She was standing a few feet away on the side of the road, wringing her hands. I'd been sitting on the steps of the deck of my parents' summer trailer at Eagle Lake, enjoying the day and hoping to see the face of someone I loved, and perhaps have a quick conversation and immersed in my thoughts and anticipation, didn't notice her at first.
Her hair was that particular shade of henna red and it was pinned up in a beehive-y bun. She was buxom and plump and although probably in her sixties, it was evident that she'd been a great beauty in her day, the remnants of that beauty making me look twice as she stood in the sunlight hoping to catch my attention. She did.
"Can you help me?' she asked in a thick Russian accent as she walked around my car parked in the driveway and separating us. I smiled and said, 'I'll try. What can I do for you?' She explained that her 'men' (husband and brother-in-law) had dropped her off at that trailer they bought over there and she just realized there was no propane in the tanks and they would be home after dark. What propane company did I use and how much did it cost and how could she get a delivery?
I explained that it being Sunday, there would be no deliveries but I had a cell phone (back when cell phones were uncommon but becoming more affordable so was just months before the industry exploded) and if I could find a signal because there were few cell towers then, I would call for her and arrange a delivery and, waving around my cell and walking a few feet in circles, I finally got a few bars and did what I promised.
Bella was impressed and announced she needed one of those phones and where could she get one. I explained I got mine back in my hometown from a convenience store and bought monthly minutes but there were other options. She thanked me and said her men, when they arrived, maybe could go look for a store to buy one the next day and I told her to go get her purse and we would go now if she wanted. At first she was very reluctant and said she didn't want to inconvenience me and I said, 'Bella, I'm just sitting in the sun and can do that tomorrow. Get in the car.' And she did.
I had the radio on and there was a popular station which played the best pop music of the 60's through the 90's and I sang along at first, hoping she'd be more at ease, because she fidgeted beside me but then spoke up and asked me where the store was. I said that I had no idea but we'd look for one. I thought maybe there was one about five miles away so I figured we'd start there. She was amazed that I just said 'let's go' but didn't have any real destination to speak of. I laughed and soon enough we reached the store but it had switched to one of the first generations of an internet cafe. We went inside and I asked the manager if he knew where we could find a cell phone store and he gave me a few leads but said they'd all be closed on Sunday and I thanked him and we walked back to the car. I apologized to Bella because we weren't able to accomplish what she wanted but she was delighted and said no stranger ever did that much for her so quickly without hesitation so it wasn't in vain.
On the way back to the lake, again I sang along to the radio and during a commercial she asked me if I liked music and I said indeed I did. She asked me if I liked to sing, and again I said, indeed I did although my enthusiasm far outweighed my skill. She laughed and said, 'I sing.'
I was intrigued and asked her to tell me and she explained that she had been an opera and cabaret singer. 'I have sung before prime ministers and kings. Opera houses and famous nightclubs all over the world, and even on TV. I was a star!' she said proudly. 'Would you like me to sing for you?' I said of course I wouldn't turn down such an opportunity and turned off the radio and she immediately began to belt out arias and show tunes and my eyes widened and my jaw fell open as she sang. And sang. And sang. I drove around and around so the spell would not be broken as she sang her heart out for at least a half hour, blending one torch song after another until finally at a traffic light I stopped the car and applauded. 'Bravo, Bella!!! You ARE a star!' She was very pleased and I was thrilled. We pulled into the driveway and stood talking for a few minutes as the sun set and then a half hour more, and then a half hour more and then she said she'd better light some candles and turned down my invitation to stay the night at least until her men arrived and I watched her walk away.
A few minutes later there was a knock on the slider door and I turned from the kitchen to open it and Bella was standing there and I invited her in. She handed me a rolled up poster and a cassette tape and I opened the poster and it was for a big show she'd had somewhere in Europe I can't recall. She was the headliner and it was obvious she was the diva she said she was. I had no doubt though, the moment she'd opened her mouth to sing. She told me to listen to the cassette later and she had to go and I thanked her profusely and took her hand and she kissed both my hands and said, 'No, thank you for a wonderful afternoon.' and slipped out the door and into the night with just a little flashlight like a firefly bouncing in the moonlight.
Soon after, my job duties didn't allow me to come to the lake as often as I wanted that summer and not long after that I began to date someone else seriously, someone who lived nowhere near the area, and although I missed it, I found myself spending less and less time there and eventually my parents purchased a house at a nearby lake and sold the trailer. I would listen to the cassette from time to time but my boyfriend wasn't a music lover and preferred talk radio and soon my music, like me eventually, became an irritation and inconvenience and for a while, a very much missed part of my life.
Except for that night, I never saw Bella again, nor did I ever find the poster or the cassette but I'm so grateful that for a few minutes, I had an opera singer serenade me for the price of a random kindness and it was, and Bella is unforgettable.
Recently a friend reminded me that I sing. I had forgotten. I'd put it aside in order, sacrificed it, to help someone when I was younger but before that I actually used to perform as long as I wasn't required to read music as I'd never been able to master it, no matter how much I'd tried. I'd never had formal training, just enthusiasm, as I'd explained to Bella but to me it was like a form of worship. When I sang I felt the most alive and both vulnerable and naked, and powerful and invincible.
I write too, and try to keep up with that and although my access to my old songs and poetry has been temporarily blocked by way of a hostile impending divorce, I was a lyricist at heart. Music moves me and deeply touches my soul and I'd missed it so much, especially after marrying that man who literally detested it. I still don't understand how THAT happened. I continued to write poetry though, songs without music, save for what was in my head and not long ago, grieving over a lost love wrote the first actual song in ages and it was amazing. It was also so angry that I didn't share it with the individual who inspired it but the fact that I wrote it at all gave me hope, even if all hope may have been lost with the subject matter.
I've begun a new life in the past few months and have made many changes and accomplished quite a few goals. I have a lot more to do and look forward to each accomplishment and count even the small ones as great leaps. I think of a woman who said she was a star and I believed her and think of me, who people too often say I'm a star and while I once forgot, I believe them and know, I sing. Again.