The old man sat in the corner of a nursing home. He often felt forgotten. The rocking chair he sat in was still. The violin case on his lap was closed. Its leather covering was worn with age. His wrinkled hand gently rubbed the weathered case making small circles as his calloused fingers caressed each crack. His eyes moved to the young man sitting in a chair facing him. He remembered when he was young. It didn’t seem so long ago. His eyes crinkled as he smiled. “I still have all my teeth,” he said.
The young man chuckled. “I do too.” He placed a small laptop on his knee. He had come to interview the old man after hearing of his legendary life. He licked his lips and reached for a bottle of water near his foot. He wondered to himself why he was so nervous. It was just an interview for his college paper. After taking a drink, he timidly asked his first question.
“They say you have travelled the world using different names, what is your real name?”
“My real name?” The old man stared down at the violin case. “I don’t know if I remember my real name. The last name I used was Jack Aspen, might be my real name. Johan Mozart has been one of my names. Paul Bach was another.”
“Why so many names?” the young man asked.
“Did I tell you I started playing when I was three? I come from a family of musicians. My father was a violinist. My mother played piano. Oh, how I loved to hear her play.” He closed his eyes and began to sway to music no one else could hear.
“But why so many names?”
“Names? Because I have been many people,” he answered. “I was a prodigy. That’s what they said. I’ll tell you a secret.” He leaned forward just a little. The rockers on the chair squeaked with a musical sound as he did so. “It’s the violin. Anyone who owns it becomes a gifted violinist.” He leaned back and as he did the rocker played its notes backwards. “I became a part of the instrument and it plays through me.” He rubbed the case.
The young man entered the old man's words quickly into the small computer in his lap. He thought the old man a bit eccentric, crazy perhaps, but his every word was going into the story. “Where were you born?”
“The first time I remember was in Florence and then Paris. New York City comes to mind.”
“You were born three times?” The young man laughed.
The old man looked at him sternly. “You find that hard to believe.” He then chuckled. “I am one hundred and twenty five years old. I have lived many lives is liken to saying I was born three times.” He gave a soft smile as if the memories were pleasing. “I was born three times,” he repeated. “Not physical births, but musical births.” He opened the violin case. “Care to hear a song?”
“Maybe in few moments, but I would like to hear more about your life.”
The old man closed the case with disappointment creasing his wrinkled face. “My birth place was Florence, Italy. My true name was Giovanni Fiaccola.” He laughed. “Yes, yes, that is my real name.” He gazed at the young man with tear filled eyes. “My mother’s name was Chiara. It means as clear as light. My mother was a beautiful woman. She was my first love.” He smiled. “My father’s name was Matteo meaning he who is a gift from the Lord. He was a handsome man. I look like him.” He struck a pose with his head turned and his nose in the air displaying his profile.
The corners of the young man’s mouth quirked up into a pleasant smile. “Yes, sir, you are very handsome.” The young man wasn’t lying.
“When I was three, my father caught me with his violin.” Eyes on the case, he continued, “this violin. He wasn’t angry but amazed as he watched my tiny fingers pluck the strings. It was much too big for me, I was a small boy, but Father lifted me up and showed me how to hold it and gave me the bow. My father was amazed at how well I played. There was no song. I just played. He began to give me formal lessons. I became known throughout the city. My name spread across Italy. By nineteen my name was crossing the borders of Europe.
At the age of twenty the first war of the world broke out. Italy became involved a year later. I was twenty-one and had no passion for war, but found myself caught up along with my father to fight. When I was united with Mother a few years later, I learned my father was dead. The war we wanted no part of killed him. I vowed on that day, I would never fight again.
My mother, God bless her, died a year later and I became a twenty-two year old orphan. Without any family members to console me or take me in, I left Italy. I used my violin to raise money as I traveled Europe. When I arrived in France, I changed my name to Johan Mozart.”
“Ah France, I fell in love with Paris.” He began to rock and the chair echoed his words as he spoke. “I fell in love in Paris. Her name was Esme. It means beloved. Her hair was golden as the sun and her eyes like two green emeralds. I loved looking into her eyes as we made love. I would watch them grow darker as she climaxed.” An embarrassed grin came to his face. “Sorry, but when I think of Esme, I can’t help but think of the passion.”
“What happened to her?”
“Her father didn’t approve of our relationship.” His brows creased together across his face. “He threatened my life.” A deep sigh rose from deep in his chest and he exhaled it slowly. “I never saw her again.” His hand rubbed the case. “I wrote a song for her.”
The young man quietly waited for him to continue his story.
“There were others. I traveled through Europe. I played for kings, dignitaries and in orchestras. I changed my name a lot and became different men. I didn’t like fame. I would hide myself and live with rich women. Yes, I was a gigolo.” His eyes narrowed. “I am not proud of my life. There is much I would change, if I could.”
“What year did you come to New York?”
“I was forty-five when the Second World War broke out, I was living in Greece. I had been living with a woman for ten years. Her name was Thea. It means goddess. I loved her, I suppose, but mostly I loved the security she provided. It may have been wrong of me, but I refused to marry her. We had children together.” Sadness caressed his worn old face. “I loved my children. There were four, three girls and a boy.” He choked back his tears. “When the news of war reached my ears, I left her. I didn’t even say good-bye. It was before dawn when I slipped out of her arms. I took what I needed and my violin and never turned back.”
“Wow,” the young man said. “Where did you go next?”
“I found myself in New York City. Ah, that city is the most amazing place I have ever lived. No one knew me and I lost myself in her busy streets and people. I played on the streets for awhile until one day I was discovered and offered a job in the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. I had many solos, but I kept my true talent hidden. I didn’t want to be famous.”
“How long did you play with them?”
“I was seventy when I finally retired. I led a solitary life filled with lovers, but no love. I lived below my means and saved every penny I could.” He looked about the room they were sitting in. Old men and women sat about them. Some were watching television; some were at a table playing dominos. Others were snoring quietly as they napped. “And here I am. No family. No friends.” His eyes fell upon the young man. They seemed to stare into his soul. “I have a question for you. How did you come to know of me? Why this interview?”
“Well, my grandfather knew you. I was speaking to him the other day. I knew he once played for the New York Philharmonic and was going to use his story. Then he told me about you.”
The old man squinted his eyes as he scrutinized the young man’s face. “And who is your grandfather.”
The old man broke out in a laugh. “Philip is your grandfather. I remember him well, a great cellist. He must be very old, although I am much older than he.”
“He turned ninety-nine his last birthday.”
The old man bowed his head. “I don’t have much time left.” He took out the violin. “I am going to play you a song and then I am giving you my violin.”
“Why? I don’t know you,” the young man protested, “I don’t play any instrument. I have no musical talents.”
The old man ignored him and began to play. Each note seemed to sing to the young man. It told him a story of life, love, hope and heartache. It told him everything one could know about the old man without a word being spoken.
I wrote my story and it was picked up by a few infamous magazines and news papers. Giovanni Fiaccola gained fame once more, but like him the fame died. I took his violin home with me and out of curiosity I took it out and began to pluck the strings. I placed it under my chin wondering how many times his chin had touched it. I began to play. I wasn’t very good, but I actually could play a little and decided to take lessons. No, I didn’t become a professional musician. I became a lawyer instead and play for pleasure.
Years have passed and here I am sitting in my home, my wife and children waiting for me to play. Funny thing, the old man was right. The violin comes alive every time I touch it.