He’d seen the images on the television and in the news and on his phone. And he’d wept at the sight of them. There was so much horror in the world now. But this time he knew he had to help.
The sun shone as he walked up to what remained of the building. He carried a small folding seat underneath his arm. His cello case, beaten and worn and one wheel broken, wobbled along behind him.
The site left a gaping hole in the city block. It was an empty space, made all the more conspicuous by the lack of emptiness surrounding it. It was the absence of something tangible that called it out-like a vibrant smile with a missing front tooth.
Buildings stood to either side of the space, the area between them all rubble and jagged chunks of concrete. Twisted steel rebar climbed from the wreckage, clawing its way toward the sky. A concrete pillar lay across the front of the lot-gigantic, immovable, and cracked cleanly in half. After several days, smoke still wormed its way from the deepest depths of the destruction.
Meanwhile life in the city around the lot continued. As it must.
But somehow that life seemed less vibrant. . .less bright.
The volunteers who’d come to search and the mourners who’d come to wail were all gone now. The rains from the day before had washed away the last of them. The showers, like tears from the clouds, soaked the impromptu memorials in a cleansing embrace. Bits of roses made of cloth, soggy photographs, and handwritten notes, the paper turned to wet mush and the ink running in blurred rivulets, littered the street in front of the lot. There were other mementos as well-a string of plastic prayer beads, a small porcelain elephant, a postcard from the city of New York, a teddy bear with a single eye.
In front of the remnants of terror, he leaned his cello against the concrete pillar. He unfolded his small chair with solemn grace. He pulled the cello from its case, inhaling the sweet scent of the polishing oil and caressing the instrument’s surface, so smooth to the touch, as he did so. The cello’s burnished wood glowed with an inner light that was almost ethereal.
He took a seat and spread his legs wide, taking the cello into his lap. He placed his old cap top-down in the dust in front of him. He touched his fingers to the cello’s neck. The bow, taut and ready, hung poised above the strings.
He looked around one last time, absorbing the sorrow of the place, letting the misery and tragedy soak in. He closed his eyes against the tears. And brandishing the sorrow like a weapon, he placed bow to strings and began to play.
Notes sounded, deep and reverberating, throughout the space. They filled the air with a song both mournful and full of hope. As his fingers moved, they created notes that twisted and spun though the sky, taking the pieces of rubble with them.
On and on he played, and as he did the scene behind him changed. The concrete column rose, mending itself. Pieces of plaster and stone lifted from the drywall dust and insulation, circling in a torrent like a tornado before returning to their rightful places.
The music rose, and scattered bricks re-formed into walls. Shattered steel mended. Burst pipes reconnected. He closed his eyes, the tears flowing freely now, a catharsis of what had transpired here. The sun behind him sped west to east, keeping in time with the music. Day rolled back into night, then back to day again. The sun raced after the moon in a backwards chase, like a sped-up filmstrip moving in reverse.
The man played on, the intensity growing until the melody reached a crescendo. An explosion blossomed behind him, then folded back in on itself and was no more. The melody slowed. A flood of people rewound from the building. A man, dressed as if he worked in an office. An old woman, a jida (grandmother), holding a child’s hand. The child gripped a well-loved stuffed bear with a single, shiny plastic eye. A beautiful woman in a green hijab walked in reverse from the building. Then the cellist played his final note, and everything stopped.
For a spilt second the world hung, frozen and suspended. Then it resumed.
The woman in the green hijab again walked toward the building, but this time she stopped. She turned toward he cellist, then went over and dropped several dinars into his upturned hat.
“Thank you,” he said.
He smiled, wide and weary. The woman smiled back, brilliant white teeth against gorgeous brown skin. Then she turned and walked away, already forgetting the sad old musician, her mind already focusing on the workday ahead.
The cellist stood and stretched, his knees and elbows creaking. He wiped his eyes and placed the cello back inside its beaten case. He sighed. How he wished he could be in more than one place at a time. But there was only one of him, after all. And there was so much sadness.