Lost and found (9)

The next Monday there was an unexpected rush of December sunshine that made the world look a much happier place than it actually was. Josh contemplated his alarm, wondering if he should have got up earlier to walk to the school, but his lazy body persuaded him about the rightness of his decision. Waking up before nine was already quite an accomplishment, and he was slightly proud of himself while he brushed his teeth and popped a slice of bread in the toaster. Sweeney was following his moves from the floor, with no apparent intentions of getting up.

-The previous walk, eh? Not even a whole Sunday was enough to make you forget it. That should have been a damn good lesson for both of us: you are no night owl and I am no guard of a night owl.

He spat into the sink and hurried to the kitchen to butter his toast. Coffee was already steaming in the pot and he drank quickly, burning his tongue.

-Great. Just great –he mumbled, pressing his aching tongue to his palate. –I always do this. How can I always do this?!

Ignoring Sweeney’s bark, he chose his clothes for the day, the usual pair of jeans and a checkered shirt, with a knitted vest his mom had given him a year before. He felt pleasantly old-fashioned in clothes that hopefully gave him a little more authority: he was to lead the group for the first time that day, after all! The thought of it, or maybe the sudden memory of a shock of red hair floating in the night wind made his stomach tighten. He poured some water into the dog’s bowl and stormed out of his flat.

By the time he entered the school building, he remembered he had forgotten some music sheets he had prepared the day before. It was too late now, so he walked into the tiny office that looked increasingly like the scene of a natural catastrophe.

-Yo, man. Good morning –Larry greeted him from behind a pile of stuff. He was actually sitting, somehow, though it wasn’t obvious on what exactly, and Josh grinned.

-Hi Larry. Everything cool?

-As always. The weekend was fab! Ada threw me a party, and before you ask, no, my birthday is in June. She just likes to pamper me, that’s all.

-And yet, you are thinking of strange girls who bring you coffee… –Josh winked at Larry, throwing his backpack down onto another pile of stuff.

-Yeah. It’s cos I need love, all the love in the world –Larry gave him a wide grin.

-Well, in that case, I love you Larry –Josh laughed, looking around, wondering if there was any way he could prepare for class in such a mess.

-Aw. You sweetheart –Larry extended his arms as if waiting for a hug, but Josh ignored his gesture. –What? You disconcerted by the chaos? My friend, know it from me: a genius is home in chaos. A genius find everything in chaos. Only the lesser people need their life organized.

-Then I must be the least of the lesser, because these days I feel completely at a loss if not everything’s in order around me –Josh bit his lip. –Which is funny. You should have seen my flat a week ago.

-Well, big changes in lifestyle do attract such changes –Larry nodded. –When I moved in with Ada, I stopped walking around in my underwear, and she gave up calling her friends over for parties and watching silly movies while eating marshmallows.

-I think I want my old life back –Josh replied quietly.

-We all do –Larry replied, pushing and heaving himself up from a crumpled cardboard box on which he had been seated. –But once in a situation, we need to make the best of it, you know? You got any plans for today’s class?

-Not really… I have never taught before. Anything. Unless I count a half hour of mock-teaching when I was in fourth grade. We were supposed to give a presentation of our least favourite professions, and that was mine –he added, grimacing before he chuckled. –Yeah. It’s bad.

-And I had never kissed anyone before Ada –Larry said, stepping closer to give Josh a pat on the arms. –There’s always a first time, right?

-Whatever. I think I want my second coffee now –Josh whined, wondering if drinking coffee at home, then at school would totally ruin his sleeping patterns.

-Good morning, everyone –he said, standing before his students, trying to locate each face and pair it with a voice, or a name, or anything that would make it easier for him to remember who, and when, and what. But no, this morning the class was nothing but a big grey lump. –In the light of the upcoming charity concert to be given before Christmas, I was thinking we should decide on a song that everyone knows, and everyone likes. –He looked over at Larry, who was sitting in his place now. Larry nodded and didn’t seem to mind in the least that there would be a song change. –Something simple, but moving. Christmas is all that, right? Fun, and love going round in circles. So… and, because I have never taught before, which fact I think you probably guessed by now… –there was a wave of subdued laughter, but the eyes looking at him were not malicious in the least, so he continued with renewed hopes -…and because I would like to actually know what I help you with, I wondered if we can chose a song from… from an album I just made. –He cleared his throat, blushing slightly, praying they would not notice. –I was thinking we could choose between Silent night or maybe… Little drummer boy, to keep it… simple…

-Not Silent night, please –someone moaned, and there was laughter.

-Okay. Alright, Silent night is out then –Josh nodded with a smile. –Yes, it is widely sung, but it is one of the nicest Christmas songs, though… yeah, I agree, I heard and sung it too much –he ended with a grimace. –What about the other one?

-I don’t think I know the second one, Josh, and I suspect I’m not alone with this –Larry interjected.

-Right… wow, you don’t know Little drummer boy, Larry? I think you must, once you hear it… well, I… I have the CD with me, so we could…

-Why don’t you sing it a capella for us? –Larry asked.

-That is another option, yes –Josh smiled bashfully, kicking himself for not foreseeing this. Well, such was life. –Okay. I’ll only sing the first verse, the rest of the song follows the same melody.

He wet his lips and started singing, not really putting too much effort into it, even trying to sound a little off, for their sakes. He knew his voice could intimidate people, and his aim was to make them want to sing, not to avoid it. Luckily, it was one of those songs that could get very intimate, and he sang in a subdued voice, looking at the faces to make eye contact.

He had been so nervous all morning that he only noticed Mila’s absence now. Where was she? Probably earning her living again on some corner…

Lyudmila ran across the street, almost got hit by a car, and was close to tripping on the front stairs when she stormed into the scholl building. Damn, damn, she did not want to be late, it was not nice for the teacher or the class, and she had decided to put an end to it, but… easier said, than done: the sunny morning was especially uplifting, and there was an abnormally large crowd listening to her music. She gathered almost fifty dollars in one morning, a record sum that made her heart beat happily.

She ran towards the classroom and her hand was on the handle to push the door in when she heard a voice resonate through the space and the wooden door that separated it from her, then reach her heart without effort, settling there like a tired bird after a long flight. Mila withheld her breath with difficulty, but she had to, to hear the voice more clearly. It was a voice that spoke of unseen things and unheard melodies, rich and generous, like velvet. It sent waves of pleasure and power to her limbs, and her hands that stopped hurting. She knew who the voice belonged to, deducting it logically, but she could not believe that Josh, silly, funny and clumsy Josh would own that voice. It was uncanny.

He stopped singing, and she was finally able to open the door without breaking the spell.

-Good morning… I’m sorry to be late again –she panted, slowly walking in, looking at Josh with a smile.

-No problem, good morning, Mila –he smiled back at her, almost sad that she wasn’t there to hear him sing… it was silly of him and he knew it. Childish. He held her glance for a moment too long before he turned back to the class. –Well? What do you think?

There was silence. They were focused on what they had heard, and none of them could really fathom the notion of them singing that song, which an angel had just sung to them in a way that was out of the world they knew.

-That was very beautiful, Joshua –old John said very slowly. –You have God’s gift, my son.

-Thank you –Josh smiled and leaned against the table, folding his hands on his chest. –I appreciate that, John –he said, happy he remembered a name. –But we’re here to find you guys a song. I think you could all sing this.

-No frickin’ way –someone from the back grunted, and they laughed. –What do you take us for? Pavarotti?

-Come on guys, it’s very easy –Josh smiled, taking the xeroxed lyrics from the table and starting to distribute them. –I’ll give you the lyrics and we should all try to sing the first verse together. Later, we’ll try to get the sopranos sing some additional words with the bridge, or the last verse. If that doesn’t work we’ll just stick to the original song, okay?

-Maybe Silent night would be better, after all…

Big laughter.

-Enough complaining, people –Josh laughed resolutely, sensing that he was expected to put his foot down. –We try, and then we complain. Deal? Right. So, I’ll start, you read the words, and whoever knows the melody, join in.

He cleared his throat and wanted to start again when he remembered something.

-Oh… and of course this may be too low for some of you. Just go on and start higher.

The class was over, and Larry was speaking to Josh while people were walking out. Josh nodded and waved at everyone, giving grateful smiles, trying to listen to Larry at the same time.

-You did well –Larry said simply, ending a longer sentence that he was certain Josh never heard.

-What? Oh. I don’t know… I did what I could –Josh shrugged, following John with his glance. The old man was walking with difficulty, but Lyudmila stepped to him and offered her arm. John accepted with a smile and they walked away slowly together.

-They ate from your hands. You did well –concluded Larry. –It also helped that your voice silenced them in the beginning…

-Oh gosh. I know… I’m not supposed to… teach with this voice, right? I don’t mean that it’s below me, no, I… it’s great, but… it’s hard to step back and give away knowledge that you might not even have –Josh tried to explain his thoughts that were not clear at all.

-I know what you mean –Larry nodded. –Of course you shouldn’t be here teaching, but this, my friend, was your own making.

-I know –Josh said darkly. –I wish I could forget… just for one day.

-That would be the worst thing to do.

-What? Forget what a prick I was and try to live a normal life?

-Every mistake is a new chapter, something that opens before us and shows us something else –Larry said. –Do you think taking some drugs is a big deal? Fuzzy hell, no. You were probably supposed to be caught to be sent here.

-What… kind of conspiracy theory are you developing in your head, Lar? –Josh laughed uncomfortably.

-I don’t know, you tell me. In any case, stop moping around and focus on the present. You’re here, you’re now, you’re you, teaching these people something.

Josh didn’t reply. He tried to grasp what Larry told him, wondering why he had a feeling that Larry was like Mila. They were so different, and yet…

-Hey, do you think John is okay? –he asked Larry eventualy, when they were closing the door to go back to their office.

-No, he definitely doesn’t look okay –Larry pondered.

-Does he have friends, anyone who could help him? Does he have family?

-Not sure about family, or friends for that matter, but that sweet girl is sure taking care of him, at least while in here –Larry said.

-I noticed… she’s very… special –Josh replied, choosing an adjective that was more safe, than actually describing her faithfully. She was so much more than that.

Larry chuckled under his breath, but when Josh turned to him, he seemed to not notice.

-You done for the day? –Larry asked.

-Yep.

-I’m not… any plans for later?

-Nope.

-In that case, I’ll ask Ada if she can give us dinner.

-What? No… I mean that’s very nice of you, but… on such short notice. I know mom never liked unexpected dinner guests…

-We always have leftovers –Larry smirked. –Don’t freak out, it’s not gonna be a royal twenty-course dinner. Just a friendly chat over some wine and grub, alright?

-Thank you very much, then –Josh smiled. –It’s very kind of you both.

-One more thank you and I’ll shove this pen down your throat. See you at around five when I finish here, is that good?

-Sure. Deal. I’ll be going then, and tha… uhm, see you at five.

(to be continued)

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