I don't know what attracted me to the book. I guess it was because it was just lying there neglected amongst the heap of old raggedy clothes, rat-eaten books, cob-webs and broken trinkets. My granny Aishling had asked me round to her house earlier as she needed help to clean up:
"Sure, I'll be there in a minute Gran." I said over the phone.
"Ta bairn. Sorry to trouble you with this." She replied cheerfully as she thanked me, "Cho!" As she said goodbye, I couldn't help thinking: fifteen years old and I'm still called a bairn - a child.
Gran relegated me to cleaning the attic of her small cottage and she took the rooms on the ground floor. Her arthritis had gotten worse over the years and stopped her from climbing the ladder into the attic, but despite this and despite being eighty, she could still out manoeuvre anyone while vacuuming the floors downstairs. I wanted to help but she said a fit young lassie like me should be upstairs sorting through all the mess she couldna reach. So there I was standing amidst the gloom and dust of the tiny attic - afraid to touch anything should I feel a hairy spider or feel crumble horribly from age. As I began sweeping and sorting through relics, I couldn't help remember a discussion Gran and I had the other day.
We were having tea and watching the television in her small living room, well she was watching it as she sat on her moth-eaten green settee and knitting a sweater for some distant relative and I was staring blankly at the TV screen mulling over something. "Could you talk to Mum about it please?" I pleaded with Gran. I had begged Mum and Dad for piano lessons for the one hundredth time but they had again, blatantly refused. Gran continued to knit, not taking her bespectacled eyes from TV show, "Ye ken as well as I dae that she winnae cheenge her mind." She replied matter-of-factly. I knew she would say that. All my life I had wanted to become a pianist ever since I saw a piano performance on TV. However my parents never saw that as a proper career. "Why do ye want tae play the piano for? You don't get money fae it. If you study hard at school ye could be a doctor or a lawyer." My Dad had said when I kept asking for piano lessons. I wanted to be a musician - to feel my fingers glide over those snow white keys as they produced heavenly music - not be trapped in some boring job. However, over the years, my parent's views never changed.
I thought about this as I swept the attic floor and jabbed into dusty corners. As I accidentally knocked over a box of back-breaking books, it spilled out - the book. It was different to the others that were now scattered over the floor - large, dusty tomes showing women kissing men on the covers - bodice rippers Gran had called them with a sly smile on her face. This particular book was small, plain and bound in a green fabric. As I picked it and flicked through the yellowed pages, they crackled sent dust and tiny paper fragments into the air. I opened it to a random page and read, "I ran away from home that day..." and dropped the book. Ran away from home? I had dreamt about doing that before, back before...I thought as I picked up the book and read the first page. Two words were written in beautiful, old fashioned cursive: My Song. Beneath that were two words, a name - Treasa MacAra. I turned the page and was stunned to read:
"To my family. Please hear this, hear me, hear my song. I know it is sometimes difficult to achieve the things we wish for, I know that sometimes it seems like people think they know better but really, who else can know what is happening inside us - within our hearts and souls. Do not be afraid to cry out - even if you fear to do so. I did and I am forever grateful . Please do not keep quiet. Sing."
Suddenly Gran called me from downstairs and I was torn away from reading the rest of this book. I found it strange how I was thinking about my dashed dream and then I should find this strange book - clearly written by a woman long ago, a woman who had apparently fought for her dreams and won. I picked up the book and went downstairs. Gran was standing in the hallway holding a pink tray stacked high with sandwiches and chocolate biscuits. She smiled when she saw me, "Ah, there ye are Oran. Yer hungry no doubt. Let's go ben and hae..." she trailed off as she saw what was in my hand. Her smile changed for a second. I can't quite say how, but it did. But then she just motioned towards the living room and we went through. As she set the tray on her coffee table she began, "An int'risting book don't ye think?" She asked. Her blue eyes looked at me seriously from over her glasses. I looked at the book, which now lay on the table, "To be honest, I only read the first two pages." I answered. She sat down on her plump settee and grinned, "I bet yer hooked noo right?" She nodded, laughing. But then she grew serious, "It's a lovely story. But a sad ane tae. I suggest ye keep readin' it. Ye may find it insightful." She said slyly. I picked up the book and continued reading:
"My name is Treasa MacAra, but I was born Treasa MacBay in 1881 to the well-to-do MacBay family in the Scottish town of Dundee"
"Dundee?" I asked out loud surprised. That's where we were, where we lived. I lived in the small Fintry district in the North of Dundee and and my Gran lived to the west of that near some woods in the Claverhouse area. She only nodded, "Keep reading Oran."
"We lived in the North part of the town near the woods and farmland. I had two brothers Angus and Charles and was the only daughter. The only things I remember about my childhood were that I disliked living there. I loved the farmland, the animals, the tall trees and the people - but I disliked living there with my mother and father. They were very rude to the people that lived in the other houses. My father was a fairly rich English merchant and while selling produce here, he saw my mother and fell in love with her. She was a beautiful person - she was slim, had long, chestnut coloured hair and fair skin. My parents began courting and were soon married. She soon had my brothers and I and my father became even richer and decided to build a large house here.
The wealth changed mother. She and father began to look down their noses to others and even me. My brothers were obedient but I disliked the wealth. I disliked the rudeness. I did not want to be rich; I just wanted to be happy. Even at my young age I could see that money did not bring happiness - father constantly worried about his wares and mother constantly worried about the house. As I grew older I longed to find happiness elsewhere. I began singing. One of our servants - a young chamber maid my father had brought with him from England. She had a plain face and black curly hair but it was she who taught me how to sing - she said she learned from one of those black, savage people who were brought over here as slaves. Despite her plain looks, she could sing like a bird - beautiful notes that could cheer you up and make you smile. It was she who told me that there were people who performed and sang for money. Ever since then, I thought nothing else except singing."
I stopped reading. She's like me. Who is she? I looked at Gran and she seemed to be thinking similar thoughts. She gestured to the book, "The woman who wrote that was yer great-great grandmother Treasa." She said simply. I just sat there staring at the book in my hands. I wasn't sure how I felt; here was a woman in the past, connected to me, who wished for the same sort of dream as me. Surely she achieved it?
"Gran, can I take this home to read?" I asked clutching the book to my chest. She nodded.
"I was hoping ye'd find it," she said, "I wanted it tae help ye, like it helped me." I looked at her. She was always a strong woman, despite wearing the thick glasses, sombre coloured sweaters and granny dresses, she could chase you when she was mad and she was quick with a hat pin or a broom. I wondered how the book helped her. "What did the book help you with?" I asked her, but she merely shook her head and smiled.
"That's a story for anither time." She replied cryptically.