Years went by, and Nqobi’s skill at the violin bloomed under the patient guidance of Mantis and Locust. Mantis would sit on the scroll, situated at the end of the violin’s neck, positioned after the tuning pegs. There she would conduct, while keeping watchful eyes on the girl’s fingering.

“Again,” Mantis would insist. “No, no, don’t saw at the strings; play them. Be in harmony with them. This isn’t a fight, but a dance.”

Locust would join in, as a duet, helping Nqobi keep her notes true and in tune. “Listen,” he would say. “Listen and match.”

Time worked itself into Nqobi’s body. The pads of her fingers grew tough while her upper arms became toned from wielding the bow and balancing the instrument. There were days her neck ached. Yet the music that flowed from her bow made the discomfort worthwhile.

She told not a single living human being what she did with her time, in between the errands she ran for her step-father. The man, however, was not completely oblivious to the fact Nqobi now took twice as long to finish her tasks.

“Whoever he is, I hope he is worth it,” he would tsk.

“There is no boyfriend,” Nqobi would insist.

“You can tell me or not tell me. But hear me now: if you become pregnant, you will be out of my house.”

Nqobi would only nod in reply. She dared not say more.

The music from the violin became her one true joy in days filled with hardship. Her step-father’s drinking and womanizing was getting worse. At night, when her mama would stumble in from the shebeen, worn out and exhausted from working two jobs, the man would fly into a rage, sometimes hitting her.

Nqobi felt powerless to do anything to help her mama.

“Maybe someday I can play in an orchestra, and make enough money so my mama can leave,” Nqobi told Mantis.

Mantis would bow, but never replied to Nqobi’s daydreams about her future.

Nqobi would take this as a cue to tuck the instrument under her chin and play. The music would drift around the graveyard. The sound moved all who could hear it. The grasses would begin to sway, as would the trees. Insects, worms, reptiles, and birds would begin to undulate and dance. Meanwhile, deep in the earth, the residents in their graves sighed with contentment in their endless sleep.

All was good in the land where the dead rested. Until the day Sompisi appeared at the graveyard.


Tell us: Do you play a musical instrument? If so, what, and do you enjoy it? If not, would you like to learn an instrument? If so, what kind?