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611

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“I’ve always hated Valentine’s Day. First, because it’s an English invention and I hate the English. And second, because recently it’s become a Halloween-style sort of thing, just a commercial racket. 
And then, what’s the point of pledging your love yet again when you’re really in love? What’s the point, eh? In any case, I don’t believe in love myself. Everybody knows it never lasts. Swept away by torrid passion one minute and then it’s all over the next. Soon you can’t stand each other anymore, weariness sets in, then irritation and finally resentment. You’ve compromised on so many things in order to live together... So pretending, just for one day in the year, that you still love each other when in fact all you’re dreaming of is that life might intervene to get rid of your other half, accidentally as it were, because you’re not brave enough to do it yourself, it’s quite ridiculous! Giving each other red flowers to express a passion that long ago ran its course and a gift you bought at the last minute because, well, sometimes you just forget the other person, it’s pathetic. Really, Valentine’s Day, it’s mad!” 
So said Fortunat. 
Fortunat was like a big bear. First physically, he was tall and broad but full of grace and poise when he moved that body weighing close to two hundred and sixty pounds. But more than anything he was like a bear because he was reclusive, grumpy, unpredictable, bad-tempered, and not very communicative. His rage was well-known among his family and in his neighborhood. Seeing his beard trembling and his eyes darkening was enough to put everyone around him on high alert. He would be overcome with anger, for no obvious reason, and then anyone finding themselves in the path of that great beast really had to watch out! 
Yet he had an extraordinary gift. His exceptionally skilful hands and his curious, inventive mind produced cellos so perfect that people fought to procure one. His art was so sought after that the greatest musicians sometimes had to wait several years to touch these magnificent instruments and hear them resonate. His passion for his profession outweighed everything else and, he used to say, gave him a reason to live. What he did not admit was that he often suffered from a lack of love in his life. There was nobody in his life to look at him, touch him, talk to him, or admire his work. Nobody. He had had a few affairs, some passionate, but never known true love. He had given up looking for it. And he felt so alone! So his hands caressed his precious instruments, his fingers caressing the neck and curves and following the scroll he had carved, sliding over the sound holes, lovingly fondling the back and waist and the pegs of ebony or rosewood, seeking the soft smoothness of the heel, then settling on the soundboard as on the stomach of a warm, inviting woman. And when he played, he felt their souls trembling and their melancholy voices singing for him. 
One night, on the evening of Valentine’s Day, he happened to not close the shutters or the front door of his home at 13 Rue de la Baraka. He had never done that before.
That evening Olga pushed open Fortunat’s door. She collapsed in the doorway from starvation, exhaustion and despair. For several months Olga had been living - or rather surviving- in the street. She had lost everything in less than a week, her job, her apartment, her partner who had run off with the small amount of money she had and her faith in love. Since then she had trailed about the city from one district to another, looking for the place with the most generous passers-by. Chance had led her to the area where Fortunat lived, a modest working-class area where the little houses had looked more welcoming than the swanky apartments in the city center. Chance also teased her by getting her lost in the little streets, so lost that she could no longer find the wide avenue she had taken to get there. 
As she passed 13 Rue de la Baraka for the umpteenth time, she heard the deep, sweet voice of the cello. It was so beautiful and so overwhelming that she pushed open the door. That was when she fell, all in a heap, her face to the ground, her body like an uprooted tree. 
Her fall made such a noise that Fortunat heard it and, gently setting down his instrument, he got up, went into the hall and found the unconscious Olga. 
Later, she came around to find herself lying on an old sofa with a large bearded man with wild hair looking at her anxiously. She pointed at the cello lying next to him. 
“What’s that?” 
“Well, it’s a cello, of course.” 
“Chance did not make me a musician. I know nothing about music. But I heard it. It’s so beautiful.” 
“Would you like me to play for you?”
“Please.”
Fortunat took the magnificent object between his thighs and laid the bow against the strings. In the silence preceding the Prelude to Bach’s Cello Suite no.1 in G Major, there was a strange quivering. Then he played, watching her as he did so, and saw the tears run down her thin, dirty face, and the total concentration of her whole being. Then he looked at that woman abandoning herself totally to the music his fingers were creating, and he found her very beautiful. And she saw a serene mythical giant creating a world full of nuance. 
Fortunat’s beard trembled and his eyes lit up. Olga’s heart relaxed and a warmth spread thoughout her whole body.

Translated by Wendy Cross

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