2. The Music in My Heart
When Mina woke early in the morning the next day, she was almost convinced that she had imagined hearing the Sindarin song on the train the day before.
The jet lag and the aftermath of the conference, she told herself. The song of this street musician had probably been Gaelic, or perhaps one of the Baltic languages. There were so many beggars from Eastern Europe out on the streets nowadays that you heard the strangest dialects at every corner.
There simply was no way that a tramp with dreadlocks could actually speak or sing in Sindarin better than a Tolkien scholar.
That was simply impossible.
Mina spent a lazy Sunday at home, preparing her course-work for Monday, mainly exercises to familiarize her students with Chaucer. It was pretty boring stuff, but necessary for beginners.
She sighed. Most of her students would stay beginners, dropping the subject as soon as their curriculum allowed them to.
After all, those ancient forms of English were really good for nothing this day and age. A demanding, boring and absolutely pointless subject.
Mina sighed again. She did great, extravagant sighs, as well as small, tried ones.
She lived alone, so she did not bother anyone but herself with her sighs.
A few years ago her other job, working for the German Tolkien society, had earned her even more disbelieving and pitying looks than her teaching job. Who ever had heard of someone working on artificial languages created for a fantasy novel?
Only when the movies had been released, this had changed.
She had to thank Peter Jackson and Orlando Bloom to thank for the third job she was doing nowadays. And it was a quite well-paid job, too; at least in comparison to her other two jobs.
She was teaching Sindarin once a week with the adult education program of the city of Berlin. There was a long waiting list for each course, and this was work she truly enjoyed. But the participants were mostly girls around twenty, give and take a few years, and it was impossible to acquire any real skill speaking Sindarin in a couple of evenings, anyway.
No, he could not have learned Sindarin that way.
And she was the only one in Germany teaching real classes in Sindarin. The authors of the leading German dictionaries and grammars of Sindarin and Quenya only offered occasional weekend-courses. So she could rule out that possibility, too.
Why was she still thinking about this tramp at all, she thought irritably, and went into her tiny kitchen to make herself another pot of rooibos-tea.
It had not been Sindarin anyway. That had been only her jet lag talking, or rather singing.
She sat down at her small kitchen table, lighting the big white church candle sitting in an old chipped saucer at the centre of the table. The sky outside was already dark and grey again, and heavy raindrops were blown against her kitchen window by a fierce November wind.
Five stories above the busy streets of Berlin, with her windows facing the inner courtyard of her block of apartment buildings, it was very quiet. The noise of the traffic was barely audible, the ticking of her grandfather clock loud in comparison.
Mina looked out into the grey dusk of fall and suddenly felt lonely. It was a loneliness grown into a steady ache deep inside her bones over the years, an almost constant companion of her life. Wearily she rubbed at her temples. She knew this feeling from the past. The conference had been exciting and intense; meeting people, who loved Tolkien and his languages as much as she did, was exhilarating.
And now she simply felt out of tune with her normal, solitary life back in Berlin.
Pains of withdrawal, she mused.
There had been many demanding and intellectually stimulating lectures and discussions, and heated debates with a group of young Tolkien scholars, who were trying to develop new words in Sindarin, endeavouring to turn it into a real language, which could be spoken like English or German. Some of the older scholars had been horribly affronted by that notion, calling it arrogance and blasphemy, but she had been intrigued beyond measure. She had even been brave enough to get the information how to contact those young scientists and linguists. Once again she sighed. Perhaps she should not yet give up on her desire of translating "The Lord of the Rings" into Sindarin. Perhaps it was possible, after all, to develop all those missing words and grammatical intricacies in a scientifically acceptable way…
Only very reluctantly she returned to her desk and the Chaucer.
In class the next morning she was still distracted and not up to her usual, demanding form; to the secret relief of her students, who were tired from a weekend of parties and dealings with friends and lovers. But she did not forget to give them enough homework to last for the week, ignoring groans and snide remarks.
After class there was a faculty meeting. Stoically she endured the customary teasing about her activities for the Tolkien Society, as always connected with her surname, "Elbenstern", which means "elf star" in English. Apparently her colleagues would never grow tired of this joke. She ignored the jokes and questions with her usual cool demeanour, which had earned her the title "Dr. Iceberg".
She was more than relieved when she was finally on her way back home.
On the train back to her apartment from the university, she caught herself looking around for a dark, slender figure with dreadlocks and a guitar slung across the back. She managed to miss her station and was thoroughly annoyed with herself by the time she finally reached her apartment. There was no excuse for such foolishness.
You need to get your head examined, Mina, she said to herself out loud, when she realized she had been humming the melody of the tramp's song while chopping onions for her dinner.
Resolutely she switched on the radio and grimaced. They had to play "Into the West" by Annie Lennox just now, of course.
She was on the brink of turning into a really strange old maid.
"I am turning into a classic old maid anyway," she told the carrots, which were waiting patiently to be cut into small pieces. "I might as well go all the way."
She turned up the volume and started singing to the tune.
Although she was not aware of it, she had a very beautiful singing voice, a slightly smoky alto register, and she had learned how to sing from her earliest childhood, singing in the parish choir.
When the vegetable stew was finally simmering gently on the stove, and the radio station had switched to rock songs, as it always did later in the evening, Mina was still visualizing grey elegant buildings framing a harbour that did not really exist at all.
When the stew was ready, she lit the candle on her kitchen table again. She tried to take time preparing and eating her solitary meals. It was not healthy to gobble down food watching TV or working on the side of the table, although she did both occasionally, of course. Such bad habits were all too easily acquired living alone. But she had been brought up not to have bad habits. And she was fairly strict with herself.
She softly blew on the vegetable stew on her spoon. "Perhaps I should get me a cat," she said to the candle. "Then I could pretend I was talking to the cat instead of knowing I was slowly turning strange here, talking to myself all the time."
After she had cleared away her dishes and washed up the utensils, she had needed for cooking, she returned to her desk.
Her living room was pretty large, her haven, her sanctuary: lined with bookshelves from the floor to the ceiling, every wall. And the shelves were full to overflowing with books; not only Tolkien and books about linguistics, but Shakespeare, poetry, romance novels, various dictionaries and encyclopaedias and strange ancient books she picked up at flea markets.
Her desk, which was turned towards the balcony, was her pride and joy. It was art nouveau, solid, beautifully carved maple wood, glowing faintly golden in the pale light of the evening sun slanting into the room.
She did own a small TV and an excellent DVD- player with a surround system of high quality loud-speakers, arranged neatly around a small, comfortable red couch, which could be turned into a bed, should a guest want to stay overnight.
Tonight, however, she did not watch TV, but switched on her Dell-notebook and accessed the Internet to survey the various sites interesting for Tolkien scholars on the Internet. But there was nothing new or exciting on tonight, so she ended up only checking her e-mails and then closing the connection again.
Afterwards she worked for an hour at her translation of "The Lord of the Rings". But even with her excellent knowledge of Sindarin, the work was agonizingly slow, and more often than not she had the feeling that most of her pages consisted of question marks or gaps. The vocabulary Tolkien had developed was simply too limited, and there were too many aspects of the complicated grammar he had invented that would probably remain unclear for all eternity.
But the language was so heartbreakingly beautiful!
And there was even more to it. She also enjoyed getting to know the books literally word by word. She felt as if she was swept away into this distant realm of myth and magic, leaving this noisy, busy, dreary world far behind her. This feeling had intensified since she had watched Peter Jackson's brilliant movies. Where her imagination had failed before, the visuals of the movies now supplied the missing images.
Sometimes she felt as if she was homesick for Middle Earth. Especially during the winter and the fall, when the world was so cold and grey, and loneliness threatened to turn into depression, she longed for an escape into this most magical of all worlds.
Staring out into the rainy evening, her thoughts turned to Tolkien's description of the sea longing, the longing for Aman, which the elves experienced in Middle Earth.
Did it feel like that?
Like a constant ache in the bones? Weariness tinged with despair?
She sighed. Mina, Mina, Mina, she reprimanded herself. Come off it. You are way too old for such melodramatic indulgences about imaginary worlds. This is only a demanding hobby for a linguist with no full time job. Nothing more.
But she still felt lonely and weary, when she went into her small bedroom around midnight.
Her bedroom was really tiny. There was just enough room for a large, low Japanese bed in front of the narrow window, a large wardrobe in a faintly Asian styling and an ancient Chinese dresser.
She crept into her too big bed, curling up between two cushions and two warm covers. She fell asleep at once, dreaming of white ships and grey havens, humming the Annie Lennox song even as she slept.
A few streets away from her apartment the shadows of this gloomy, cold November night gathered in the arcs of one of Berlin's many pedestrian underpasses. The last S-Bahn train for the night rumbled noisily away into the darkness and the rain, and then silence fell.
At this time of the year, at this time of the night, the passage was deserted. Its flickering neon lights brought out the cracks in the tiles of the pavement and the overflowing trash bins into stark relief.
At the centre of the underpass there was for some bizarre reason an old wooden bench. As it was a pedestrian underpass, there was no bus stop to justify a bench there, and no tourist would ever sit down on a bench to look at the graffiti sprayed at the dirty walls of this passage. Nevertheless, the bench was there. Perhaps it had been forgotten from a time long gone, when the passage had still been a real road, with buses and carriages running through it, way back in the golden twenties. But no, that was not very likely. Berlin had been destroyed almost completely in the Second World War. No simple wooden bench could possibly have survived the apocalypse of the bombs.
However, the bench was there.
And it was occupied, too.
A slender young man was sitting on the bench. He was almost painfully thin. The mass of his black hair, twisted into untidy dreadlocks, made his face look even bonier and thinner.
His eyes were large and silvery grey. Their expression was weary and kind of sad.
They seemed to hold too many and too dark memories for a man, who appeared to be no more than twenty or twenty-five years of age.
But then again, maybe not. He was obviously a tramp, a homeless vagabond living it rough out in the streets. He wore black leather trousers soft and thin with age, a frayed black dress shirt and a black leather jacket, studded with silver buttons. His nose was pierced, and at one earlobe a small, silvery skull tangled. Any mother would say that this type was a piece of bad news and drag her teen aged daughter away – as quickly as possible.
He was not alone, either. At his feet a large black dog was stretched out, who looked much better fed than the young man. But it was a large dog, with feral features and a deep menacing growl, should any stranger dare to come too close.
On the bench the young man had put down a grey army backpack, which contained all his earthly possessions. Dangling from a chain was a bright red food bowl for the dog. The bowl and his guitar the man were the only things about him and the dog, which were not black or at least grey.
He was softly strumming that guitar now, apparently oblivious of the gloom and the cold of this November night.
He played well. He was not only ripping off a simple rock song with a barely maintained beat. He was an artist, a true musician.
The melody he was playing swelled and flowed in intricate phrases, sometimes sweet and soothing like Mozart, then again hot and melancholy like Flamenco.
Sometimes he inadvertently slipped into a song to go with his music, singing along softly in a strange, flowing language. The foreign words brought to mind far blue seas and golden woods. But whenever he grew aware of it, when ever he realized that he had started singing to the melodies he was playing, he stopped, a haunted expression on his face.
The night was long and dark and cold.
Unconsciously, the young man pushed a strand of his dirty black dreadlocks back behind his right ear, revealing a strangely pointed ear, which gave his face an alien, almost feral expression. The grey misery of morning was still far away. He still had several hours of peace and quiet to fill with his music, hoping to soothe his loneliness and longing, before he had to get going again, playing and begging to keep at least the stomach of his dog filled.
He kept on playing. Now and again, he sang along to his melodies, until he realized that he was singing and fell silent again.