The young artist cried unconsolably and not even her parents’ indulgence managed to banish the sobs of the saddened second-class artist who was not used to someone casting a shadow over her. Her rage and disappointment was so great she did not even want to go up and accept her diploma of honor that accredited her as one of the best pianists but not the best. Suddenly, one of the jury members stood up. She was an ugly, ungraceful woman and yet, there was something in her that made her wholesome and elegant for such a selective and scrupulous competition. She could barely walk down the steps of the stage but she took her time as she always did. Nobody was impatient because of her slowness and she finally reached the sobbing child pondering her misfortune.
“Sit there and count your little fingers”, she said with a relentless voice.
As if a spell had been placed on her, after obeying the order that appeared not to make sense, the girl ceased crying, hypnotized by the eyes of that woman who viewed her from above unsmiling, but without frightening her.
“Sit there and count the raindrops”, she repeated.
As before, the little girl obeyed the instructions to the T and she distracted herself to the extent that she focused all her attention on the mysterious lady who still had not batted an eyelid.
The lady knew that the youngster felt shattered but she consoled here again, unlike the pats on back and false expectations. She preferred to tell her the truth instead of telling her she was right and so the young girl blew her nose and listened attentively.
“Do you want the diploma? Well fight for it but don’t be a cry baby, you have no reason, capricious little girl. Sad girl!”
The girl could not stop gazing at those enormous hands, surprising two-colored hands that gave her the award but held it strongly whilst she sized up a challenge for her.
“I know”, continued the judge. “I know you don’t know now what needs to be done but I tell you I too went through this, you pipsqueak. Your parents were not even born and I painstakingly caressed those keys but my family was not very loved. They were other times, what does it matter now.”
The story dates to when, then a talented pianist the girl with two hands of different colors, endangered the supremacy of candidates from wealthy neighborhoods after having shone in concert halls from the suburbs of the South. But they contrived so that nobody of her origin could take part, nor bring her parents to the stalls, much less compete for conservatoire scholarships for children with hands of just one color. Those children entered the world several rungs above her…
“Everything you need”, she added with her grave voice, “you already have sad little girl. And you also have time before you. But no, you want the award without putting in the effort; applause without work; glory just because, like an inheritance. Otherwise you get angry and make a fuss. If only I had this luxury!
When, after seeing how the doors of the conservatoire were closed because of her skin color, her whole life changed and that young keyboard promise had to make do with just the crumbs of the large pie distributed to others, many of them mediocre artists, others indifferent salon artists and very few true music-makers. She was a true musician but her hands…her hands gave her away.
“Take this diploma and do not look down on your achievements. Fight to be number one and do not be sorry if they beat you. Practice, practice and practice. Like I did.”
The girl then understood that the dark-skinned woman had practiced the piano so much that only her hands escaped the rays of sunlight.
Jason Willis-Lee, translator
From "Cuéntate los dedos, niñita"
From "Cuéntate los dedos, niñita"