What Robert remembered most clearly was the forlorn look of hope mingled with a profound loneliness he could never begin to fully comprehend; not at his age.
This client, given the code name “Mr. Bach,” was not as old as he appeared, which was Robert’s first surprise. The man’s face gave an impression of profound tiredness – or at least that is how Robert recalled things – that the man simply looked exhausted. It was obvious to anyone who paid any attention that Mr. Bach had gone through a great deal of suffering in a short amount of time.
Mr. Bach had hair the color of asphalt when wet from rain. It was peppered with flecks of grey that gathered in noticeable bunches at his temples. His complexion was sepia in hue, a sort of soft shade of brown. His nose, long and lean, with a prominent protrusion suggested a heritage of Middle Eastern descent. Tall and lean, Mr. Bach walked in with an air of authority that unwittingly commanded respect without fear in all three of the teens. His eyes, deep and heavy-lidded, were a turbulent storm grey in color and lined with thick dark lashes.
Feeling her face flush, Delwin found herself smitten by him. He was handsome, she thought, and her face flared with heat as a blush overcame her. It was the first time she had described any male as truly handsome in the sort a way a woman finds a distinguished man. Her sixteen year old heart fluttered at the thought. Valiantly, she fought hard to not let her emotions show, but she could still feel Jhett’s eyes, knowingly reading her like a book. He would mock her relentlessly later, as younger brothers always do.
The tiny make-shift conference room was just large enough for the four individuals. Mr. Bach’s adult frame seemed to fill the entire doorway. Despite his intimidating appearance, the man still gave off an air of defeat that the three could not help picking up on. In better days, they were sure he was a force to be reckoned with, but in the moment he appeared as nothing more than an exposed, desperate soul seeking answers. Jhett had already assumed his position standing beside the right arm of the client’s chair. Instinctively, the twelve year old picked up on the man’s vulnerability, and with a dignified, natural grace, unexpected for someone his age, he gestured for Mr. Bach to take a seat.
Per his habit, Robert brooded in his usual corner. His soft brown hair fell lazily over his hazel eyes, which were weighed down by deep, half-moon shadows underneath them. A clear indicator that, once again, he had had a restless night.
Delwin picking up on this gazed thoughtfully at him, musing. ‘Had the nightmares began again?’ She wondered as she sat at her desk in the center of the office, opposite the client. She smiled warmly, invitingly, allowing her thoughts to focus on the customer. She would attend to Robert later in private. Mirroring her brother’s actions, she too gestured for Mr. Bach to join them.
“We are honored that you have decided to reach out to us. Please, sir, take a seat,” Mr. Bach seemed to relax at the sound of Delwin’s voice, much to Robert’s discomfort. The young man, on the verge of his eighteenth birthday, adjusted his posture, standing taller and straighter, briefly pulling Delwin’s attention. She cleared her throat and continued, “Here there is no judgement. This is a safe place for all our clients.” her eyes fell to Jhett, then Robert, “We are all here to help you in this endeavor.”
Mr. Bach met her greeting with a gentle grin, and nodded as he pulled his chair up to the desk and sat down. “My name is Delwin, Delwin Gibson. Beside you is my younger brother, Jhett. Behind you by the doorway is Robert Bailey – we like to call him Robbie.”
“Don’t say that,” Robert grumbled under his breath.
Delwin chuckled softly, “Please don’t mind him. He’s our resident brooding artist,” she continued jokingly, giving Robert a knowing look that told him to stand down. He softened his stance ever so slightly in response.
She cleared her throat, “Now, how can we best help you today?”
Mr. Bach sat quietly for a moment, his breathing becoming slightly haggard but remained soft. He seemed to be composing his thoughts. It was obvious that he was attempting find a place to begin his tale. This was not new, there had been a number of clients who had come only to spend the first five or ten minutes of their meeting with the three teens in pure silence. To do what they were doing and to come in asking for what these clients were seeking took a certain amount of hope and faith that most people simply could not fathom. Composure was sometimes needed before speaking.
“Your Uncle,” he began, “Carlisle, he is a colleague of mine at the college. He is the one that,” Mr. Bach’s words seem to trail off, as if it was still much too difficult for him to say out loud. He cleared his throat again, and Jhett moved to the cooler to provide the man with a cup of water. “You see I am a cellist by profession, but I also teach musical theory classes. Though… I am sure you didn’t need to know that.” He gave a soft nervous chuckle as he allowed his eyes to scan the room.
Delwin and Jhett smiled reassuringly, “Feel free to share any details you want,” encouraged Jhett.
Mr. Bach nodded gratefully, and continued on, “She only knew her mother for less than two years,” He smiled, “My daughter…”
Mr. Bach had brought with him a keepsake box, adorned with colored-glass shaped to look like a bejeweled peacock. Its feathers of emerald tipped with amethyst, and a deep azure blue breast. He placed the box on the desk with the delicacy of a mother putting her child to rest. Removing the intricately designed lid, he revealed the contents to the teens’ waiting eyes.
“She liked birds…,” the gentleman stated in a hush, defeated tone. “My wife was an exceptional woman. A singer and songwriter, it was music that brought us together.” He smiled fondly to himself, lost in his own memories. “And when we were told she was pregnant, well, there were no words to describe how absolutely elated we were.”
The first item he had taken from the box was a yellowed scrap of lace. Its intricate weave maintained most of its integrity, but the pristine white it had once been had long faded from being consistently handled. He ran his callused fingertips across the delicate material, then placed it beside the box.
“Towards the end of the pregnancy, she took a turn for the worst. The baby was in danger, and my wife was put on constant bed rest for her last trimester. But it was well worth the wait, because once she got here, we were overwhelmed by our joy.” He looked up, and for the first time since he had begun his story, he made eye contact with Delwin. His intense gaze held an unfathomably deep sorrow. Those grey eyes of his swirled and stirred like a monsoon, and complimented the crescent bags beneath his eyes. It was then they could all see it, the utter lack of sleep, of rest, of peace of mind. He was truly a broken man.
By this time, he had pulled out several other items from the keepsake box and lined them up in a neat row across the desk: a tarnished gold owl pendant, a feather brown and spotted – possibly a sparrow’s feather, and a silver bracelet adorned with a single charm of a blue jay’s egg made of turquoise hanging from it.
The silence in room lingered heavily, sorrowfully around them, as Mr. Bach gazed at the items on the table. The teens could sense that in this way a small vigil was being held, and out of respect they allowed the grieving man to mourn his loss among them. Instinctively, Delwin reached out a supportive hand across the table. Her slender fingers and petite palm appeared particularly tiny as it laid over his large hands. Jhett provided the gentleman with a box of tissues. Robert continued to watch on, intensely.
When he finally spoke again, the break in the silence had nearly startled them. “We were floored, when it was discovered that she was mute, a birth defect with her vocal cords,” He paused, “Can you imagine? The daughter of a musician and singer, unable to speak?” All three teens shook their heads as this revelation was revealed to them. “But still, she was perfect. Our Tzipporah was perfect. Her mother said that what mattered most was that the music could reach her heart. My wife had this amazing ability to see the light in everything.” Taking the tissue box gratefully, Mr. Bach allowed his hands to linger in the warm and innocent sympathy Delwin extended to him.
His story continued, “My wife passed from complications brought on by pneumonia. You see, after she had our daughter, her body just never seemed to heal completely. She was so much weaker than she had been in the early days.” He lifted the feather from desk and held it up eyeing it carefully, as if he had noticed it for the first time. “She had caught it while walking home from a sign language class, caught in the rain. We thought it was just a cough at first.” Here his voice trailed off, as he twirled the feather between his thumb and index finger.
A small, weak smile crossed his face, “She loved birds,” he seemed to whisper more to himself than the others.
It was here that Jhett piped in, “Is that why you are here, sir? To make contact with your wife?” He asked, trying to pull their client back into the present with them.
The sound of the boy’s voice seemed to break Mr. Bach from his reverie, “My… my wife?” He asked, seemingly confused.
As is the way of life, Mr. Bach’s trials were not at an end. In what felt like the blink of an eye, the happy family of three had become a shadow of its former self. Left in its place was a heartbroken cellist, and his frail, mute daughter. The song from their lives permanently at an end. To add to his heartbreak, was now the added responsibility of raising his daughter alone. It was he who now attended the sign language classes regularly. It was he who would have to help his vulnerable little girl negotiate the harsh existence she would have to encounter. And as Tzipporah grew, it was he who had to seek out the best schools and programs to help support her in life.
Nevertheless, he was still a man grieving for the loss of his wife, best friend, and soul mate. Without her there to put a light and positivity on the hardships, a part of him had become lost in anger and bitterness. Yet, this was not for himself, and his loss, but for his daughter, who he felt had been cheated in life.
However, in time, his little girl began to display a strength and resiliency that begged the widower to not lament for her, but to rejoice with her. Tzipporah had managed to slowly become the light he thought he would never find again. He did what he knew best, and continued to play his cello, and she had grown to love the feel of its gentle hum resonate from deep within her chest and surround her every being. Their best afternoons had been spent in the warm haze of a lazy summer sun, sitting on the whitewashed deck of their home. He playing a favorite piece or rehearsing for an upcoming performance, while little Tzipporah would play about the backyard, listening to her father.
Mr. Bach turned to face Jhett addressing him, “No. I’m… I’m not here to speak to my wife.” He answered, “I’m here for my daughter…,” and as he said this, tears began to well up in his eyes, “…for my little Tzipporah.”
To be continued…
Note: “See, Hear, Speak” is an original fiction written by A. Reneé, 2015.