He was leaning against the counter of the Au Bon Pain at Grand Central where he had eaten breakfast for the past three years when he first heard her name. Ordinarily he shouldn’t have reacted. He had been hearing the word ‘Vivacissimo’ every day for most of his life after all. But it was the first time he would hear it in this place that was as familiar to him as his own apartment on Park Avenue.
He had been about to order his usual – croissants with coffee and some cheese; same breakfast every day for the past 3 years. Even on the days he wasn’t working, he had the same thing for breakfast. He blamed this on his mother. She had taught him to stick to the familiar, to crave order and to frown at change. It was why he had gone with music as a career.
His mother had died 3 years ago and even though his thoughts of her were mostly happy memories, there were times he was a little upset she had not told him about the times life would be out of his hands.
His hands; they were the first thing most people noticed about him. Thin, beautiful hands that could tease joy from almost every musical instrument known to man. Music, another of his mother’s many gifts. Along with his name. Andante. He still remembered the story she told him of how he got his name.
‘I and your father were poor students. We couldn’t afford the movies much less the orchestra. But one day, a traveling symphony gave a free concert on the grass near the music department. We were taking our nightly walk when we stumbled upon it. They played Mozart’s Sonata K. 331 for which the first movement is Andante…’
‘Vivacissimo.’ The Ivorien lady Aya, who was taking his breakfast order suddenly called out, her eyes widening in surprise and her lips settling into a smile, and Andante finally understood what his mother and father must have felt that night so many years ago to have experienced a beautiful thing in an unusual setting.
Aya had just taken over from Shelley, an African-American single mother just last month. Shelley had been promoted to supervisor at an Au Bon Pain in Brooklyn and while Andante was happy for her, he missed her because she was familiar. Aya, was a newly arrived immigrant and even though Andante himself was half-Nigerian, he was finding it hard to warm up to Aya.
At first, Andante wasn’t sure he had heard her well. How could this woman who was still navigating the murky waters of the English language pronounce an Italian word so well? ‘Vivacissimo,’ she said, the word a stranger already to her French native accent, was made even more strange by the ordinary setting of Au Bon Pain.
He had turned around then to see what it was her sudden joy was directed at. That was when he found her.
Her black skin was even darker than his and he wondered if it would taste like the Hershey’s chocolate drink his mother made on nights he was down with a cold. Her hair was braided and done up in a style that reminded him of a saxophone, one of those instruments he had never learned. It gave her the look of a stately queen. Her eyes flashed and reminded him of musical scores that didn’t wait for you to enjoy individual notes but flowed into each other and took your breath away.
Vivaccismo,’ he said to her, parroting Aya, and the smile she gave him in return was worth the many years he had waited for her to walk into his life.
‘You are the first person beside my family and music teachers that had pronounced my name correctly,’ was the first thing she said to him.
But he was only half listening; he was remembering his mother.
‘How did you know Dad was the one?’ he had asked her on one of his visits home from Julliard.
‘I just knew,’ she answered, a smile in her lips, happy memories in her eyes. ‘You just know these things.’ She told him.
‘And when you see her for the first time, you will too.’ She added much later as he kissed her goodbye at the train station.
Vivaccismo, a faster tempo than the one he was named for. He had lived his life at walking pace for as long as he could remember but he had always wondered what it would be like to feel the wind run with him. He had always hoped that when love finally loved him, it would be at a faster pace.
He stared at her from the Au Bon Pain counter for what seemed like forever but that was alright; she couldn’t take her eyes off him either. He would call in sick to practice for the first time in years that day. They would eat breakfast together at the Au Bon Pain, under the watchful eye of Aya who he found out was Viva’s aunt, twice removed.
When lunchtime arrived, it would find them at Grimaldi’s sharing a pizza over stories of the lives they had lived without each other. He would share memories he had never shared with anymore; mostly those he still had of the man he called ‘Dad’ and whom his mother called ‘Nkem’. He would tell her how he longed to see the place with red earth his father described as home. He would tell her his Igbo name; Ugonna and what it meant, ‘Glory of the father’.
Viva would return the favor and tell him of her grandmother,whom she had met once when she was five years old, when the older woman had finally agreed to brave the many kilometers that spanned Yamoussoukro to Brooklyn to visit her son and his family. She had been a music teacher and it was she that had chosen the name ‘Vivacissimo’ when her parents were stumped for one. Viva would tell him of how she longed to see the old woman before death stole her away but how timing was never really right.
By evening, they would be holding hands and dreaming of one story titled ‘the future’. In it, they would buy multi-destination tickets to Lagos, Ohafia and Yamoussoukro before returning to New York. She agreed with him to give simple, uncomplicated names to their children and he agreed with her that Brooklyn would be better for bringing up children. She wanted to see him play the violin but he insisted that he compose something just for her first; a melody that would capture all the notes his heart was beating. The truth was that for the first time since he could remember, he was nervous about playing before an audience, even if it was an audience of just one.
By nightfall, Andante knew he would not be having breakfast at Grand Central the next day. Viva loved to cook, you see and she loved at the same speed light scared away darkness. Just like her name. He also knew his life would never again be the same; gone were the days of order and the familiar. He knew he would play music differently too. His orchestra would be surprised at first but in the end they would like it because who could resist music made from love. He knew everything was going to be better now.
It was just like his mother had promised; he just knew.
Song of the day: Asa – Awe