The wooden floor had an almost velvety squeak, as it came from beneath her footsteps. Half-clothed, Siranoush sat down in the middle of the hall, breathed deeply and looked in silence through the semidarkness. There was nobody around. “Yet”, sighed inside her the young woman. The silence veiling her in such moments felt like a creamy coffee, dripping its strength and sweetness in her veins in slow-motion, helping her regain her rhythm and preparing her for what came next. Her gaze then slipped towards her own feet, more like guessing through the silky obscurity the scars, the relics of old pains, shadows of so many nights of sleeplessness and days of torture. Among all those there was only one scar whose origin she didn’t know. Madame had told her that she already had it on her leg when she had found her, feeble, hungry and curled up at the corner of a street, begging for the pity of passers-by. But no matter how much she had tried, the young girl hadn’t been able to discover in her past the reason to which she owed that first sign on her left thigh, looking strikingly enough like a tear. It seemed to be a birth mark, but there was nobody to clear that thing for her. And for the umpteenth time, while looking at it, on her lips bloomed a weird smile, somewhere at the border between heavenly and bitter, the kind of a smile that remains in your mind long after it was erased from the face in front of you, longer even after the very face in front of you became a shadow.
Once, defeated by curiosity, Siranoush had asked Madame why had she picked her from that end-October rain, and Madame, hiding the spark in her eyes, had told her, with a bit of sadism in her voice, that there was something so artistic about her misery, about the way she had twisted her legs along her body, trying to warm up, that in her mind sounded only one thought: “She must be mine!” So she headed slowly towards her, bent with maybe one drop of grace more than necessary in that situation, but enough that would capture the attention of the little orphan, caught her firmly by the chin, thus forcing her to raise her eyes towards her own face, and told her “You are coming with me.” And Siranoush, somewhat seduced by that appearance so painfully different than her world, had stood up and followed her. It was weird to look from a distance at that couple, the tall and filiform woman, so elegant, Frenchified to the marrow of her bones, holding her umbrella with an unmasked air of superiority, and the little girl, no older than seven, small, thin, poorly dressed and dirty, soaking wet because of the cold drizzle and with the tangled hair hanging on her back. They were so different one than the other, and yet there seemed to be something invisible that united them, something that couldn’t quite be named. While they walked away from that street corner, they had changed only a few words. The woman had asked her for her name. “Siranoush, Madame”, had answered with a feeble voice the girl. Did she have any family? “No, Madame.” Was she an orphan? “I don’t know, Madame.” To tell the truth, she didn’t even know if Siranoush was her real name, but that was how she was called by an old beggar, who gave her food from time to time, and the child, knowing kindness only from the hand of that woman, had called her “grandma” and accepted the unofficial baptism.
Madame had taken her at her place, she had had her washed, combed, cleanly dressed, she was given to eat and was taken to sleep in a room with a bed like the girl never remembered having. In the morning, when the maid had come to wake her up, she had found the girl curled in the corner of an armchair. Asked why she hadn’t slept in the bed, Siranoush replied that she had been ashamed and afraid. Madame let go a cold and low laughter and she told her that from that moment on she was going to live in her house, so she should behave consequently. Siranoush murmured only “I understand, Madame”, and sat shyly at the table. The following night, standing in front of the huge bed and impeccable linen, the child had a weird feeling, as if instead of going to sleep she was going to war, and the bed was the fortress that she had to conquer. She looked at it for a while, not knowing what sort of weapons she could use against that peak too white and lacy compared to the rags with to she had gotten used, and eventually she climbed in the middle of it and began to cry, holding in her arms a fluffy pillow. And there was so much honest suffering in her child tears, that the bed suddenly yielded to her, wrapping her warm and soft, as if telling her that she would always find her peace there, in its sheets smelling like flowers and lavender.
After several days in which she was given the time to accustom to the new home, the girl was presented with the reason why Madame had adopted her, under the form of a huge, empty hall, with mirrors on all walls and helping bars, with old hardwood flooring and with an even older piano in a corner – the ballet room in which, she found out later, Madame had been the teacher of some of the most talented ballerinas of the times. The girl was dressed in a ballet suit, especially made for her, and she had the first lesson in which Madame had the chance to congratulate herself again for the inspiration proved by adopting her. The child had an unusual, natural flexibility, and the closeness to music made her movements, otherwise fragile and elastic, to be endowed with an air of a particular elegance. And the fact that her talent made happy the one who took her out of the street urged Siranoush to try and rise at the height of this one’s expectations.
Time began to flow faster, while the ballet lessons became longer and harder. Mistakes were rougher punished, and Madame’s sights raised always higher. Even the piano’s music, which at first fascinated her, became, after a while, something common, and when her lesson had been canceled at some point because Tanja, the old piano accompanist, didn’t come for a reason, the girl had been ashamed by the happiness she felt.
Yes, sighed Siranoush, it got all worse. The bed, as soft as the first night, had more and more often the chance to feel on its sheets the tears of tiredness and frustration of the child, who had moments when she simply hated her talent, only to be torn by remorse in the next moment, and, returning to the ballet room, to caress the satin pointes that waited for her faithfully in the same corner. Like now.
Still looking at her legs, Siranoush thought that maybe, if Madame ever proved some humanness in all those years, she wouldn’t have suffered so much. “Yes, but maybe I wouldn’t have gotten so high either…”, she admitted in her heart, with the wisdom that only sour grapes give to you. Although thrilled by her wonderful discovery, there had never been pity in the woman’s gestures. Never tolerance. Never love. Once or twice she thought she caught the taste of some sort of gentleness in this one’s eyes, but it had quickly vanished in the voice always whipping her hearing with the working routines. „Plié…tendu…rond de jambe…fondu…battement…arabesque…” So Siranoush learned fast that, even if she had saved her from the streets, Madame was just as cold as the rain in which she had found her that day.
The only one who never ceased to smile, day after day, lesson after lesson, was the old Tanja, who, in the rare moments when Madame left them alone, didn’t waste the chance to play something else than the eternal working songs for ballet, usually popular dances on which the child pranced joyfully, forgetting about technique and positions and everything else. It was Tanja also who sneaked to her, from time to time, with a conspiracy smile, some candy, breaking thus the drastic food rules imposed by Madame and sweetening the efforts of the child. Those moments, playfully stolen, had been the girl’s salvation, and not just once her grateful embraces brought tears in the eyes of the old woman. Precisely because of that, the moment when Tanja died had been for Siranoush the moment when she felt lost for the second time in her life, seeing herself again small and frozen and abandoned on a street in the rain. She and the old pianist spent together only the time in the rehearsals, but it had been such a rich one that the void left by the woman’s death in the girl’s soul seemed absolute. Watched from a distance by the blank eyes of Madame, who had given her the news, Siranoush cried for long, caressing the piano keys that felt suddenly colder, realizing with a bit of horror that now she was left with nothing. Or almost nothing. So she had thrown herself in the ballet rehearsals with the same despair with which she had thrown herself in that white bed, years ago, not interested in anything else, and the ballet, feeling the pain in her soul, had opened in her gestured like a flower, feeding on her entire suffering. After a while, the pain tamed, while this second fortress yielded, one by one, its secrets to the girl, and Siranoush learned how to hide from the spectators’ eyes both the scars of her body and those of her soul. And even if the spectators adored her every time when she charmed with her unusual grace, the distance between their ecstasy and her soul became as big as the distance between her heart and the heart of Madame, the only fortress which she hadn’t conquered, but which she didn’t feel the need to conquer.
– Pardon, miss, but we must prepare the scene!
The raucous voice of the director of the theater pulled her out of the dreaming state, and the young woman nodded, stood up and went to her cabin. Not long after that, the same raucous voice announced, in the absolute silence of a now overcrowded hall, the exceptional presence on their scene of the international ballerina Siranoush ***, in a final show before the tour which was going to take her to several countries, and the appearance of the young woman under the light of spotlights happened in a cascade of applause, like always. From somewhere, in the dark, music began to flow, and Siranoush burst in the middle of the scene like a stream of beauty, warm and rich, to the utter delight of those in the room.
From the penumbra of the backstage, without the girl knowing, Madame watched her creation unfolding alive under the eyes of so many people, with a mixture of pride and cold pain in her eyes, and the sudden burn on her left thigh reminded her, for the umpteenth time, of the birth mark in shape of a tear that was there, hidden from all sight, proof of the fact that, once, in the past, in her chest there had been a heart.
© 2016 Liliana Negoi
originally written in Romanian