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One Man's Fate - The Tale of a Travelling Musician

 Prosto Neba (Ukraine) 18 May 2019

(Originally published: 03/2010) “The bittersweet melodies of the pipe pierce my soul. I enjoyed hearing Sasha play in a Lvov bar, with the stone walls echoing back the notes; the music seemed all the more melancholy because of this. I remember two pretty waitresses who, forgetting their duties for a while, swayed gently in time with the music. And I distinctly recall the smell of beer and fish and how it did not stop the musician from playing the songs which told the story of his life. These are the memories which have stayed with me seven years on from my encounter with the flautist in a bar which is no longer there. I saw him several times on the trams where he earned a living with his reed pipe. Only relatively recently, however, did I hear Sasha's story for the first time. This is it.”  - By Olga Ilchishin

Prosto Neba

Courtesy of Prosto Neba

The bittersweet melodies of the pipe pierce my soul. I enjoyed hearing Sasha play in a Lvov bar, with the stone walls echoing back the notes; the music seemed all the more melancholy because of this. I remember two pretty waitresses who, forgetting their duties for a while, swayed gently in time with the music. And I distinctly recall the smell of beer and fish and how it did not stop the musician from playing the songs which told the story of his life.

These are the memories which have stayed with me seven years on from my encounter with the flautist in a bar which is no longer there. I saw him several times on the trams where he earned a living with his reed pipe. Only relatively recently, however, did I hear Sasha's story for the first time. This is it.

Aleksander Hagai plays his pipe from midday to midnight, switching from one tram to the next. Strange though it may seem, he prefers to call himself a travelling musician than a busker. He cares more about his instrument than even about his own health. He selects his food carefully, steering clear of any groceries which could damage the pipe. He also writes poetry.

Born 'Sasha' in Kiev in 1971, he was from a typical family; mum, dad and son. His mother died when he was three years old and his father, anxious that the boy should not grow up without a mother, remarried. But the father's good intentions fell flat; the couple had a daughter, and Sasha became a burden to the nursing mother.

He was sent to a children's home where he learned to survive and to deal with tough situations, often having to defend himself against the bullies. Despite these unhappy circumstances Sasha had a fighting spirit, and by the time he was in the eighth class he had firmly established his authority.

After finishing school Aleksander entered a construction academy where, after two and a half years, he received a degree in architecture. It seemed that the doors of the construction industry had been flung wide open for the young architect, all the more so thanks to Kiev's industrial boom. But broken family relationships had left their scars on the soul of the poet.

His stepmother took a lover and one day she quite literally closed the doors on Sasha and his father, the doors of a home that was not even hers. Neither the police nor any other establishment could settle the dispute, leaning more towards the mother with babe in arms. The stepmother's lover  turned out to be equally unhelpful, his sole contribution coming in the form of swinging fists. And so, Sasha and his father found themselves on the streets.

Their attempts to get their home back proved of no avail. For a time, Sasha's father was able to find work for them both; later, Sasha had to seek lodging from friends and acquaintances. For about four years father and son supported each other, until the day that Sasha's father vanished. The only information Sasha has about the sudden disappearance of his father is that one day dad 'went out to lunch and never came back'. This was in 1998.

Sasha soon found somewhere to stay, at the home of a Kiev family who took in homeless people. There wasn't enough food or space. Sasha slept on the floor and his health suffered. But in spite of his scabs he was able to earn money playing his pipe, usually in the city's underpasses.

One day, through his participation in live-action role-play games, the fates brought Sasha together with a man from St Petersburg. Sasha remembers this day as a turning point in his life. The last Saturday of May, when a famous battle is reconstructed on Andrievskii Descent, fell on Town Day. Literally on that very same day, Sasha's friend opened the window to 'Europe' for him, talking of how well people lived in the west of Ukraine. Wasting little time Sasha soon set off for Lvov, one of Ukraine's major cities.

Playing on the trams of Lvov proved considerably more agreeable than playing in the underpasses of Kiev, and Sasha liked the town so much he decided to settle down there for good.

Being a keen patron of nightclubs, he went to a lot of events. At one of these he met a woman, falling in love with her as he had with her native town. He also got on famously with her young son.

They lived in a Lvov apartment and saved up to buy their own place. I wish I could tell you that they lived happily ever after, but this is not a fairytale. His wife often left the house for no reason and when she got back she wouldn't remember anything that had happened; she was sent to a psychiatric hospital where the diagnosis was delivered - schizophrenia. The woman's mother sold the apartment, pocketed the profits and took her grandson with her, leaving Sasha homeless.

Sasha searched for a better life, eventually ending up in a centre for the social reintegration of former prisoners (despite never himself having done time), where he primarily worked in agriculture. He left the centre and helped his friend set up a hawker's stand, until the authorities put paid to their enterprise by outlawing street trade of this nature. Having abandoned all hope of a normal job and of owning his own home, Sasha committed himself to his work.

Tram after tram, kopeck by kopeck, the only thing that does not stay the same is the melody.

Today Sasha has settled down in a religious community in a village not far from Lvov, where he preaches the word of God. He carries his reed pipe with him to this day.

Content to cry, but I want to laugh,

To laugh and not to cease,

To laugh so that the world would laugh with me,

So that people would look me in the eyes and smile,

They may laugh their hollow laughter,

A superficial show masking hurt and anger,

In their eyes sadness shines,

Their sorrows know no end.

Eyes cry while lips are smiling,

They kiss strangers, cling to those they do not love.

No! I shall not laugh in sorrow.

I am content to cry, I will!

And I will only laugh in happy times

I will laugh and not cease

I will laugh, all will join me

They will look me in the eyes and smile.

 

- Aleksander Nagai (Travelling Musician)

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