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The

sound of waves


‘‘

‘‘

How sad is my lot, I must avoid all things that are dear to me...

Oh how happy I should be if my hearing were completely restored, then I would hurry to you...

I am resolved to rise above every obstacle, but how will it be possible?

The Sound of Waves

Ludwig van Beethoven to Karl Amenda 01/07/1801


PROLOGUE MID-NOVEMBER, 2008

PROLOGUE MID-NOVEMBER, 2008

There had never been a day as blessed as the one I saw through my window that Sunday morning. It was a shy day, November's rosy-cheeked child, which had started with dewdrops racing down chilled windowpanes. I brought my hand up to my window, its icy surface rearing my skin to life, and gazed out at Eastbourne's ocean in the horizon – a bed of sequins reflecting the coalescing clouds above. That was when it struck me: this was it. I was facing life on my own now. I'd prepared myself to dread this very thought, yet the day ahead held so much promise that my fear had already dissipated and made room for a renewed strength I'd never realized I had in me. All around me the world was steeped in silence. A silence like this usually bothered me but today, this was something I was determined to not let happen. I used my imagination to work every sound into my head: along with the quiet rumble under my feet and the gushing of smoke a few short blocks away, I conjured up the scratching sound of a passing train against a rusty set of tracks; the seagulls flying overhead brought back memories of my youth, their cries more vivid in my mind than they had ever been before. As I turned away from the window, my mind equipped with a newfound energy, my eyes fell upon the piano that stood before me. I stared at it, feeling my pulse accelerate as I made out its shape from under the sheet that gave it a ghostly appearance. I reached out towards it but held back in hesitation; I had been acting this way a lot since my return home a few days ago. This time, though, I extended my arm out a little further and pulled the sheet away. The shock that came with seeing my piano's sleek black wood and brilliant white keys sent a wave of chills down my body. Be brave, Lena, I told myself. I sat at the padded bench, and instantly my feet found the pedals and my fingers, the keys. I considered my body's readiness to play: this piano, along with the familiar warmth with which it greeted me, was the one object that had always made me feel safe and connected to the world around me. This piano was my home, my first love, so there was no need for me to fear it. I looked at the score on the rack – the last song I'd played, my favourite piece: Joe Hisaishi's View of Silence – and shut my eyes to feel nothing but the keys at my fingertips. I cleared my mind of everything but the memory of that one song and drew the deepest, most nervous, most silent of breaths.

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PART ONE LATE SEPTEMBER, 2008

PART ONE LATE SEPTEMBER, 2008

The breeze that swept through the window was so crisp and bright, that it seemed to carry with it the scent of autumn's dried leaves and the last of summer's sunshine. It was the first scent I awoke to, and for a moment it distracted me from my aching head and limbs. When I opened my eyes I was greeted by a strong white light that filled the room so intensely, I almost forgot to wonder where I was. I looked around the small room, noticing the four single beds and the machinery beside them; I glanced at the faded curtains, the bay windows, the bare walls. I soon realized I recognized nothing, and that was when it all came back to me: I was early for class that day, so I took the bus that usually arrived sixteen minutes before mine. I was listening to View of Silence; I was to play it at my university's end of year recital, which my tutor had let slip would be attended by a talent scout from one of London's most famed classical music agencies. The song was all that filled my ears when the crash took place. It happened so fast; I was so engrossed in the music that I didn't have time to react to the events as they unfolded. I was projected forward from my seat and my head hit the nearest pole; the pain I felt came with an overbearing ringing sound that entirely covered Hisaishi's piano playing. Then, as it made way for a dead silence, I passed out. Fear crept into me as I became aware of the profound silence that filled the room. I pressured my throat to vibrate with sound, yet nothing came out. Frightened, I turned to my bedside table and whipped my hand out against the glass of water that stood on it. It came crashing to the ground, and the impact it created was as I'd feared: it was completely, utterly silent. My aunt Meredith appeared in the doorway. We weren't as close as a mother and daughter could be but she was all the family I had, so her presence alone was the one thing that pulled me back to the world I knew. Her lips moved but she said nothing. She spread her arms open, and that was all I needed to understand what she had voiced that I hadn't heard. I let her wrap me in her warming embrace, and I cried until my body seemed drained of emotion; it was as though I'd given Mother Nature enough of my tears for her to mix her watercolour palette of early evening blues into the late afternoon sky. --I tried looking out the window, but there was nothing beyond it to distract me. I'd managed to calm down since the night before and find a way to console myself with the hope that everything would The Sound of Waves

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be alright. Yet, as I sat on that cold leather seat and sensed my aunt's fearful eyes on me, any hope I'd held on to quickly vanished. My doctor was writing something down onto his notebook for me to read; the longer I watched him the more impatient I became, and I soon found myself latching onto my aunt's hand. “I will get better soon, right? In time for my recital?” For a moment the persistent silence confused me; I was shocked that I couldn't tell whether my voice sounded right, let alone whether I'd managed to say anything at all. I had spoken for the first time since the accident, and I'd come to the abrupt realization that I no longer had any control over my voice. It was strange – like I was being deprived of the most obvious part of myself, like I'd lost a sense that hadn't actually left me in the first place. I looked at my aunt and traced the lines on her worried face, and I could tell she was at as much of a loss as I was. My doctor held his notebook out to me; I hadn't finished reading his message when the weight of the air in that office began to suffocate me: We will run some tests, Miss Roberts, but I am afraid your chances are slim. Being deaf was something I couldn't understand; I wanted to block out what my doctor was trying to say, and before I knew it I was on my feet and walking out of the room. As I shut the door behind me I caught a glimpse of my aunt, her face buried in her hands as she cried in a way I'd never seen her cry before. Seeing her in that state and knowing I was the cause of such grief, there was little I could do to prevent myself from breaking down, too. --EARLY OCTOBER, 2008

–––––––––– EARLY OCTOBER, 2008

A week had passed, yet I was still stuck on the first page of this book my doctor had given me to read. I couldn't process what it tried to tell me – useless things, if anything, for a mind that hadn't come to terms with the reality of the changes my body was experiencing. My failure to make sense of the words that ran across the book's pages heightened my frustration. Shutting it, I threw it across the bed and watched it bounce noiselessly against the white metal railing. I stared at it for the longest time, blankly analyzing its glossy cover under the frail light that peered through the curtains. My gaze shifted up to the television which flashed colourful, muted images before my eyes; it frustrated me so much that I reached for the remote and switched it off. I was so absorbed in my own thoughts that my aunt's cool touch against my bare shoulder made me jump. 33

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She asked me if I was okay, exaggerating the movement of her lips in a way she thought might help me understand her better. I shook my head and pulled out my paper pad. I'm tired, I wrote. I want to go home. I knew Aunt Meredith was having a hard time not knowing how to comfort me, though I wasn't sure whether any kind words on her part would help me in the first place. Over the couple of weeks that had gone by, I'd had time to think my situation over: even if I still could not fully process the seriousness of what was happening to me, even if the idea that I might not hear again still felt so unreal, I had begun to understand what being deaf actually implied. As the thought occurred to me for the hundredth time that day, I tried to brush it aside and searched for something, anything, that would steal my attention away from the horrid silence. Nothing did. As my aunt gently rubbed my back, I squeezed my pencil in my grip. The doctor said I might regain my hearing, right? Aunt Meredith reached out for my pencil and pad. He said he wasn't confident you would, Lena. You know that. I knew that. I knew it all too well, but why was I the only one who was trying so desperately not to give up? I felt betrayed and at a loss of what to think, consumed by the downward spiral my aunt and doctors had pushed me into. I didn't want to give up on myself, but this spiral was more frightening and intimidating than I could have imagined. Speak to me, dear, my aunt wrote. Tell me what you are feeling. Her desolation mixed with my frustration put me on edge. I felt bad for shutting her out, but –––––––––– couldn't she try to understand me? If I couldn't even know whether my own voice sounded right, how could I begin letting my emotions out by talking to her? SEPTEMBER, 2008 I know how much you've enjoyed Lena, she wrote, and paused as herLATE grip on the pencil tightened.

playing the piano, but maybe all this means you were made for something different. I stared at her. What are you saying? I could tell that however serious she was, it pained her to write her reply: If you're to move on, perhaps you ought to stop thinking of a future as a pianist – that's the only realistic thing you can do now. Please don't harbour false hopes. With those very words, I felt something inside me snap. “No,” I shouted, pushing the word out of my throat with all my might. My face flushed a deep red as I glared at her with teary eyes. She tried to tell me something, forgetting I couldn't hear her no matter how loudly she spoke. She'd angered me so much that no matter what it was she was rushing to say, all I wanted was to shut it out. The Sound of Waves

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“You can't make me stop playing,” I shouted. “You're not my mother, so stop trying to act like one.” I felt a pang in my chest as the harshness of my own words hit me; still, ignoring her attempts at holding me back, I darted out of the room. Why couldn't she, of all people, see how much I wanted to be normal again? Even if for a little while, I needed to find an exit from the mindset she was trying to force me into. I rushed down the hallway and past the reception desk. Closing doors, chattering patients, children running past... all the sounds, the liveliness of the world around me... they were everywhere and I simply couldn't find an escape from them. They were so confusing and unreachable that I felt I would explode if I did not get away from them. I entered a deserted hallway and opened the first door to my left; realizing where it led, I scrambled up endless flights of stairs until I reached another door, lodged within a rusty metal frame, and pushed it open with all my might. The wind that greeted me on the roof slashed through my clothes, piercing my skin in a way that made me shiver with delight. I headed to the ledge and leant against the railing to take in as much air and scenery as I possibly could. I did so until my lungs and eyes were dry and dizziness overcame me. Embraced by nothing but the chilling wind and the warmth of the clouds and sun, I felt refreshed. At least for now, I could breathe again. That was when it happened: through one of the windows of a building not far away, I spotted a young woman sitting at her piano. I didn't know who she was, yet I connected to the way in which her fingers moved across the keys, delicate like dewdrops against petals. I watched her carefully, noticing every twitch in her slender body and every graceful nod of her head, and I found myself imagining the tune she was playing. It seemed to be a soft one, a ballad of the kind I would play on calm days like these, when the sun was high in the sky and seagulls drifted with the wind and my mood was glossed over with a sense of impenetrable bliss. I loved those moments, when time would come to a standstill and there would be nothing in the world but me, the notes I most desired to play, and the piano onto which I could spill every tingling drop of emotion. Mark Salona's Vespertina: that was the song that my mind conjured. Charged with the colour, nostalgia and dreams of my childhood, it returned like a distant echo as I watched the woman play. My fingers began fluttering across the railing, and in that very moment I was no longer on the rooftop of some hospital. I was at home, playing my piano, my gaze set on its black and white keys yet my mind lost in the images and thoughts that danced before me with each resounding note. My breathing grew heavier and my pulse accelerated as each fleeting note echoed by. I had heard Vespertina a thousand times before, and it was now so deeply embedded within me that I remembered it as though it had always been an extension of who I was. When my performance 55

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came to a close and my fingers slowed down to a halt, I exhaled. I'd lost track of how long I'd been standing there, and it was only when I realized that the rest of my body was growing numb that I snapped out of my daydream and remembered where I was. As I blinked, my hand hovering over the railing, I saw that the woman had left. There was the piano, powerful as it stood in plain sight; and here I was, separated from it by a cruel distance that seemed to stretch for miles. I felt within me how intimidating that piano looked, but also how compelled I had become by the mere sight of it. It was an odd mixture of emotions, one almost immediately replaced with a sickening thought: even though the sound of the piano would have carried all the way to me, I still had not managed to hear even a whisper of the woman's playing. The thought had occurred to me before, but it now made my heart sink: I was deaf, and that was something that would never change. --MID-OCTOBER, 2008

–––––––––– MID-OCTOBER, 2008

Sign language was impossible to learn. I set my book aside and stared blankly at the cracks on the rooftop's floor before looking up to the darkening sky. It was almost entirely dotted with stars; I felt I could touch it with my fingertips, knowing all the while that it was too far from my reach. Burying my head into my lap, I allowed my mind to wander and eventually found myself thinking back to the day of the accident. Why me? What had I done to deserve this? I'd never done anything wrong or tried to cause trouble. So, why? If only I hadn't taken that bus... As little as I wanted to see it, a clearer vision of my future had begun to form. Anxious, I reached for the journal tucked under my blanket and flipped it open. It landed on a page bookmarked by an old stained photograph I'd kept of my father and his best friend Michael, taken back when I was still a baby. I stared at it, my eyes once again stuck on Michael as I studied his lightly freckled face and kind eyes. I hadn't often seen this man before, yet I felt connected to him whenever I remembered his piano performance at my father's memorial. The moment now seemed so unreal and distant, and the memory simply strengthened my urge to put my feelings down on paper – something I did a lot of late, when speaking was of no use to me. I patted my coat, searching for my pen, yet realized soon enough that I'd left it in my room. The Sound of Waves

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That was when I felt his presence. He took me by surprise at first as he appeared out of nowhere and cast his shadow over me, and when I raised my head I saw a young man crouch down before me, holding out a pen as a dimpled smile stretched across his face. As I remained unresponsive, he fished a scrap of paper out of his pocket and began scribbling onto it. Stunned by his unexpected appearance, I studied him during the brief second he spent writing – his strong jawline that curved up to meet locks of thick chestnut hair; almond-shaped eyes and upturned lips that together formed a calm and content expression; his pale skin and lean figure, the two features that made his otherwise healthy physique seem somewhat fragile. He wore an old pair of sneakers and, under his heavy knit sweater, he'd tucked his hospital gown into a pair of knit track pants. A set of headphones dangled out of his side pocket, which I noticed the moment he set the scrap of paper onto my lap. He appeared amused when, caught off guard, I flinched. My pen won't bite, you know. I blinked and slowly took the pen from him. His presence alone had stunned me, yet I had not been expecting him to write me a note instead of opening his mouth to talk. Turning to the back of my diary, I scribbled: You know I can't hear? He took my diary, shadowing it as he wrote: You know how to play, don't you? I widened my eyes. I couldn't recall having ever seen this person before, so how did he know? His blue eyes, deep-set and standing in stark contrast against his skin, glistened knowingly as they gazed right into me. These were eyes I would have remembered. He nodded towards the ledge of the rooftop. I saw you up here a while back but figured I shouldn't disturb you. I was wondering when I'd find you again. My face turned a shade of red as I realized he'd seen me in a moment of weakness. I'd thought I'd been alone up here that one time... What kind of music do you play? I frowned at his sudden question and hesitated to answer. I don't play. Furrowing his eyebrows, he pulled the pen from my grip. I saw you, though. I shook my head. I used to play. Why did you stop? I stared at him in pure disbelief as he stared back expectantly. Hadn't he acknowledged I was deaf? Was I was being made fun of by a stranger I'd met only a minute ago? I felt offended by this guy, who I assumed was only here to treat some minor illness and was simply looking for company to pass the time. I gathered my things, got to my feet and stalked off, all the while feeling my face burn with embarrassment. I knew I was ridiculous for acting so sensitive, yet I worked myself up to being on the verge of tears, anyway. 77

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Truthfully, all I wanted was to be able to play: find a piano, sit down, play a happy song, clear my head. I needed to have the keys at my fingertips; I yearned to feel their warmth once again. His words had come to me as a brutal reminder of how incapable I was of satisfying this craving and of how, to top it all off, my own worthlessness was making me loathe myself more than anything. The piano was out of my reach, whether I liked it or not. ---

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You're not trying hard enough – that was all I could tell myself. Playing the piano had always come naturally to me; never in my life had I tried to master anything else and now that I needed to, I simply couldn't do it. I pushed my sign language books aside and threw myself back against my chair. All I could think of was how I could have been living now had I not boarded that bus. I would have passed the recital, and perhaps that agent would have taken note of me... I searched the deserted communal area for a distraction, only to end up staring aimlessly out the window. It was a day for rain, yet the sun wouldn't give in. Its perseverance was comforting, and I watched as its rays of light filtered more and more through the dense clouds. I'd got lost in the scenery when a paper plane cut through my view and landed onto my table. The words Don't give up, Lena were scrawled across it in an all-too-familiar handwriting. I looked up, and all I needed was to see those blue eyes to confirm my suspicions. I remembered how this person had vexed me the night before and, as he sat opposite me, I debated whether to get up and leave. He crossed his arms over the table and looked at me with that same content and knowing expression. Flattening the paper plane, I asked him: How do you know my name? He pulled a pen out from his pocket and waved it at me with a satisfied smile. Leaning towards my end of the table, he wrote: It was written on the back cover of your diary. I frowned. What are you doing here, anyway? Venturing out of my block for a while. This caught me off guard. What block are you in? He hesitated before tracing an E onto the paper. I was about to ask him what he was being treated for, but a thought appeared to cross his mind and his expression suddenly lit up, making me lose my train of thought. What song's on your mind today? Reading his question, I expected a repeat of the night before and was ready to leave. Yet, as each word sank in, I couldn't help but think his question over: that morning it had been Ludovico The Sound of Waves

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Einaudi's Nuvole Bianche, a song that I couldn't think of as anything other than a melodious attempt at distracting me from the resentment I felt towards myself. Of course, these were all thoughts I decided to keep to myself. Aren't you a patient here? I asked bitterly. Shouldn't you look a little less happy? He shrugged. There really isn't much point in being unhappy all the time, is there? I cocked my head. This guy's optimism was so clear, both in his words and on his face, that I couldn't help but wonder what he was all about and what he was trying to get at by following me around. I haven't formally introduced myself, he wrote with a smile. My name is Kai.

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PART TWO LATE OCTOBER, 2008

PART TWO LATE OCTOBER, 2008

Springtime was in full bloom and light spilled into the white-walled church, blanketing the black piano that stood up on stage. It was the most magnificent sight I had ever laid eyes on. As my aunt Meredith and I took our places at the front row, I contemplated how much this world felt like a sad dream. Yet, despite the buzzing of mourning guests and the weight of the air, all I could see, hear, and feel was the piano. It glorified the space that surrounded it, as though its lid had been opened after years of being sealed shut and all the memories it contained had finally found their escape. “It's lovely, isn't it, dear?” my aunt asked with a sad smile. I could tell from the gleam in her eyes that she was remembering her sister's husband – my own father who, up until a year from today, had taken care of me on his own since my mother had died giving birth to me. I nodded in response. I'd been playing the piano for five years now, yet never before had I watched someone else perform. Michael, who'd travelled to Eastbourne for the occasion, appeared on stage to perform. I'd waited for his song as though through it, he would bring my father back to life. From the very first note he played, I was captivated. He lured me with the clear sound of a melody that will have changed me forever. His playing distracted me from the grief I'd been carrying since my father passed away. The more he played, the more grateful I was for his being there. His saint-like figure beamed with the light that poured into the church and as I stared at him, I realized that my place in life was meant to be where his was; my talent simply had to become as meaningful as his. I loved playing for myself, but it hit me how wonderful it would be if I, too, could spill everything I had into the hearts of thousands and calm people the way Michael calmed me, with the help of a piano they would come watch me play... When I woke up, the pleasure my dream had provided began to fade. It had reproduced a special moment of my childhood so vividly, that it almost felt like it had taken place seconds ago. As the twelve-year-old I'd been then, I would never have fathomed ending up in the situation I found myself in now: that of a twenty-year-old girl who no longer knew what to expect from herself, confined within the walls of a hospital that seemed to want her under its roof about as much as she wanted to be under it. As I stared up at the ceiling, what Kai had said the day before echoed in my head: There really isn't much point in being unhappy all the time, is there? What an absurd question. It was as though Kai truly believed life was so easy a thing to live, and The Sound of Waves

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that you never needed to worry about all the bad things that happened to you. I reminded myself not to be tempted by his words and that the dream I'd awoken from was exactly that: a dream. Once again, I was seeing hope in an impossible future at a time when there was no room for weakness. What I really needed was to be stronger – strong enough to move on. Frustrated, I rolled to my side. I stared with empty eyes at the clock on my bedside table. Its thinnest hand ticked noiselessly, a reminder of the time that passed by within a world of silence that grew stranger to me with each new day. Sinking into a temporary daze, I unthinkingly let my dream trigger a surge of thoughts and memories from my past: my first recital in front of my father and Aunt Meredith, and the incomparable elation I'd felt after what I'd accomplished; the look on Aunt Meredith's face when I'd first played my parents' wedding song at the age of fifteen; the sense of freedom I obtained whenever I played, and how through the piano I could always find a way to pick myself back up from the lowest grounds; and then, of course, there was that pivotal moment I'd dreamed of the night before – the moment I'd realized what playing a piano could mean and do, not only for myself but also for the people I loved. With this surge of memories, I bit my lip and found myself holding my breath. Was Kai possibly in the right mindset? If playing the piano was my one passion, could I really allow my deafness to stand in the way? These questions confused me as they pushed and shoved at each other inside my head. The only movement in the room – the endless ticking of the clock – pressed heavily against my ears as though it was trying to tell me something but could not manage to reach far enough into the depths of my deafened soul to do so. It ticked on and on in that bleak, irritatingly silent way; just like Kai's words that refused to leave me alone, it poked at me until I felt I could no longer bear it. There was no denying it: I'd let myself get drawn to all the tempting things Kai had preached. I couldn't help it. Who would be able to resist the charm and promise that a lifestyle like that contained? It seemed so unrealistic, and yet... Shaking my head, I sat up and pulled my covers off of my body with unnecessary force. Aunt Meredith was watching me from the doorway with that helpless expression she always wore when she visited over lunch. I hadn't realized it was already noon – the hours and days that passed by now formed a blur in which it had become easy for me to get lost. Considering how quickly she spoke as she shuffled into the room, it was hard for me to decipher what she asked me: “Are you okay, dear?” I nodded and watched as she hurried about the room; she unpacked her things, changed the water in the vase of dying tulips, opened drawers and shut cabinet doors, and fiddled about with my packed lunch – unstacking box after box after box and placing them onto a tray for me, even though 11 11

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I hadn't the semblance of an appetite. Simply watching her as she buzzed around the room was enough to get my nerves on edge – her movements, however silent, created an impossible noise in my head. I knew she meant well but I wished she would simply quiet down. The two of us had cooled off since our last fight, but we still rarely talked during her visits. It felt to me as though she did not understand my condition and was not sure how to interact with me. She always sat awkwardly at my bedside and read a book as I watched subtitles flicker on and off the television screen without really paying attention to the programme. We did this every day until her lunch hour was up. We turned towards my doctor when he appeared in the doorway; I think we both understood at the same time that he was no bearer of good news. I'd seen this coming, but it was not easy to stomach the honest yet frighteningly blunt words he'd written down on paper for me: Miss Roberts, we have tried everything but the results are as we had expected. I'm afraid you need to start thinking of the next steps you should take. It won't be easy. Your condition will affect your daily life and all the activities you took part in before your accident happened. We will give you the support you need, but what's most important is that you adjust to your situation and rethink any plans you had in mind for the near future. My aunt had been reading the note from behind me, and when I folded it she placed a hand on my shoulder and squeezed it. It was like she was confirming what the note was telling me to do – find another path for my life. I didn't know what to think. This news hardly came as a surprise to me but still I felt disappointed, not so much because I was to remain deaf but because of how hard being a deaf pianist would be. My doctor and my aunt, the only sensible people I knew, had said so themselves; there was no way I could pass that end of year recital, let alone ever consider a musical career. I may have been in love with the piano, but I was not about to follow in Beethoven's footsteps – not as a twenty-year-old deaf girl with no bearings on her new life. There was no way Kai could convince me otherwise; yet, as mad as I was at myself for having let him manipulate me and as much as I knew I needed to avoid him, he was the only person I wanted to talk to. I wasn't sure what I would tell him, but one thing I was certain of was that I needed an explanation; at the very least, I needed an apology. I snuck out of my room when my aunt left, knowing I wasn't allowed to yet itching to find Kai. I headed straight for the rooftop where, unsurprisingly, he was standing by the ledge with his back turned to me. I marched straight towards him, feeling my anticipation rise as the words I wanted to tell him formed on the tip of my tongue; however, the moment I took in his expression, I fell short The Sound of Waves

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of words to say. This atmosphere, his deeply pensive gaze... it was all so unlike him that I didn't know how to react. I merely stared at him in an attempt to understand what was going on. He seemed to want nothing more than to look at the view, so eventually I followed his gaze – I had to admit that it was an overwhelming sight: a purple horizon melting into a black ocean, as striking as a crescendo in one of Yiruma's songs; the agitation of the water worked in perfect harmony with the cold wind that swept across my cheeks. Was this all that encompassed Kai's definition of happiness? Surely a human being needed more to life than a pretty horizon to gaze at... Kai broke the silence by pulling out a notepad and pen. As he wrote, his hand trembled lightly – somehow, I could tell this wasn't because of the slight chill in the air. There's something I think you deserve to know. There was an awkward weight to his words, so I didn't try to press him on or cut him short to tell him what I'd come up here to say in the first place. He continued writing in a slow and thoughtful manner, pausing every once in a while and threatening my patience. What I ended up reading, as he slowly handed me his notepad, was something I certainly hadn't been expecting: I'm suffering from multiple myeloma. When I frowned, he proceeded to write down the words bone marrow cancer. To this, he added that there was no definite cure for the illness and that he was on a waiting list for a stem cell transplant to prolong the few years he'd been given to live. I suddenly had no idea how to respond or how to feel towards him. I found out today that I'll be starting chemo next week. It may have seemed selfish, yet in that very moment I asked Kai the one question I'd been needing to ask him since we first met: I don't get you. How on Earth can you always be so positive? I'm dealing with my illness in my own way. That was too easy an answer to give. I simply couldn't understand it. But, the chemo... I began, before Kai blocked my hand with his and wrote: Of course it wasn't going to be easy, but it was unavoidable. When you've got this cancer, you have to know chemo will happen someday. He paused. Nobody has it easy, but not facing up to your problems won't make it easier. If anything, it makes you a coward. The image of my piano flashed before my eyes. Is that what you really believe? That's something my mother raised me to believe. He paused. Being a musician, she saw life differently. I bit my lip as Aunt Meredith came to mind. How had she and I got to the place we were at now? As I thought the question over, I came to an abrupt realization and grabbed the pen from Kai's hand. Your mother was a musician? 13 13

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He nodded. His expression signalled that he was remembering her; the nostalgia he didn't try to hide came from a place I couldn't reach. She was the most talented pianist I ever knew. She passed away when I was sixteen. I felt unsure of what to tell him next – an apology was never enough, as I'd learned myself. I was thankful when he soon added: What I'm going through is hard, but my mother suffered a lot more and a lot longer than I ever will. It might sound strange to you but I'm just grateful for what I have. The steadiness in his eyes as he looked into the distance told me that he knew how to live alongside his condition; that he was a fighter, no matter how tough things got. I couldn't help but be drawn to this side of him that I'd never seen before – a sensible side that made me realize how little I actually knew about Kai. I'd never considered how his past would have moulded him into the person he was today; when I thought about it, I'd never actually stopped to consider all the hardships he had had to face, other than the illness around which his life now revolved. The light by the door flickered on then, casting shadows across the rooftop. I flipped to a blank page in Kai's notepad. Don't you ever think of leaving this place? He paused in thought, the short hairs on the back of his neck bristling against the wind. Sometimes. I thought of how suffocated I felt from being stuck in this hospital for a month. Don't you feel trapped here, though? He smiled – to himself, mostly. If I set my mind on believing it, then I'm as free as I can be. Whether I'm in here or out there. I looked at him, at his sincere expression. You really do think that... How could I not? Without giving me time to think that over, he used his pen to point towards a building nearby. At first I didn't understand what he was trying to show me, but then I realized he was directing me towards the window through which I'd once watched that woman play. It was now dim, lit only by a frail source of light, yet I still managed to decipher the shape of the piano. You must miss it. It took me a while, but I found it in me to answer him as honestly as he'd answered my intrusive questions: More than you could ever imagine. I come here to watch her play sometimes. If you're anything as passionate as her, I think I can try imagining. He paused before adding: How do you think you'll feel when you play again? I shook my head. Playing again was all I wanted to do, yet I had no courage to face the prospect. Not yet, and surely not in the future that panned out ahead of me. The Sound of Waves

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I don't think I ever will. He gave me a long look before writing something down onto the page. He then ripped his sentence out and pressed the paper into my hand. Taking a step away from the ledge, he addressed to me a small smile and walked away. Stunned, I watched him leave and wondered what had prompted such a reaction. I lowered my eyes to read his final words; when they sank in, their meaning hit me straight at my core. What he'd written was such an obvious thing for a person to remark yet somehow, over the past month, it had never crossed my mind – not even once. Just because you can't hear the music, doesn't mean you can't feel it.

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Abbie Cohen


PART THREE EARLY NOVEMBER, 2008

PART THREE EARLY NOVEMBER, 2008

The piano keys are black and white but they sound like a million colours in your mind: I'd read this quote in a magazine last night, and it certainly had not helped take my mind off of what Kai had told me last. The words inscribed onto that piece of paper that I still kept in my pocket had haunted me non-stop for the past few days. I was surprised at how much I'd let them work their way into my brain. The curiosity that they raised within me did nothing other than reopen wounds I'd already been learning to stitch up and forget. Just because you can't hear the music, doesn't mean you can't feel it. Those words simply refused to go away. Once again I thought of Kai, of his illness and of how selfish I probably seemed in comparison. How could it ever be possible for me to play again? Was it really possible? Was there really a way for me to continue as a pianist? I was tired of how inconceivable this seemed, so tired of throwing myself back and forth, yet... When Kai appeared in my doorway, I wasn't sure whether to feel relieved or angered. He left me no time to mull my feelings over, though, since he walked up and sat beside me with a resolute expression on his face that interrupted my train of thought. He studied me with a peculiar intensity in his gaze, like he was trying to read every detail on the surface of my face. I grabbed my journal and wrote: What? You know how you asked me if I ever thought of leaving this place? I hadn't been expecting this question, and could only think of answering with an uncertain nod. Well... why don't we? My first thought was that Kai was going insane. My second came from the voice at the back of my head, telling me not to fall into his trap again. But my third thought – and this one screamed the loudest at me – was of my piano. Unconsciously, my fingers began dancing across the edge of my bed; it was as though the prospect of coming in contact with a piano had become a strong possibility, something I would soon be able to do after a month of separation. Regardless of anything else I was feeling, the pianist in me emerged out of nowhere. Torn between this renewed desire and my hesitation, I shook my head. It'll be good for us, Kai pressed on. As I read his words, all the things I experienced from playing the piano came alive again, like a fire burning through my entire body and ending with a blazing passion at my fingertips. I pursed my lips, trying to find a reason not to succumb to his offer, but eventually I gave in to temptation and replied with a small nod. He cracked the brightest grin and grabbed hold of my The Sound of Waves

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forearm, and before I knew it we were rushing across hallways and sneaking past nurses in what was to be our great escape into an unknown world of excitement and dreams. ---

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I sat a fair distance from the shore and watched Kai reach with outstretched hands for the waves that rolled towards him. He flinched slightly from the cold but never lost his smile. This was his idea of paradise: a small beach that I'd known for so long, I'd learnt to forget it even existed. The longer I observed Kai, the more his vision opened itself up to me and the more I felt I understood him. We let ourselves forget the world we'd been confined to, as it disappeared behind rows of trees from which only the town church's bell tower jotted out; as we did so, we became one with the space that stood before us – a space in which the heavens mingled with sunlit waters and basked us with a sense of liberation. My pulse accelerated and my heart pounded excitedly against my chest as these thoughts enveloped me. When had I last felt this way...? A gust of wind blew across the ocean towards me; I closed my eyes and inhaled it, almost feeling it stream through my veins as I did so. It swept sand onto my hands, giving me a tingling sensation that heightened my enthusiasm. When I opened my eyes, I noticed that Kai had sat by me and was scribbling onto a sheet of paper he'd pulled out of his pocket. It's nice out here. I nodded. This was my mother's favourite place. She loved listening to the sound of waves, and she would come here often to lift her spirits. That's why she named me after the ocean. He paused and smiled to himself as he gradually deepened the circle he'd been tracing in the sand. She held on to life and never gave up on it. She was strong like that. Holding on to life. Never losing the strength to live. I let his words sink in and actually saw some truth behind them: I was deaf, yet, as far as I was concerned, my deafness had not prevented me from grabbing hold of every second of the time I'd spent here so far. If anything, I'd even come to forget that I was deaf. I like to imagine she lives on in the ocean and that I will too, when I die. Death. The word alone sent a slight chill up my spine, and as Kai himself wrote of his own fate it hit me again how real this all was – what happened to us before, what was happening to us now, and what awaited us down the line. I wish I were more like you, I admitted to him, to which he widened his eyes in surprise. 17 17

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I'm not perfect, though. He paused. Some nights I stay up thinking about my illness, about my mother, about the things I'd do if I wasn't sick and if she hadn't died. His pen hovered over the paper for a moment and his eyes hardened. But I don't want to take my problems with me when I leave, you know? I just don't. I didn't answer and he didn't continue. We sat in silence as I weighed Kai's words against my situation. I looked down at my hands, at my fingers as they grew numb with cold – these hands, the link between me and my piano... if not to play a piano, then what good would they do me? I stared at them until I lost track of time and the evening chill settled in the air. What was your mother's favourite song to play? Fiddling with the corner of the paper, Kai emitted a regretful sigh. I can never recall its name. It's by a Japanese pianist... the kind of song that tears you apart, but that is invested with enough hope that it makes you feel whole at the same time. He frowned and shook his head as he tried to piece bits of his memory together to form a description of the song: It's fast-paced to start, then slows down. A song about a view, he wrote, absent-mindedly circling that last word. A view... Only one song came to mind then, and suddenly I was overcome with an urge to voice the notes that rang inside my head – but I couldn't sing them. I needed to be sure they would come out right and that Kai could identify with them. I hesitated for a moment as I grew aware of the church that stood behind the trees; eventually, though, I pushed my doubts aside and grabbed hold of Kai's arm. Registering his surprise, I hauled him to his feet and hurriedly led the both of us towards the church. I gave myself no time to catch my breath or regret the decision I'd made; I thought about nothing other than simply reaching the building. We opened the church doors, and the space that welcomed us filled me with a warm sense of familiarity and belonging. This was where I'd watched Michael perform on the day of my father's memorial. The same piano was set before me, its aura still pulling me in. I was so drawn to it that I began walking past the rows of benches, my mind filled with the one thought of reaching it. I climbed the stairs up to the stage, trying to ignore the nervous pounding in my chest and my spinning head. I approached the piano and ran my hand across its surface; instantly, it turned from a mirage-like vision into a very real part of my existence. I faltered. I looked at Kai, who was observing me with the most serious expression I'd ever seen on him. I could not turn back; more importantly, I could not disappoint myself after having come this far. Just as life had pushed me down a brand new path, it had also brought me here on this very day. I could have gone back to being where I'd been moments ago – back to the fearful person, back to the The Sound of Waves

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girl who'd been giving up on everything she wanted to become. Something told me not to and, slowly yet steadily, I lowered myself onto the bench. It took me a while but I eventually lifted the fall board and dared myself to feel the keys. It was like magic, as my fingers came alive with that burning sensation I knew so well. Time and space held no meaning to me now, and even Kai's presence disappeared as I inhaled a deep breath and began my performance. I played View of Silence like I'd played it a million times before. I could not hear a thing; all I could sense were the reverberations that came with each note and that struck every nerve in my body. I was amazed by the continuous silence that persisted no matter how forcefully I played. Yet, however much I would have liked to hear the keys, I did not mind the absence of sound as much as I'd once thought I would. Strangely, the memory of each note and the feelings that came with them still found a way to flow through me. In that instant I realized that the emotions I wanted to express – the sorrow I held within for both Kai and my own losses – were being translated as I wanted them to be. Once I hit the last note, I straightened my neck and emitted a long exhalation. After weeks of hoping for yet cowering at the thought of this very moment, it had actually arrived and I had accomplished what I'd thought was no longer a part of my capabilities: I'd played the piano as a deaf person. It had not been an easy task, nor had it been as impossible as I'd once figured. If anything, I thought it liberating that my worrying about the quality of my playing had given way to an unrestrained expression of my innermost feelings. Satisfied, I broke out of my daze and took in the complex mixture of shock, happiness and nostalgia written on Kai's face. His expression reached straight into me, and I grew dizzy as the realization of what I had done sent a rush of adrenaline through me. My playing had surely not been the biggest source of comfort to him; still, through it I'd created a moment for him – that unmistakable glimmer in his eyes, the one I'd seen before in my aunt Meredith's green irises, made me certain of that. Just like Michael had helped me all those years ago, I had helped Kai; in having done so, I discovered with surprise and relief that I'd found a way to help myself. Kai nodded in thanks, a small smile etching onto his lips – and as he smiled, I couldn't help but smile in return.

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Abbie Cohen


EPILOGUE MID-MARCH, 2012

EPILOGUE MID-MARCH, 2012

The sea here was almost as clear as in Eastbourne. It was strange to contemplate the thought that somewhere beyond the horizon was my hometown. From where I sat on a beach by the white French cliffs of Êtretat, the world that was once the only one I knew was so small and distant yet still so close to my heart. When my phone vibrated in my pocket, I pulled it out and checked the message I'd received: it was from Aunt Meredith, who was wishing me luck for my recital that evening. My lips turned upwards into a small smile and I immersed myself into the silence that surrounded me. I drew my journal and a pen from my bag and wrote until the sky turned dark. I eventually kicked off my shoes, moved closer to the waves and let them gently lap at my toes. I smiled for a long time at the vast blue ocean, inhaling its energy and spirit until at last I felt I was ready to take my leave. ---

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Kai, It's Lena. How are you? A year has flown by since you joined your mother, but I still think of you often. You marked me, you know – even if I didn't realize it at first. You gave me the hope which I'd felt life had taken from me. I am still learning to accept what I've become; it isn't easy, but with each passing day I'm becoming more confident. I was scouted by an agency a few months back and I have my first solo performance in France tonight. I'm nervous, but you wouldn't believe how excited I also am. I admire you, Kai. I admire the person who helped me when I was in the hospital and the person who, in the last two years and four months of his life, never lost sight of who he was. I know I should have visited you more; we should have done more than write each other the occasional letter, even when life was pulling me in all directions and even when I left Eastbourne for London. It might sound silly but... I know you're still alive, Kai. You're at home with your mother in the salt of the vast blue sea and I like to think you're also the wind in my back, pushing me forward. I hope you've reached a place as safe and sound as the one you helped me find. Do what you do best, Kai: keep on smiling and know that everything will be alright.

The Sound of Waves

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Abbie Cohen



The Sound of Waves