The sidewalk transporter hummed soothingly, almost lulling me into a trance. Designed to move the vast workforce of the city from their residential barracks to their office cubicles and back again, the transporter eliminated the individual’s need to be aware of his surroundings. I was a new employee in one of the government document offices and still getting used to life in the city. My existence was routine, boring at best.
I guess that's why the sweet musical notes I heard that morning drew my attention.
“Did you hear that?” I wondered aloud to the person behind me.
The man shook his head as if exiting a daydream. He listened, then sniffed. “Just another renegade. They come out once in a while from their hiding places. The city militia won’t detain them unless they become a nuisance. I’d ignore it.” He looked past me, his eyes regaining their trance-like appearance.
The sidewalk continued to move forward. I craned my neck to the side to see past the unending line of people waiting to get off at their workplaces. The liquid tones increased in volume, soaring and dipping with painful beauty.
An outline of an office building loomed ahead. Soon I would step from the transporter onto the escalator pad that would carry me up into the heights of the building to my work cubicle. Just before my step off point, a swaying figure caught my gaze.
I couldn’t tell what sex the mysterious musician was under its loose ragged robes. As I neared, the figure raised a silver tube to its lips and played. Its cornflower blue eyes sought mine. The melody sounded strangely familiar, something I remembered from my infancy. But so many years had passed since I last heard it. Music was one of the casualties when the current national regime ascended to power.
I frowned. How did that song go? The musician nodded to me and stopped playing long enough to smile as I passed.
Do I need to tell you how fruitless my workday was? Every moment was devoted to trying to recall the words to the haunting song the renegade had played. When I left the office building that evening, I watched and listened for the musician. Within five minutes, I heard the telltale sounds and saw the ill-clad figure. Curiosity, a feeling I hadn’t felt for years, bubbled up within me.
“Hey,” I called as the transporter brought me closer to the renegade’s post. The robed figure gasped and tucked its flute into a satchel.
“Wait!” I cried as the figure limped off into an alleyway I hadn’t noticed before. I glanced at the people on either side of me, staring blankly ahead, and made my decision. I dashed down the alleyway after the musician.
Even though the renegade was only a few yards ahead of me I was breathing heavily before I was able to grasp the figure’s robe. I swung the musician around to face me. A woman with a wrinkled leathery face stared at me, fear magnified in her eyes.
“You were playing a song this morning when I passed you.”
She nodded and tried to pull away.
“The name of the song . . . what was it?”
She smiled wistfully. Pointing to her mouth, she shook her head. With her free hand, she reached into her bag and pulled out a folded page which she thrust toward me.
I am the last of the Hymn-Keepers. Long ago, the government of this land had my tongue removed so that I could not teach others the melodies and words that were entrusted to me.
Tears came to my eyes as I realized I might never know the name of the poignant familiar melody. The musician gently stroked my cheek and removed another paper from her bag. With trembling hand she gave it to me.
My heart sank within me as I stared at the sheet music I held.
“Amazing grace,” I read. “How sweet the sound.”
I stared at the words, then back at her.
“Why me?” I whispered.
She smiled, and the love in her gaze seemed to draw the sun from the sky to illuminate every dark place in that alleyway. Including my own heart.
“When can I begin to learn?”
With a tilt of her head, she bade me follow. How could I turn away? All thought of my previous life vanished as I chose to seek the amazing Giver of Grace.
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