Whispers of Love
Maria Nestorides | Sayantan Halder
An image formed in the sky around her and Natalia remembered the jumble of mangled steel, sirens wailing, and the smell of burnt rubber. She and Roberto had made love the night before she died. I can’t imagine my life without you, he had said.
She needed to see him. But, how?
A phrase materialized in her head. Just follow your instincts.
A million trails of light streamed before her. When she opened her eyes, she was standing opposite the Pantheon.
Natalia heard Roberto before she saw him amid the hum of the throng, the clattering cutlery from the restaurants adjacent to the piazza. He stood by the fountain, his hands spread out before him as he sang: Nessun Dorma!
The months since her death hadn’t lessened the ache in her. Roberto sang, but she knew him well enough to know that he was just going through the motions, his heart broken, but his eyes dry. This was not a song he loved, but the kind the crowds wanted to hear. The unusual sight of this tall, ebony-skinned man singing arias was usually enough to pull a crowd in. A little boy approached Roberto to throw a few coins in the basket at his feet.
Natalia floated through the crowd and stood next to him. He made no sign of being able to see her. She wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him, her finger tracing the outline of his thick, sensual lips. That was when she heard his voice, perfectly clear, full of pain. Yet his lips weren’t moving.
Roberto’s eyes widened and he looked around him. Natalia?.
Could he sense her presence?
“Yes, it’s me,” she whispered.
Roberto faced the crowd and pasted a fake smile on his face. His fingers trembled as he placed the microphone on its stand. “I… I’ll be back in a few minutes, ladies and gentlemen.”
He sat on the steps by the fountain and pulled his baseball cap down over his eyes, his face pale under the darkness of his skin. His hands shook as he lit his cigarette. He scraped his fingers over his close-cropped hair. Natalia, I can feel you, I can hear you.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I know this is difficult to understand, but you have to listen to me.”
Oh my God, it’s not true, it can’t be….
Natalia saw a man selling roses. Roberto would know it was her if she just managed to maneuver her favorite aroma towards him.
He stiffened as the fragrance floated by.
“Yes, it’s me,” she said.
She cupped his face in her hands, her lips hovering over his. “Just listen. You have to do the things you were destined for. Don’t waste your talent because of my death. Go to the audition at the Opera.”
How can I do anything without you?
“You must. Don’t you know I’ll always be with you? You were the one who always told me that everything happens for a reason, remember?” She kissed his lips. “Do you love me?” Natalia asked.
More than life itself.
“Then do it for me. Please, Roberto.”
Everything and anything for you, my love.
Maybe she would be able to save him, after all. Hope fluttered inside her. “Come on,” she said, “your audition is now.”
The judge coughed. “Which song will you be singing for us signore?”
“Roberto Lombardi,” he said. “La fleur que tu m’avais jetée” from “Carmen.”
“Why French?” The judge grimaced. “Anyway, carry on.”
“Show them what you’ve got,” Natalia whispered.
Roberto stepped forward. For you, Natalia.
The judge laced his fingers in front of his face as he listened.
Roberto’s voice faltered on the first note and Natalia touched his cheek with her hand. The music continued and Roberto sang, the sweet sound filled with passion. Right now, he was the song.
“I’ve heard enough, thank you,” the judge said.
“What?” Natalia shouted.
“I didn’t finish,” Roberto said.
“Yes… well… not bad, but you’re not quite what we’re looking for,” the judge said.
Natalia surged towards the judge. “You didn’t even give him a chance,” she hissed, her face inches from his.
“Next, please!” the judge called out, obviously unaware of Natalia’s presence.
“Let’s get back to our piazza,” Natalia said. “You can sing your songs there, where people appreciate you.”
I don’t want to sing the rubbish tourists want to hear, anymore. I want to sing the songs I love.
“So sing them!” Natalia said, “Be true to yourself.”
The tears rolled down his cheeks. I miss you.
She reached up and ran her fingers through his hair. “What we had was one in a million, but you will fall in love again, Roberto. I promise you.”
He shook his head. I will never forget you.
Natalia wished she could take it all back — the accident, her death, the pain. “Come, you have a performance to put on. Let today’s be the best ever.”
He sang. The expression on his face reminded Natalia of how he looked when they made love, the dullness and ache vanished from his eyes and the spark of his spirit shone through.
The crowd went wild, clapping and roaring with enthusiasm. The basket at his feet filled with paper notes and coins. He took a bow.
Natalia stayed with him all that afternoon, watching the appreciation of the crowd when he sang the songs he loved. She was with him when they roared for more, when his soul overflowed in the songs he loved, when he finished singing and bent over his basket.
She was there when he fished out a card from a music producer with the words “Call me. You just might have a voice.”