“What am I supposed to do? My flight home leaves at 6 o’clock,” I said.
“Dunno, lady,” he said.
With a sigh I picked up the cello and went outside. Ten minutes later I stumbled onto the next bus, instrument in my arms. During the ensuing ride, fragmented thoughts swirled around my mind. Who was that guy? Professional musician? Student? Music festival faculty? How could he leave me in this mess? And with a quiver of concern, Was he at the bus stop right now, frantically searching for his cello?
Back at the hotel I cornered the concierge, explained my situation, and begged for some advice. None was forthcoming. I called every contact number on my conference list, then tried the music festival directors. Only voicemails answered. Finally I reached an actual human.
“No,” said a pleasant woman’s voice. “No one called about a missing cello. No, you can’t leave it here … we can’t take responsibility.”
“Where can I leave it?” I asked in desperation.
“Honey, you can’t leave an instrument like that anywhere. Take it home and try to find the owner.”
“But I live in New York … my flight is leaving soon.”
“Sorry, can’t help you.” She hung up.
At the airport I was informed that the cello had to travel in its own separate seat — a seat for which I had to pay full fare.
“Another $800?” I protested in dismay. “I can’t afford that! This isn’t even mine!” I was holding up the line, frustrated tears pricking my eyes.
“Maybe I can help,” said a tall, silver-haired gentleman behind me. He had overhead the conversation; I filled in the details.
“May I see the cello?” he asked. I unzipped its case.
“That is an extremely fine instrument,” he said, reverently running his hands over the glowing wood. “Italian made … very valuable … you must take good care of it. I’ll pay the fare.”
I stared at the man in disbelief.
“Consider it my contribution to music,” he said as he stepped up to the counter, credit card in his hand.
“But why … who …?” I stammered.
“Take good care of this cello,” he said again, turned and quickly headed toward his departure gate.
On the plane, with cello safely strapped in the seat beside me, my imagination took full flight. Considering this instrument’s purported value, its owner was, in all likelihood, not a novice. Was he in some sort of trouble? Was he ill? Amnesic? Surely he could have taken his instrument inside to make a phone call. Was this some sort of trick? What if I had refused to watch the cello? Now adding to the aura of surreal was the cello airfare’s donor. I stared at cloud-flecked azure sky through the tiny window at my side.
Arriving home exhausted after midnight, I gently leaned the cello against my bedroom wall. I would deal with it tomorrow.
Tomorrow came, filled with more futile phone calls. Finally I reached the American Federation of Musicians union rep.
“I’ll put a notice in our next newsletter,” he promised.