Mr Gabor had a problem. Standing in front of him was a pretty young girl waving her arms and speaking very slowly. She appeared to be saying the word ‘DOWN!’ quite loudly, as if she assumed he was hard of hearing, which he wasn’t. He definitely understood ‘Down,’ but because his English was very poor, he was unable to reply. So he just sat on his fold-up chair and smiled. Then the girl stuck her fingers in her ears and began shouting another word he didn’t understand.
Earlier, Mr Gabor had been standing opposite the City Hall at the corner of Donegall Place playing his horned violin. He was very proud of his violin. He had made it himself back in Romania, in Recea to be exact, where he had lived for fifty-six years before coming to Belfast. That was two weeks ago and today was the first time he had ventured out to play his music. His daughter Amalia had suggested it. She had been living in Belfast for three years and now had a good job working as a receptionist in an exclusive hotel. They lived together in a small house in a maze of streets near the city centre along with Amalia’s fiancé Emil, who worked as a refuse collector.
For two weeks Mr Gabor sat in the small house listening to Amalia and Emil talking about life in Belfast, how good it was, how lovely most of the people were and their trips to the mountains and the sea. They told him he must go out and play his violin because Belfast people loved traditional music. He could also make money, so he agreed, if only to get out of the house and give Amalia and Emil some time on their own. Emil bought him a cheap mobile phone, put in their numbers and showed him how to call them. They gave him a map with walking routes marked out with X’s showing the best places for him to play then walked him down to the city centre and left him standing opposite the city hall.
“Have a good day out Papa,” Amalia said, “Just smile if anybody talks to you. And ring when you’re finished. We’ll come and get you.”
Mr Gabor had brought with him his small fold-up chair and his violin and horn packed in an old case. He propped his chair against a window, unpacked his violin, attached the horn and began playing Țăranul Fericit (‘The Happy Shepherd’) and Chase Fetele (‘Chase the Girls’). He liked playing them; both were happy songs made for dancing and this allowed him to swing from side to side and create a good wah-wah effect with the music. However, soon it became impossible to play anything. People were bumping into him and stepping over his case, sometimes kicking it. He decided to go for a walk along one of the routes marked on the map. One route in particular caught his eye, especially the X at the end that looked like a square with a church nearby. It might be quieter there. He packed everything up and began walking, frequently stopping to check the map. He couldn’t ask anybody for directions, as his English was so poor, but eventually he stopped a couple and showed them the map. The man said something to him and Mr Gabor smiled and pointed to the X. The man appeared confused. He began talking to the woman with him, then he handed the map back to Mr Gabor and pointed towards a street. Mr Gabor looked at the woman. She smiled and nodded and they walked on.
Before he reached the square, Mr Gabor stopped and showed his map a few more times; once to an old man who just stared at him, then a group of boys who sent him the wrong way and finally two women who brought him to the square. Now he sat on one side, playing Vine Noaptea (‘The Night Comes’), his favourite tune. He was right, the square was peaceful and indeed, a large church stood nearby. A few people walked through and slowed down to listen but none gave him money.
He was still playing when a small group of young people entered the square, three girls and two boys. One of the boys was bearded and carried a guitar case. They sat down opposite. The bearded boy took out his guitar and began to pluck the strings. Mr Gabor noticed they were looking at him but they weren’t smiling. Eventually, one of the girls stood up and walked towards him. She was pretty, about the same age as Amalia. She pointed to the violin and spoke. He smiled. She turned to her friends and shouted something. Another girl raced across to join her. She too was pretty and it was she who was now standing with her fingers in her ears. Mr Gabor knew they were asking him to stop playing. The violin was too loud. He smiled. The girls returned his smile and ran back to their friends. Mr Gabor leaned back in his chair, his violin resting in his lap. The sun was lower in the sky and his side of the square was becoming streaked in dark shadows. Opposite him, the bearded boy began singing a soft melancholy tune.