Johann's hands were numb, even in thick wool gloves. He shoved them into his coat pockets, watching his breath precede him in wisps of white frost as he trudged toward the symphony hall.
Inside the building his steps echoed in a hall meant to seat thousands. A single ray of sunlight struck the stage ahead of him. He ascended its steps, turning briefly to glance toward the back of the hall. He liked to look at it this way; from the stage, above the audience. The audience which had ceased to occupy the seats in recent years.
Turning toward left stage he spotted Jorge and walked toward him. The white-haired master composer sat in the dark, leaned forward with his head in his hands, his elbows resting on a large oak desk.
“Jorge? What is it?” Johann sat in the chair on the opposite wall, across from the desk.
Jorge raised his head. “Now it is paper: there is no paper.”
Johann had the bitter thought that he did not voice: “A month ago, there were no pens.”
“What will we do now?” The quavering voice echoed back to its owner.
“I suppose we could go back to chiseling stone”, Johann hoped to elicit a smile as he once would have.
Jorge dropped his head back into his hands. “You may be right”, he whispered. His shoulders drooped hopelessly.
Raising his head suddenly, he cried out, “Johann, this is my craft! This is what I do. How do I do my work without paper, without writing instruments?”
Johann glance around the dim corners and bare walls of the tiny room. He leaped to his feet. “I'll be back”, he tossed over his shoulder.
Retracing his steps to the hall, his eyes scanned left and right. Where had he seen it?
There it was: a low concrete wall, part of a bridge. He searched the ground. There. He picked up a couple of objects and returned to the hall.
“These Jorge. Look.”
“What is it?” asked Jorge, eying the odd lumps with a quizzical look.
“Your writing instruments – see.” Johann walked to one of the walls and made a mark.
“Oh! No,no. I could not desecrate these walls.”
“Jorge, who's going to care? Besides, is it right for you to be deprived of the tools of your livelihood?”
“Johann – it may not be right, but I cannot right a wrong with another wrong. These walls are not my property.”
“But Jorge, we must fight back – don't you see?”
“My young friend, we do not fight back this way. Besides, what would it accomplish, except to bring more punishment?”
“It is a way to fight back – like on the wall where I found these pieces of coal.”
“What wall; where?”
“The wall of the bridge over the river.”
“Johann, you watch. Whoever wrote on that wall will be found; they will be disciplined.”
Many hours later, taking the long way, Jorge followed the river toward the room he shared with nine members of his extended family. He crossed the same bridge, glancing at the wall.
“Jesus is Lord” was written there. Jorge stood for a long time, staring at the words.
The next afternoon Johann arrived at the hall. Jorge was not there, for the first time in twenty years.
Passing a newsstand on his way to his flat, he was arrested by a small headline and photo. Grabbing the paper, Johann dug for whatever coins were in his pocket and dropped them into the hand of the vendor, his eyes glued to the story.
It was several days later that Johann saw it. Low in a corner of a wall of the tiny office:
“You're right my friend. One has to fight back in whatever way he can. You know the truth. This was my way.”
Johann passed the wall on his way home. With the culprit in custody, the authorities had whitewashed the wall. Looking quickly around, Johann picked up a tiny chunk of charcoal. Kneeling at the wall, he wrote quickly. It seemed a fitting tribute to his friend.
An official riding over the bridge an hour later sighed, making a mental note. “We must stop these anarchists once and for all. Jesus is Lord. We'll see; we'll see what they write – when we take away their hands.”
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