I was downstairs as usual, sitting at the reception desk and becoming a little irritated at the prospect of being kept late at work by hangers-on. It had happened before and it was part of my job to remind people of the strict licensing conditions which applied to theatres. Fortunately, the music stopped at twenty to twelve and everybody was gone within fifteen minutes. Everybody, that is, except the Ukrainian pianist. I knew I would have to find her before locking up and started the search in the bar.
She was sitting alone, sipping something from a glass but with a hip flask standing nearby. She watched me approach, a little wistfully I thought, and said ‘Hello.’ Her voice was a trifle dark, her accent unequivocally Slavic. Well, as she might have said had the boot been on the other foot, ‘what doo yoo doo?’ We all know that Ukraine has the highest concentration of beautiful women anywhere in the world, don’t we? We do. I said ‘Hi’ back. ‘Would you like to join a lonely lady in a drink?’ she continued. Well, what do you do? She held out the hip flask, so I sat down and took a sip. It was vodka.
We talked for half an hour about life, love and Soviet politics, her dark voice becoming ever more dreamy and my previously non-existent taste for vodka beginning to rise. There was a lull in the conversation and I took my chance:
‘Would you play Bach’s Minuet in G Major for me?’ I asked. ‘Do you know it?’
‘Do I know it? Every first year piano student knows it. Sure I know it. OK.’
And so she played it, and when she finished we exchanged mutual smiles. And then a claxon rent the air like glass smashing in the cloistered calm of a ruined abbey.
‘That must be my cab,’ she said. ‘Thanks for the company.’
I let her out by the front door and locked it behind her, and then conducted my rounds in an empty theatre which seemed so much emptier than usual that night.
You may decide for yourself whether that actually happened or whether my taste for fiction is running rampant. Just remember that theatres are dream factories, and empty ones have a habit of going into replay mode and making dreams come true. It’s what I most loved about the job.