It was the ninth and final night. Tonight the Black Man was supposed to show himself. She’d done everything the old woman had told her to do. She’d buried a picture, at the crossroad, of herself holding her Grandmother’s violin. She’d buried it on the first night of the full moon. Magda had slaughtered a chicken and buried its heart with the photograph. She’d even bled on it while saying the words. Those weird words that had felt strange on her tongue. The cut on her thumb still looked angry. It was healing slower than it should and would leave a nasty scar.
On the first night a giant, pitch black, dog had crossed the intersection. The poor thing had looked emaciated. On the second night she’d brought some food for the dog. It lay under a tree, waiting for her. It had growled when she approached, but stopped the moment she threw the raw steak at it. The dog sniffed and then ate it without any complaints. She’d fed the dog every night since then. Tonight she’d brought raw chicken drumsticks. It no longer growled at her, but wagged its tail. At least something was happy to see her. No one else ever was.
The violin felt alien in her hands. She’d carried it with her every night and it still didn’t feel like it belonged to her, or that it was a part of her. Her Grandmother had been a solo violinist for the London Philharmonic Orchestra. She’d travelled the world and had wanted Magda to follow in her footsteps, only Magda hadn’t had the gift. She would practice till her fingers bled, but could never reach perfection. She was good, but not great. She had a job playing third chair in the orchestra at the Pretoria State Theatre, but the money she earned doing that only paid the rent for a tiny flat in one of the worst parts of town. To earn extra money she played at Burgandy’s Café in the Brooklyn Mall. The tips were only enough to pay for a cup of coffee. Her lack of talent made her desperate and the desperation clung to her like an old, wet, blanket. The stink of it kept everybody at bay.
She felt the dog watching her as she placed the violin on her shoulder, her chin rested gently on top. Her fingers felt like thick sausages as she placed them on the strings. She held the bow gently in her left hand. Her arm felt like over cooked spaghetti and the sounds that escaped from the instrument sounded like she’d strangled a cat. With a howl of frustration, she stopped playing. The dog stared at her, its strange black eyes seemed to see right through her. Magda blinked and looked away. She couldn’t even keep eye contact with a stray dog. How pathetic could she be, she chastised herself.
Out of the corner of her eye she noticed a shimmer of movement. The air crackled with electricity. The dog no longer lay under the tree. It walked towards her. She stared, with unbelieving eyes as the dog walked on two legs. Its matted fur turned into a black suit. Her breath caught in her throat as the dog turned into a man. A tall, thin, black man wearing a top hat. His skin wasn’t the normal dark brown; it was as black as the night sky. His skin was as smooth as a baby. He was ageless. His eyes were also completely black and she could barely see them in his face.
Even though she’d gone to the trouble of summoning him, a part of her had not believed that he would show up. A part of her had thought that he was just an old-wives tale, that he wasn’t real. That part of her was now completely destroyed. Sinking to her knees, she whispered a prayer.
“God has no place here.” His voice sent shock-waves through her soul. “Give me the instrument.”
Magda felt her eyes drifting up to him and her arms moved on their own, giving him her grandmother’s violin. The hair on the back of her neck prickled and her heart thumped a scared and excited tune. It was really happening. He was really standing in front of her. She wanted to throw up, but managed to swallow the urge. He placed the instrument on his shoulder and cupped his chin on it. The bow glided over the strings, producing sounds that made her weep. She envied him, just as she envied every other talented violinist she’d ever heard. He played with passion and every note was perfect. He played the way she could only dream of playing. Time stood still and the moon stopped its passage across the sky.
When he stopped playing, he handed the violin back to her.
“You have seven years to make the most of the gift I’m giving you. Seven years to live your dream. At the end of those years, you must come here, to this very spot, at midnight, and play for me. You will give back the gift you have received this night. Do you understand?”
“If you are not here at the appointed time, I will come for you and your soul. Do you understand?”
Magda nodded again. Her voice unable to cooperate.
And with the terms issued, he disappeared, swallowed up by the night.
For the first time in her life the violin felt right in her hands. In the middle of the crossroad, she placed the violin on her shoulder and played it as she’d never played it before. For the first time the music she made sounded right to her ears. For the first time every note was played perfectly.
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