Word Count: 2000
My master is a peculiar man.
After sifting through old pictures attached with outdated musical scores and invitations printed on un-fresh, yellowing paper, it dawns upon me how weird his preferences were, that most of the times, aside from the Thursday piano lessons, I find his taste way beyond what my comprehension can afford. I've repeatedly mused about what he was thinking, or what his perception of musical intervals and octaves were, while enjoying his cup of Oolong tea and butter, during the time I was still under his tutelage.
I was only eight when I met him one morning. Nothing grand, really, just me in blue pajamas and him in a suspender suit topped by a black, white-striped coat (my mother told me, "Ah, son, meet your piano teacher, Mr. Welson."). Pleasantries are non-existent as we shake hands over two plates of pancakes and cups of tea. As soon as the introductions ended, tension begins limboing in the air as the question, "What do I do next?" pops in my mind. I'm wondering if he can see the question hanging on my mind, literally.
And he does..
"You said you're eight years old, right?" He peers at me through his eyeglasses, then settles the fork on the plate. "Normal age for boys to have a crush, hm?"
I wasn't able to answer his question as he continued to bombard me with questions such as, "Do you pee before and after sleeping," (like, huh, who in their sane minds would ask that question in front of served food?) "Are you interested in older women," (I'm eight, why would I even-?!) "Do you have coots?" (And I hold unto my head, I can't take this anymore!). As much as he asked a lot of personal things about me, he never told me, though, anything beyond his age (he said he was 30), where he came from (Tulcea), and what he likes best besides playing the piano (riding a plane); and the most uncomfortable moment in my childhood life ended when the tea, pancakes, and butter, were all done.
Well, not really.
Mr. Welson shoots me a sharp look, a confident smile gracing on his lips.
"Why do you want to learn playing the piano?"
I gulp. To be honest, I have no reason to. My mother just happened to buy a grand piano one afternoon, and since no one's musically inclined in our family, she shoved the responsibility of being its pioneer to me.
But it's not like I can tell him that, right? So I suffice his question by saying, "Because it seems fun." Fun? Who likes staying every Thursday afternoon for piano rehearsals, when the time could be spent playing with friends outside or reading books?
"Really?" He rubs on. "Don't worry, I didn't think I'd be a pianist when I was as young as you." He reaches for the cup of tea again and sips, a relaxed expression morphing on his face.
And he looks up again.
"Let me tell you a secret, son."
My attention is fully drawn to him.
"Not everyone has the passion at first, that's why mentors are here: to build a bridge between you and the world of music."
He smiles, and I'm not sure if he's just playing with his words to fascinate me, or if he's actually telling me the truth.
By the following days, I find it very hard to believe him.
He kept on resuming our lessons while comparing black keys to thin bars of KitKat chocolates ("Let them melt under your touch! Or crush them at the right time") and white keys as fat bars of vanilla chocolates. He would tell me to stomp on the pedal as if its the BANG! signal in a race, something that starts a farce and ends it with another BOOM! He is an odd man who harbors crazy antics and relives them with a calm expression, like what he's doing is completely normal; sometimes, I think that he thinks I'm the weird one whenever I tell him about his weirdness.
After chocolates have become hard keys and the number of stashed teabags reached three digits, I realize I've already been under his eccentric wing for two years.
I arrive at the music room a little later than usual, and being out of the conventionality sent chills down my spine, for who could have thought that a tiny lapse can accommodate something so ominous... and scary?
I lightly push the door ajar. The tangerine streaks of afternoon sunlight illuminate the image of a person: hair unkempt, glasses askew, and fingers pouncing on keys, as if they are sharp daggers repetitively piercing violently through flesh. I can't fully see his face, but I surmise he must be beyond scowling—his shoulders are tense, and he is the predator of the keys, and I, the useless witness of a murder case.
He smashes on a critical high C, a click-tang!, and he arches his back, his sweat-infested face now being shone upon by the orange light. I wait for a continuation, but he does not move. He huffs, the tension released as the song propels to its climax.
He is panting.
My master—Mr. Welson is.
A beat of my heart.
I realize I've regained my breathing.
I leave my spot to return to my room. My heart drums ferociously in my chest as if the pedal is inside and being continuously beaten. What did I just see? Why is there a scary person in the music room? I put a hand over my chest and more sweat breaks through my skin. I knew of master's many eccentricities, I could even say when he would show his fangs or when he would bring out paws rather than claws but. But the person I have seen is not him. Or maybe, this is a new exposure to his darkest side, a dimension he might not have been intending to show me.
I felt the need to verify, so I returned to the music room.
He slowly turned to me—his new prey, dull grey eyes boring on my soul.
Until he stands up.
"What—" I search for my voice, and found it clipped. "—is the name of the piece?!"
I didn't intend to ask him with such a loud voice; it took me all the guts to unfreeze myself. It is a musical piece I've never heard before. Every pound of the key stabbed my chest—the flesh—quickly making it bleed and leaving a scar.
Master halts from his tracks. After a beat, he places hand on my head and he says, "We won't have any lessons for today, son."
"I want to know."
A pained smile ghosts on his lips.
"It doesn't have a name." He ruffles my hair, his head hung low. I carefully lean forward—are those tear lines? "The one you heard... is the bridge of a song with no resolution."
I didn't ask further; he made his exit.
I approach the silenced piano and touched its keys.
Then it hit me—I've never asked.
He pauses from dipping the Oolong teabag on hot water, then faced me with a smile. He's acting normally weird. Would he talk something about last Thursday? "Yes?"
"Why do you play the piano?"
He takes out the teabag and sets it on the saucer.
"Why do you ask?"
"Because I want to know."
My master glances at me quickly before taking a sip.
I thought there won't be any response, but I was wrong.
"I want to make the best composition," he tells me, a frown curving lips. "...for someone I knew."
Someone he knew? I didn't have to press on, to ask who or what that could mean, because he delves deeper into details by his own.
"The one who gave me the passion to play the piano is... a friend of mine. She's my mentor, only two years ahead in age. She's such an expert you wouldn't want to disappoint her," he says, the frown now replaced with a smile. I have never seen my master like this before; he never opened up this much. "You can say I was smitten; she wouldn't reprimand me for committing mistakes—instead, she would motivate me by giving me weird foods, such as bread dipped in coke, cheese with salt..." and he chuckles softly. Now I understand where he got the Oolong-Butter combination.
"After our tutorial program ended, we did not stop seeing each other. We joined recitals in duet; sometimes, even competed against each other. Until we both decided it's time to expand our horizons—she went east, while I did south."
Master suddenly moves his right hand to reach for bread and butter.
"And while she did, I began composing the piece you've just heard."
"Did you meet again?"
"Yes, and I proposed to her." He smudges the butter on bread. "It was the first time I told her my feelings, but I was too late."
"What do you mean?"
"She was already married, three years later after we separated."
I almost dropped my teacup. It was discourteous, but I wasn't able to hold myself. How could it happen? Sure, my master is an odd person but. But how could it happen? They have been together for years, probably even longer than when she met her husband.
"What did she tell you?"
"Apologized? Because she turned you down?"
"No," He sighs, his hands no longer holding the cup of tea and the bread. "Because she said she wasn't able to wait."
That was how our conversation ended. There were too many things to think about that my ten-year-old self wasn't able to comprehend.
A week passes by and questions are still engraved in my head, wanting to be discovered. I rush to the music room, and as soon as I find him seated in front of the piano, I run towards him, my musical sheets tucked in the book I held in my hands.
"Master! Have you told her that you made a musical piece for her?"
He blinks several times; he seems taken aback, probably because I haven't dropped the topic yet?
"No," he simply says. "The song has been long discontinued until the bridge part. I didn't... know how to end it."
As what I've thought.
"If—!" I continue, my cheeks flaring red. "If you finish it, will you let her hear it?"
His shoulders slack, and he smiles at me anxiously. "For what is this, exactly?"
"For you!" I said. "And, as shameless as this might sound, for me, too!"
My fingers fumble on the edges of paper.
"Because a song..." I mumbles under my breath, the words gurgling in my throat, struggling to come out. "...needs a resolution."
There is no response from him.
"And that's how I can cross towards the world of music—through the bridge. You are my bridge to that world, Master. If you yourself can't find your own resolution, how could I?"
Finally, there is a response—a smile.
"You are peculiar, my son."
I sit beside him, my fingers on the ready on top of the KitKat and vanilla chocolate bars. I grin at Mr. Welson and said, "You are, too, Mr. Welson."
I closed my eyes and returned to where I sat, a few years later after Mr. Welson and I completed the piece. I fished out the yellowing musical sheet, my eyes darting to the last note on the staff.
After we finished the song, Mr. Welson delivered the musical score to his former mentor. She received it with a child in her arms, and when Mr. Welson went home, he told me how relived and refreshing it felt. He was able to escape from his cage.
He's not an eagle clawing on keys anymore; rather, he's simply a mentor who serves as the bridge—the connection, for people like me, to the world of music.