I mostly share beautiful moments with my kids from all over the world at school. Except today. Today I see one of them, a girl who had to be placed in the shelter earlier this year because of abusive parents, entering my class with a huge bruise and a cut on her left cheek. I ask her what happened. “Oh I was in a car and the driver drove a bit rough and he braked and I didn’t have my seatbelt”, she says. Sure. I don’t say anything, because her brother is in my class, too. I know she’s afraid of him as well. I’m not supposed to know any of it, and she begged me not to report it because her father would then hurt me, she says.
I teach music today. I didn’t feel like it before coming in this morning, I don’t feel like it any more after having seen this girl’s face. Now I know why she missed school this whole week except today.
We have to get on, so everybody gathers around the piano. I brought happy songs for the next two hours, I don’t see what’s the point anymore. I press on the piano keys harder than I should. I sing louder than I should. I can’t pretend everything is fine. But most kids understand there’s no messing around with the teacher today and they’re all focused. I smile the best I can when they do well. I make them sing in four languages, none of them theirs, so they laugh when they pronounce the words.
When the two hours are over, I ask the girl who has been beaten up to stay behind. Her brother wants to stay too. I send him away. We’re alone, the piano between us. I ask her how she is. We look at each other, she doesn’t say a word as tears fill her eyes. “There was no car, was there?” I ask. She starts crying. “Are you still in the shelter or did you go back home?”. She says she is still there, but her parents ambushed her in the streets. And her dad beat her on the spot, for not being home, for not being a good girl.
I tell her I’m sorry, ask whether she saw a doctor. “No, but it will be fine, I’m used to it, and it looks much better than it did”, she answers. She begs me not to mention any of it to the other teachers. I assure her that even though I won’t, we all know what’s going on in her family. I’m probably supposed to tell her everything is going to be alright but I don’t know whether life is ever going to be alright for her. So I tell her instead, that life is difficult, that she has been through too much for her age already, but that she can build herself a castle of her own where she will find shelter whenever she’ll feel sad. “You mean with books, don’t you?”, she asks. I smile. We had that conversation the day I brought her to the social services upon her request. “With books, with music, with knowledge, you can sometimes find relief when you are sad, because sometimes they help you to find answers”, I tell her. Some weeks ago, I had given her Mozart’s Requiem to listen to, and she had loved it. I can’t do more than trying to give her keys towards happiness by showing her that humans aren’t only violent, and can also create something beautiful through art, whenever there is knowledge. And by showing her that one day, she could do just that herself, too. So today, I sit at the piano again, and I play her a song. She’s just a fifteen year-old girl needing care and attention.
Then it’s time to go, so I pack my things, and as we go downstairs, I give her references to some Bach pieces to listen to, as she asks for more classical music to discover. Just as I finish typing the titles of the pieces on her phone, her brother appears from a corner. He was waiting to check on her, to report her activities to his dad. We’re outside school now, and I promised her no one would know I helped her once. So I smile to the brother, despite what I know, and suggest he should listen to those music pieces I referred her sister to, sometime. He sneers and talks to her in their native language, so I can’t understand. There is nothing more I can do, so I look at her a last time. She blinks her eyes in a way that says “it will be fine”, I stare back with my eyes saying “take care” and I hear myself telling them both “have a good week-end”.