She avoided eye-contact because it was so bright. Not glowing bright like the joyful sheen of a shiny coin on the path, but sharp bright like the sun poking straight between your eyelids. When she locked gaze with someone, she felt pinned in place, dug into, pushed at. It panicked her. She liked the space between things; the movement of air between her and another person; the blank section of the page at the end of a chapter; Jeff Buckley exhaling before he sang. The world was too much. The noisy tastes of different food jostled for attention on her tongue. Thousands of nerve endings touched her clothes. Traffic roared like the sea. Whenever she moved, she dragged around the vast ecosystem that was her body, the insatiable itch of her skin. In the very best of her dreams, she stepped out of gravity and floated in space. It was dark and quiet. That was all.
She met him on a summer day that smelled of water. She had been walking slowly down a wide, long avenue under lime trees that released the comforting scent of leafy shade, feeling the humid air touch her naked skin and nudge at her clothes. From the distance came the sound of a violin, clear and lively through the thick of the indolent afternoon. As she approached, the sound grew fuller, cleaner, more urgent. She turned a corner onto the edge of a park and there he was; a young man in loose trousers and bare feet, arms as brown as a speckled egg, playing like it was brisk Autumn, not the energy-sapping heat of exhausted summer. Behind him, the grass sloped down to a slow brown river heavy with reeds. The violin case on the ground at his feet was freckled with coins. She paused to listen. Oh, but the sound was extraordinary. It spoke to her with no preamble, straight through her ears into her heart. She closed her eyes. Everything but the music hushed. Even her skin was quiet, listening. When he stopped, there was silence. Then he started again. She opened her eyes. Then there was silence. She sat on the grass.
She didn’t look into his face. She didn’t have to. He bent down to scoop up the coins, and she heard the rustling of the grass. In the quiet she imagined the tap of tiny feet. When he straightened up and lifted his bow to split the sunlight into shards, she became aware of the movement of small bodies, timid in the shadows, gathering on the edges of her vision. She gazed up at the violin and the clouds behind. The music tugged at her like a friend grasping her hand and pulling her onto a dance floor. She found herself standing again just as she caught sight of a furry body scurrying ahead of her. And another. And one more. There was a small line of them moving towards him, then another line, then a crowd. She stood transfixed as the rats ran towards the music, and continued running past the violinist’s feet, straight into the river. She was focussed. The world was neither large nor loud. Nothing distracted her from the music. She lifted her eyes and looked into his. They were dark and quiet. That was all.
She plays the violin now. She plays until her skin is calm, until the garish colours fade and blend into something beautiful. She plays the flavours of food, the touch of silk, the itch of wool. She plays the tug of a heart and the weight of gravity, she plays to usher in the silence between the sounds. She hears the slip and squeak of her fingers, the pauses and the sounds between. She plays animals from their dens, birds from the sky. She plays until she can look her teacher in the eye as he shapes her hand on the bow. Sometimes they busk barefoot together by the river.