marry me even though I knew that I fell far short of her ideal. But in time that thought faded and I learned to be happy.

Ten months later she went away again. Now I realise that it was the same pattern as before (although, at the time I didn’t notice). First, a telephone call. Malgosia said it was Rosemary or a musician friend or somebody. I can’t remember. Then two days later she suddenly announced that she needed some time on her own again. She seemed troubled. I even wondered if she was ill in some way. But I let her go. Back to that same convent, or so I thought, where they didn’t have any telephones (she said) so I couldn’t get in touch with her. When she came back she was happy as before, bursting with life, recovered, alive. I thought, again, that these days of reflection were, for her, better than a visit to a psychoanalyst, better than the drugs she might otherwise have taken.

It happened twice more. Each time Malgosia came home a different person and, for a time after she returned, we were as happy as we had been at the beginning of our relationship, before we started arguing, not talking to each other or even, what was worse, being extremely polite.

When she came back from the last trip she brought a new trumpet with her. She said she had come across it in a music shop in Glasgow on her way back. She’d had a few hours before her train left for London. She’d fallen in love with the instrument the moment she’d set her eyes on it, she said. She hoped I didn’t mind. She knew I’d understand. It was going to make her playing even better.

I asked to listen to it, but she said ‘not yet’. She wanted to get used to it first, practise on it, learn its funny ways and manners. Then I could hear it. I understood how she felt, but I was a bit offended that she wasn’t involving me in the strange relationship that every musician has with a new instrument. It was almost as if she was cheating on me. She kept it shut in its case. She had only shown it to me that first time when she arrived back home, and even then she’d just opened the case quickly and let me look inside before shutting it up again.

The new trumpet stayed in the corner of the music room for weeks. Once, I don’t know why, I tried to open it to have a look inside but it was locked. When I heard Malgosia practising (which she had started to do with the door closed) it sounded the same as usual to me, as if she was using her old instrument.

And then one night, about three and a half weeks after she had returned from that last trip, I came home, but Malgosia wasn’t in the house, and there was a message on the computer from Tibor. And while I was trying to understand why Tibor was in contact with her after all this time, and while I was trying to absorb the fact that my wife had probably gone to Rio de Janeiro without telling me, there was a knock at the door and two policeman were standing there.

‘We just want to ask Mrs Armstrong a few questions,’ they said. Before I knew it, they were in my house, and because Malgosia wasn’t there, they questioned me instead.

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