The bow dances along the strings of the violin without stopping even for a moment. The music that it creates echoes off the stone walls and returns, striking back again. Rapid and imperious, it seems to rise, fall and swirl around me, similar to the frothy waves during a storm ready to swallow everything in their path. Perhaps even me. Filled with anxiety and undisguised aggression, the melody cuts through the air, gaining strength with each passing second. Each subsequent sound is even more merciless than the one before. Each succeeding note burns.
I yank the bow away from the strings with a quick movement. When I put down the violin, the last notes are still echoing around me, as if laughing at my ineptitude. Frustrated, I lean against the desk, trying to calm down. Another day passes, and I'm still stuck in the same place. No matter how many times I try, I'm still not satisfied, the melody does not sound right, and the sounds do not harmonize with each other the way they should. There is still something lacking. I still keep missing something...
"I need a break ..." I mutter to myself, massaging my temple.
I take a deep breath, trying to estimate the hour in my mind. If I'm not mistaken, evening should be approaching. Among the townspeople hurrying home, one hooded figure will not draw anyone's attention...
Sighing heavily, I leave the desk in search of a coat.
- - - -X- - - -
It seems that I have guessed the hour correctly, as usual. The sun slowly sets, coloring the Parisian sky with crimson and purple, and the whispy clouds gliding over the city appear to be almost golden. Any other day, this view would probably enchant me. It is already late, but it will still be a long time before the first guests interested in today's performance appear. Aside from two random passers-by enjoying the last rays of the sun, and a little girl selling flowers, there is no one in front of the opera house.
I move forward, inhaling the cool autumn air. I have no specific goal - I just go ahead, not paying attention to my surroundings and listening to the regular rhythm of my steps, trying to forget about the chaos inside of me. The opera house is almost gone from my sight when I feel that someone is pulling at my sleeve. Acting instinctively, I instantly turn around with the intention of twisting the stranger's neck... and I freeze at the sight of the person in front of me.
The flower girl. She's nine, maybe ten years old. She is wearing a dark green dress with a floral pattern and a long, gray coat, which, although apparently made from high-quality materials, looks visibly worn down. In one hand, she holds a large wicker basket filled with a variety of flowers, and in the other, the reason for all my confusion – there, in her palm, lies my embroidered handkerchief. I was so distracted that I didn't even notice when it had fallen out. Such a trifle... most people woudn't even pay attention to it, and yet she ran after me to return it.
In my surprise, I can't move from the spot. Seeing this, the girl, without hesitation, comes even closer and places the handkerchief in my much larger hand, gently clenching my gloved fingers around it. She lifts her chin and looks at me, and her large, innocent eyes of an unusual, almost violet color, which I have never seen before, widen.
Where she stands now, the hood is no longer able to hide the white mask.
It runs through my mind that in a moment she will probably start screaming... But she amazes me again... On her delicate, bright face, instead of fear, only a smile appears. It is not cold or cruel like so many others that I have seen in my life. No... this smile is different - full of warmth and sincere sympathy. And I always thought that children would be the ones to fear me the most.
The girl reaches into her basket, and then to the handkerchief in my hand she adds the most beautiful of her flowers - a rose with blood-red petals. Then she turns on her heel and runs away. She doesn't even notice that the black ribbon, which she had tied her light brown curls with, slides off her hair and is carried away by the wind, landing right at my feet. However, before I have time to call to her, the girls is already gone.
I'm left alone on the empty street and I still can't quite believe what has just happened.
- - - -X- - - -
Later that day, I sit in the underground of the opera, inhaling the sweet scent of the flower. I can’t recall the existence of anyone who would have shown me so much kindness as this little, extraordinary girl, except perhaps Giry. On an impulse, I pull out from my pocket the ribbon that she had lost. For a moment, I slide the soft piece of cloth back and forth between my fingers, before finally tying it around the stem of a rose. Stroking its delicate, crimson petals, I cannot resist the feeling that this tiny gesture will be something I will not forget, something special ... perhaps some kind of symbol? I don't know, but something tells me that if I ever find myself in a similar situation and some other little girl appears in my life, a rose and a black ribbon will be the first thing I will think about.
I get up from the chair to once again pick up the violin. However, when I start to glide the bow over the strings, the music that surrounds me is completely different than before. This time the tune that comes out from them is sweet and gentle, full of a strange, and so far unknown to me, warmth...