Tuesday, December 5, 2017

"Sound Waves and Heart Strings"

Kimora’s family owned a pawn shop in the east end of town. It was a busy place, with people and their possessions coming and going all the time. Very few things lingered longer than a month or two in their store, but Kimora’s favourite piece, a large antique radio, had become such an important part of her life that her parents said she could keep it.
The radio stood on the ground and was roughly the size of a suitcase.  It was made of dark wood by an American company back in the 1920’s. Kimora liked that she could listen to modern music through the old machine, and loved to think about the many generations of fingertips that had twisted the metal knobs, trying to catch hold of a frequency that would bring far-away sounds right into their home.

Tuning into a radio show was a tricky business, in those old days. It required a delicate touch and a patient ear to pick out just the right spot to stop turning the dial. It had taken a few weeks for Kimora to get the knack of listening through the static until she could clearly understand what the noises were saying or singing or playing, but as time past she mastered the art of tuning in. Kimora had a talent for tuning in other ways, too.  Whenever a guitar was brought into the pawn shop, it was her job to adjust the strings until each one played its proper note in tune. When a bicycle came in, she applied oil to its gears and scrubbed away the rust and grime, giving it a total tune-up. But the most important skill that Kimora spent her time developing was the ability to pay careful attention to conversation, until she could clearly understand what the other person was really trying to say. As with antique radios, sometimes you have to listen to a lot of static before you finally find a signal. Lyrissa came into the shop every Saturday afternoon with her dad. The girls didn’t go to the same school, but they were the same age and had formed a sort of friendship over the past few months. Lyrissa always went over to the book section first thing after arriving, and Kimora usually gave her a few minutes to look by herself before browsing the shelves by her side. When Lyrissa and her dad came through the door this week, though, Lyrissa walked straight over to the corner with the antique radio and curled up in one of the cushy wingback chairs. Kimora looked up from her comic book and watched her friend. Lyrissa was breathing through her nose, very slowly and deliberately, and keeping very still. Kimora focused her attention on the girl in the chair. She tuned out the clicking of the cash machine; she ignored the bell above the door that chimed every time someone entered or left; she disregarded the traffic outside, even when a siren raced past. All of those noises were nothing more than static. They sat like this for some time, in silence. When she thought the moment was right, Kimora spoke in a voice so gentle and soft that it was almost a whisper. “What’s wrong?” she asked. Lyrissa’s sad eyes looked over at Kimora. When she answered, her voice sounded distant and frail, as though the source of her words was far, far away. Lyrissa’s world was full of many troubling things that Saturday. Most of her sorrows couldn’t be solved by talking them out with a friend, but all of them were soothed by doing so. Kimora did not allow her thoughts to wander while Lyrissa shared her heart. She stayed tuned in, she listened. She understood. You may wonder about what else they said, sitting back in the pawn shop, surrounded by old things, but their conversation was a difficult, private affair, and they have trusted me to keep their secrets. Though most of us do not want our troubles broadcast to the world, it is so incredibly valuable to know that at least one person is listening -- that we’re not pouring our souls into the empty air -- that our tears are seen, our lamenting heard, our stories known. On Saturday afternoon, while their fathers talked about toys, trinkets, and treasures of all types, two girls sat off in a corner with heavier things on their hearts. They didn’t browse the bookshelves together that time, searching for escape into another person’s life, but by the end of their conversation they knew each other better, and both felt a little less alone.

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