Cecilia’s Song

Mark hurried to catch his bus that would take him to his college in the middle of Cardiff.

Early autumn winds had blown leaves prematurely from the trees in mid-September and the streets were splashed with gold from the frequent sun-showers that plagued the city and its inhabitants throughout the month. Underfoot was treacherous and the lack of care in his attempt to catch one of the infrequent buses that collected passengers from Roath, caused a few nervous moments. He was anxious about his first week as a music student at the Music College. Being thrown into the world of this prestigious academy had caused a few apprehensive moments.

After having studied music to a high standard at school, he was now going to be faced with students who had been regarded as having the skills to impress with their confidence and ability to perform on a par with him. They were regarded as the elite, just as he had been at home. In his heart of hearts he knew that he was one of the lucky ones and out there in the less privileged world there were others who, although natural musicians, had not received the support, or had been distracted by different influences at the wrong time. Under his arm he clutched his precious flute; one that had been bought for him on the strength that he had been selected for the National Youth Orchestra. He anticipated he would now be meeting many of his fellow musicians from this experience; those who’d been selected to study here.

As he travelled in to the centre he gazed out through the rain splashed window of the bus that would be his means of transport for the next three years, spotting people walking head down, some with shopping bags, others with rucksacks, others pushing prams; each one on a journey somewhere for some very important purpose. He looked around him to try to spot a familiar face, someone with an instrument who may be making the same journey and alighting at the same stop. He knew where to leave the bus as he’d tested the route on the Saturday before, after his parents had left for home; having helped him move with all the possessions he would need for the next month in his new flat; he was sharing with other students in various establishments of higher education in the capital city. Unable to recognise anyone likely to be able to accompany him in through the entrance he concentrated once more upon the scene outside. At one bus stop he spotted a young lady waiting, queuing up to take the bus, possibly to town, in her hand she held a guitar case. She paid the driver and found a seat behind Mark; it was unoccupied and she was able to place her guitar alongside her until the bus filled. Mark turned to look at her but she didn’t acknowledge him in return and stared blank faced towards the front. It gradually filled and the girl squashed her guitar case onto her lap to allow a fellow passenger room to sit on the outside seat.

The bus reached Mark’s destination, and after excusing himself to his fellow passenger by his side to move out into the aisle, he walked towards the front to leave. He sensed the girl with the guitar making her way towards the front to follow him. As she stepped onto the pavement she slipped on the dead leafed surface, landing at Mark’s feet. He helped her up, making sure she was steady, and picked up her guitar which fortunately was in a hard case for protection. The bus pulled off and continued to transport the other passengers to their important destinations.

“You alright, this rain’s a nuisance isn’t it?”

“Yes thanks, I’m desperate for some fine and dry weather especially with winter looming!”

“You going in?” he pointed towards the entrance on the opposite side.

“No I don’t go there; thank you for your help!” She crossed the road with him but walked towards the city centre.

Mark stared after her, regretting that she was not a fellow student: she looked about the same age and had the most serene and innocent face he’d seen since his childhood. He continued looking at her until she had disappeared; and finally he made his way alone through the entrance towards the reception area to complete any registration documents needed before commencing his studies. He was directed to the department in which he was to study where he saw several other students waiting, some looking nervous, some very confident, determined to be noticed, ready to make their mark. A variety of different instruments were being displayed by their owners; Mark clutched his flute case under his arm, only leaving it on a table while he took off his coat. He sat next to another student still holding on to his violin case and introduced himself.

The head of department walked into the room and indicated which students would be assigned to which tutors. These they met that morning before breaking for lunch taken in the refectory. Mark met his new found acquaintance and two female students; both of whom appeared equally as reserved in their approach to the new surroundings in the initial meeting and had obviously gelled as they had both been assigned to the same instrument tutor, each being reed players.

During the lunch break the four chatted comfortably, each describing their past experiences, where they had played and with whom; however they discovered that they lived in different parts of Cardiff, consequently were unable to travel together on their return to their respective flats and lodgings.

At two thirty Mark made his way out of the college and into town; an image of the girl with the guitar still in his head. He reached the Castle Arcade, opposite the castle gate and heard a guitar being played from deep within the alley-way. The acoustics created by the building’s design ensured that the sound was being amplified effectively. Suddenly a voice joined the guitar, a voice like no other he’d heard; a pure voice of innocence and beauty, with notes and phrases creating images in parallel with the lyrics being sung; spiritual yet secular in content. Lyrics being sung in a voice so haunting and hypnotic that Mark stopped in his tracks. He spotted her; she was looking straight at him, singing as though the words were being directed at him. He found he couldn’t move and yet he was being drawn emotionally towards this angel. The song finished, and he was now able to move. It appeared as if he was the only one to react to her as all the shoppers were hurrying by, taking no notice.

“Hello, that was beautiful, let me put something in your case,” he pulled a 50p. coin from his pocket, it was all the change he had and he couldn’t afford to place a ten pound note, as it was all he had in his wallet. He felt embarrassed.

“Thank you, I’m just finishing here, I have to move on.” She didn’t appear to have any money apart from his 50 pence in her case; he didn’t wish to appear patronising so he said.

“Would you like a cup of coffee?” he knew of some cheap cafes in the arcades from his trip to the centre on Saturday.

“That would be nice, but only if you have the time.” “Not a problem, we musicians have to stick together”. “Oh, I’m not a real musician, I’m self-taught! You’re at the college aren’t you? I saw you at the bus-

stop this morning. What’s it like?”

“First morning, you know, it was OK; some nice people, some show-offs, a bit like life!” “Your name’s Mark isn’t it?” He looked surprised that she should know. “And yours?” “Cecilia.”

They walked towards the end of the arcade and found a small café. Sitting near the window Mark asked,

“Coffee? Do you fancy a cake?” She nodded and smiled. He went to the counter and bought the refreshments. This was much cheaper than the trendy chains that were springing up all over the city, threatening to close the small cafes and coffee shops that had been in existence for years.

“Do you write your own material? I didn’t recognise the song you were singing.” “Yes, sometimes it’s difficult, and sometimes it just flows, words and music.” “Have you got any written down?” “Words, but I don’t read music, so I can’t write it, but I do remember; people used to say I had a good

ear for it.” “That song you sang just now, do you have the music for that in your head?” “Yes,” she replied. “Can you play it for me again?” “When?” “This afternoon.” “You can’t come back to my place!” She added sharply. “My place then.” “No! I can’t do that!” “We could go over to Bute Park, it’s not far, and it’s quiet. I’ll carry your guitar.” “I must go home now; can I borrow some money for the bus?” He searched his pocket and found a

couple of pounds, change from the coffee and cake purchase. “I’ll come with you, I’m going that way.”

Together they walked towards the bus stop; Mark bought two tickets when the bus arrived and they sat together at the back. As they travelled, Cecilia hummed the tune quietly, Mark listened intently. He had a good memory and was able to make out the structure and form of the tune. Suddenly she stood and pushed the bell for the driver to stop at the next bus-stop.

“Thank you for the coffee, cake and company Marcus, you’re not all bad.” She walked forward and left the bus without looking back. Mark was dumfounded by her comment, “Marcus, you’re not all bad.” Who was Marcus? She’d mistaken his name; he thought she had known it without an introduction.

When he arrived back at his flat he took out some manuscript paper and began jotting down what he could remember of the tune. He remembered the first sixteen bars as Cecilia had hummed them, and bit by bit the tune came back to him. He couldn’t remember the words but he knew that Cecilia had written those. When he’d see her again he’d show her the music.

He thought about the melody and played it on his flute; it was enchanting. He decided to write an arrangement for violin and flute so he could take it into college and hopefully develop it as an ensemble piece. His enthusiasm was running away with him. He also looked forward to seeing Cecilia again so he could possibly play with her as she busked. Each day he caught the bus into college, expecting to see her, but there was no sign. There was no sign of her busking anywhere in Cardiff; he searched at every opportunity. He even searched the streets in the area he had first seen her; asking passers-by if they knew or had seen a girl carrying a guitar recently, but no-one had.

October passed and there was no sign of her; she seemed to have vanished. He’d desperately wanted to see her again just so he could show her his manuscript and play the different parts he’d arranged; so he could hear her voice again. It was as if it had been a dream.

He carried on working on Cecilia’s music and invited his new found friends at the college to join him to play the new composition which could be presented to the other students later in the term. By mid-November they were ready; Mark approached the tutor and explained that he and his friends had been preparing a new piece and wished to play it to him. The tutor explained he would be able to listen the following week; it was an unusual collection of instruments to play as an ensemble, but however, listen he did.

Mark counted the beat to begin, and they began playing. The tutor looked on almost open mouthed at the beauty of the piece. The four had obviously rehearsed well enough to entwine the melodies and harmonies in such an effective manner that the unusual combination of instruments did not seem out of place with each other.

“That was an exceptionally clever bit of playing; where did you get that piece from? I’ve not heard it before; one of your own compositions?”

“No.” answered Mark, and he related the whole story of his meeting with Cecilia, and how she seemed to have disappeared into thin air after her final farewell on the bus.

“Cecilia, you say; do you know today’s date?” “It’s the twenty second of November.” “St. Cecilia’s Day; it seems she has forgiven you!” “What do you mean?”

“St Cecilia is the patron saint of musicians, put to death during the reign of Marcus Aurelius the Roman emperor. She was a Christian, he a Stoic, their philosophies in conflict in those turbulent times. Yes, she has forgiven you Mark!”

 

Written by: John Roach

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John Roach

I am a retired headteacher having had an interest in music (anything from rock to opera with folk, jazz and blues thrown into the mix) from an early age. I play several string instruments, the guitar being my favourite which I teach. I still perform with local opera and drama groups and play in a rock band called 'Filthy Lucre'. Once I retired from my full time post I found the time to write short stories and plays having written several for my pupils to enact in school concerts. I am currently writing my second novel hoping one day to be published. I want to travel through life at a pace which will leave my body happily spent before my demise. We're off island hopping in the Dodecanese this summer, and Cambodia awaits us next year.

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