Always the quiet ones
I was in bed with the viola teacher for what turned out to be the last time, when the doorbell rang. We had moved on to talking about exam pieces, certain pupils of his, whether my daughter would need a new bow soon. He was smoking a cigarette; he would give up soon, he said, inhaling and closing his eyes, his rosin-smelling fingers laced into mine. A languid, hirsute, dishevelled man, he had a habit of leaving the ends of sentences unsaid, of always tripping over the bedroom rug, of walking about the house, barefoot, examining the photos on the walls with forensic zeal.
He had always been like that, even as a child. Intently studying the glistening wings of grasshoppers, stroking their iridescent plane, up and down, down and up, until his clumsy pressure would result in the ooze of brown sap. He had never meant it to happen. Inevitably it always did.
He was never quite comfortable around people, especially girls. His parents had sent him to an all boys school and there he became the grasshopper, battered and bruised, cleverly disguised as an over-enthusiastic tussle. All boys had them, they would say. It was part of the development process. Nothing to worry about. It was easier to believe them.
We had been friends for a long time, his mother and I. She had always been racked with guilt for sending him away. It wasn’t her idea. Her husband wanted him to follow his path. To the letter. She paid for it by numbing herself with the wines of the world, the pinot noir, the semillon, the viognier. She knew them all, as if they were long-lost bed fellows, tumbling through sheets of first sip euphoria muddled with day after hangovers.
She blamed herself when he was arrested for indecent assault. His victim had had too much to drink. Passed out on a stained sofa at one of those high society night clubs that promises Native escapism and hedonism. He was with a group of male savages, celebrating that month’s top results. Congratulating each other on putting the firm first; their upcoming wedding, their child’s parent teacher meeting, the visit to their dying grandmother, coming a paltry second. High-five to binary numbers, low-five to binary ties.
She was barely conscious when he apparently tried it on with her. In plain sight. Lying there on the sofa. Surrounded by potential saviours. Too busy knocking back flaming sambucas, forcing each other to do body shots. All eyes were on them but they all turned a blind eye.
In the end, it was her word against his. He had a close escape. She hadn’t. She would never forget that night. To him, it would become a fleeting memory. Something that would surface when things were going wrong. He had learnt to push it down again, into the dark vaults of his soul where it would roam with the other ghostly spirits of extinguished vermin. He had learnt to not let it affect him. To continue to be a citizen of the urban rat race, until the next time. There always was a next time.
I had started my Projects around the same time as my daughter stopped needing me. Her intense grip had loosened and in place was a confidence that brought an ache to my heart. I had done a good job and I should have been proud of myself but instead all I could feel was a weeping wound. Some days I would just sob, at the sight of a new born baby, the musings of a tragic play, reading a good will sentiment in the local paper. It was not like me. I was stronger than this. It needed fixing.
I met the Commander as I was learning meditation. I thought it would calm my mind and in turn, my soul. He nodded as if he understood, as if I was speaking words so wise that they had never been uttered before. In his presence I was Einstein, I was Beethoven, I was Spielberg. He said he saw something special in me. Something that had been buried, lost even. I was feeling excitement that I once felt as a child, that moment when anything seemed possible. When hope was still ahead of you and all you had to do was go and grasp it. He asked me if I wanted to put my gift to use. To right the wrongs of this world. It felt like the most natural thing to do to say yes. It was then that he offered me my first Project.
So I started a relationship with the viola teacher, before the assault, before he became the man he was to become, just as he was coming out of the cocoons of the tainted dormitories. The Commander told me that he needed the loving arms and understanding of an older woman, someone who would love him for who he was and to teach him how to be. To stop him going down the wrong path. I showed him how to treat the female body, inside and out and gave in to his throes of passion. I yielded, I controlled, I taught, I learnt.
I looked him up again when time had aged him and although he never went further than dishevelled, there was a kindness in his heart that had never been there before. I watched him as he lovingly taught my daughter the viola and smiled to myself as his eyes lit up when he spoke of his mother. He didn’t know it but he had needed me, and I had needed him.
So it was with a heavy heart that I put on my dressing gown to answer the doorbell. It was time to say goodbye and let him go. My job was done. Parting is such sweet sorrow, Juliet once said. I had never quite understood her but in that one moment, it was clear. It was a taste in the mouth, a new flavour that I would come to experience over and over again.
I knew the Commander would be standing there, with a little black envelope, containing cards of potential Projects, as I opened the door. He would hand them to me like he did those many moons ago and I would have to choose. Just like I did with the viola teacher.