Once, long ago, upon a violation of a borderline and in a land of little consequence, at a time when all there was to eat was mostly last season’s dwindling stock of pickled cucumbers and red cabbage, plus sometimes, just sometimes a soupçon of stale bread, a small child either stole or rescued a mandolin.
Certainly there was a more than a little confusion as to motive about the child as she dislodged the instrument from the frozen bespectacled corpse of an old man unassumingly curled up upon the softest mattress of new born primroses on the edge of the woodlands. Whatever, the rakish thin girl of jet black matted, greasy locks and overly pink cheeks, ran homeward bound intent upon showing her prize off to her family, such as her ‘family’ was. If the truth be told, her big sister, late of the tribal home, an accomplished self-taught musician who could get a tune out of just about anything from a hacksaw blade to a grand piano was the child’s preferred destination. Besides, her mother would have berated her, assuming the instrument was born of the spoils of theft. Sadly, the patriarch of the house had gone ‘missing’.
You see, all the men and boys in the small town where she lived had been taken away to places unknown by pitiless soldiers or shot by firing squad, their limp bodies dumped into a colossal open grave they themselves had been forced to dig. All that was left were babes in arms, little ones, mothers and mother’s, mothers. Remarkably, in the circumstances, all the teenage girls and young women, in the safe hands of the good priest and the local bus driver, had escaped as refugees en-masse to a safer, neutral country upon advanced news reaching them of the intended invasion. That is, save for the girl with the pink cheeks big sister, a grown up version of the smaller one, save for not having overly pink cheeks, the beautiful Aoede.
Aoede, a rebellious, chaotic young lady, had inevitably and in contravention of long since determined parental command regarding matters of urgency, been too busy painting her toenails silver and thus missed her passage to safety upon the rickety, yet serviceable old bus with all the others. It was thus her mother sent Aoede into the densest forest to live rather than have her daughter at risk of a fate worse than death at the hands of the oppressors. Luckily for her she knew the best, unfathomable to outsiders, nooks and crannies in the woods within which to lose oneself.
Her little sister, a wise one, was well aware of all the secret hiding places amongst the trees and caves. It took little time for her to discover Aoede’s lair. Not that she was being entirely honest, yet when Aoede made idle mention to her sibling that it was her birthday did the child, albeit with invisible reluctance, decide to gift her the mandolin.
For the next five years Aoede remained in her wildwood shelter living off her wits and natures furtive harvests. During this period the rescued mandolin had ensured her sanity remained intact. Indeed, she had composed a mystical masterpiece, a piece she entitled ‘A Requiem for the Disappeared’. A composition regularly performed to the satisfaction of an audience of owls and furry mammals, often at their express request.
Cruel as Old Father Time can be, sometimes he relents, makes to heal rather than wound. It was thus that from the New Lands, across the giant ocean, came an army of good men, so big and powerful that the oppressors, cowards at heart, bullies in deed, fled to the place from whence they came.
He was on a reconnaissance mission checking that the entirety of the enemy had vacated the area when he stumbled quite buy chance into Aoede, sat cross-legged in a clearing, ensconced in her music. Dumbstruck he, the young soldier smoking a fat Havana, closed his eyes and waited, absorbing every last note of Aoede’s requiem until her perfect performance was over. It was only then that she stood up, only then that she became aware of his presence. Everything was still in the forest when the soldier from the New Lands thought to open his eyes. To his astonishment, before him not just the dazzling girl holding her mandolin, but also, encircling her as if they were her part of her, her aura perhaps, the pasty ghosts of a multitude of weeping, mournful countrymen. Too soon they dissipated, were gone. The saddest thing he thought, yet split-second unforeseen death renders the living immune from emotion for an instant, until the time comes when all souls, whether lost or found, shed inevitable heartache, salty tears.
Soldier boy, mesmerized by Aoede, overwhelmed with her plainsong; enthralled beyond measure with both took it upon himself to ensure she was aware she was now in safe hands. Never one backward in coming forward, an endearing trait many of his own kind shared, he took from his rucksack nylon stockings and ‘mild as May’ toasted tobacco cigarettes; offered them to her. Not that she had a need for either she accepted his gift gratefully, smiled her best comme il faut smile and followed on behind to pastures new.
Several decades later in a bedroom encased within the grandest of townhouses in the metropolis that is New York City a now very old widow, originally from a land of little consequence, passed away peacefully in her sleep. At her bedside a rescued mandolin and a photograph album chronicling the loving life and spectacular times she had shared with a cigar smoking American.