Lady Rosamund was seated in one of the top balconies, just in front of the stage. She was tired, as half of the show had already passed. At age seventy-five, she was too tired to watch a whole opera, even if it was her dear Anthony that did the music. Only for him she had walked out of her house, she would never do that for anyone else. The last time she had been really out was the time of her husband’s death, over ten years ago. Actually, it had been that moment in her life that made her decide to stay at home and just take care of things there.
After all, she had many things to do still, for a woman her age and status. Her husband had left their son John the biggest company called Alesia, which imported tobacco from the Americas. Her son was living there, in a plantation in Cuba where he got to manage the business first hand. Lady Rosamund had received the management of other parts of the enterprise and smaller business around town such as a grocery store and two stalls in the market. She was in charge of asking for that rent and talking to her tenants, making sure everything was ok.
She had been happy for a while, so she didn’t really mind staying at home and getting things done from there. Moomoo the dog would keep her company and she had a whole garden to take care of, as she had decided not to pay a gardener anymore as she felt she could do a much better job. That turned out to be not exactly true, but she didn’t care. She liked all of those mornings, when the sun wasn’t too bright, when she would sing to her roses and tulips and just be there by herself.
Her daughter Josephine visited her every other day and read her the letters that John sent from the other side of the world. They learned that way that he had gotten married and that he was also expecting his first child. Josephine had two of her own already, which she sometimes brought to her mother but not every time because she saw how rowdy they would get and how old her mother was getting. She didn’t want her to feel ill so she decided not to do it too often.
It was almost always a subject of them to talk about Anthony. He was always somewhere in Europe or even elsewhere, taking his music to every kind of people. They also read his letters and they both loved that because he had always had the best sense of humor. He could transform even the direst of circumstances into the funniest event he had ever witnessed. They would laugh reading the letters and, when he visited, they would ask him to tell the anecdotes himself and they certainly didn’t change at all from the written versions. Anthony was not blood but he was more than family, something that couldn’t be explained.
In her youth, recently married, Lady Rosamund convinced her husband to adopt a kid from the streets. As a young bride, she was almost forced to do charity work, a thing many of the ladies where doing to look good in the public eye. But Rosamund had learned to like it, going to many of the hospices around town and reading to the sick or giving away old clothes to the needy. The children especially touched her because she felt they were all innocent of the lives they had been forced to live in. She cried often when she saw them dying of hunger or begging in the streets.
One day, she started working in the darkest of allies with other women, tending to the women that not even the church recognized as part of the community. Those women sold their bodies and Rosamund never found one that had to do it because she liked it. They all needed money to survive, they needed to live day by day, paying high prices for smelly rooms in awful places and often raising children that way. It wasn’t the life a child should have.
It was one of those days that she met Alice. Her face was very slim, her cheekbones very prominent due to the lack of food. Her skin had lost all natural silkiness and looked almost green in color. Rosamund was almost certain that women was not much older than her but from her face it was difficult to see that as she looked almost ancient in that alley. She had been beaten by her clients multiple times and hadn’t enjoyed a warm meal for many nights. So when the ladies invited her to a soup kitchen they had arranged for the people of the streets, she went gladly.
Alice ate very fast; almost as if she was afraid the bread and the soup would run out in any second. When she finished, a man guarding the door detained her as she was trying to smuggle out two pieces of bread. The man shamed her in front of everyone and stepped on the bread, Alice crying in horror. Her noise was heard by the ladies who came at once and saw what had happened. They expelled the man from the premises and asked Alice why she was taking food outside the dining hall. And she explained she had a son, a baby that was very ill because she had nothing to give him to eat.
Rosamund was shocked when she saw the baby, as green as his mother, not doing one sound. She felt sick and sad and decided to help Alice. She would try to get them both food every night and she did do that, even when she couldn’t be there in person. Alice thanked her for her support and then she had an idea that she had to confess when it was obvious she looked too much at the rich and beautiful woman. She asked Rosamund to take her baby as her son and give her the opportunities she could never give him. She knew the lady loved the baby, the way she played with him and looked at his little face.
Although her first thought was to say “No”, Rosamund knew that Alice was right. That baby was going to die soon if he didn’t get the help he needed. So she decided to ask her husband and the answer was a resounding “No”. He opposed the idea because he wanted their first son to be theirs and not and adopted kid from somewhere. She thought he was cruel and vile for not thinking about others, about the possible life that they could be saving if they took that baby in. Rosamund had to convince him for several days, even going to the length of seducing him and having intercourse with him.
She thought it was a message from God when she learned from her doctor that she was pregnant. She told her husband and begged, once again, to take in the baby. They could hide him until after their own son was born and then reveal him as a twin or a cousin or whatever. She just wanted that kid to have a chance. Her husband, already in love with their first child, finally accepted the proposal.
The separation of Anthony and her mother was fast but tragic: only a kiss in the forehead and some hushed words as he slept. Then Alice gave him to Rosamund and she left, not before giving her some money to try to make her life better, even if she wouldn’t have her son with her. She didn’t wanted the money at first, but the young woman, whose belly was beginning to grow, convinced her to do the best for herself and just invest that money in getting out of the streets. Sadly, that never happened. Rosamund would learn years later that Alice was victim of a crime in one of those dark allies and had died alone.
The babies grew at the same pace, Anthony always a bit bigger but weaker. As he didn’t move much when he was a kid, she decided to relate him to music, even hiring a piano teacher for both of her children. But John would rather play in the garden or in the park, with other kids. By the time Josephine was born, Anthony was already admired by the men in the Academy of Music. In a matter of a few years he became a sensation, even writing his own material. Rosamund would always go and see him play and kiss him dearly in the forehead, as Alice had done.
In time, she told him the truth and he just loved her more because of that. Inspired by the rough streets where he had been born and by the tragic story of his birth mother, he wrote of the best and most passionate operas that have ever been written. It was that piece that Rosamund hear from the balcony, very tired but still proud of the son who wasn’t her son and of his strength of character. It was the best way to honor both his mothers and the proof that all life is precious.