It takes a Japanese book and Leoš Janáček’s ghost to remind a professional violinist in quarantine that Brno has not changed into someplace else.
When Viktor woke up there was something very different about the world outside.
The mechanical clock on Náměstí Svobody wasn’t made of black marble. Its rings were white like snow and rotated with unusual velocity. The rest of the view from Viktor’s kitchen window didn’t seem that strange, actually maybe looked exactly the same as before, but nevertheless it felt very weird, almost exotic.
It took Viktor few minutes to realize something has changed. Mornings, right? He woke up, headed to the kitchen, looked at the (now) white mechanical clock, yawned, grounded some coffee and loaded it into a mocca pot, looked again at the (now) white mechanical clock, yawned, poured the coffee into his favourite mug that felt a little strange in his hand today like if it got a bit lighter during the night, got some milk from the fridge, sat at the table and slowly sipped the bitter goodness while looking at the (now) white mechanical clock. He yawned again and finally thought ‘what?’.
“Haven’t you climbed some highway stairs lately?” was the automatic response of Viktor’s bookworm girlfriend when he called her to announce that he finally went crazy as a bat from the quarantine.
“Why would I do such thing?” said he, absolutely perplexed.
“Well, that could be a little hard to explain,” said she and he could almost see her touching her glasses and biting her lower lip, “you see, last time I went to your place, I left a book on the bedside, didn’t I?”
“A book,” mumbled Viktor and went to the bedroom to take a look, “yes. You left a book. Do you want me to send it to you?”
“Not really, I’ve already read it twice.”
“Of course,” Viktor smiled.
“I think you should read it,” said she.
“Izu, honey, you know I’m not much of a reader,” said Viktor and picked up the book. It wasn’t old or new, something between. And it was very thick. The title read 1Q84.
“I know,” said Izumi, “but just try to open it now, would you?”
Viktor sighed and opened the book on the first page. He sat down on the bed and read the first article. Instantly he could almost hear the first measures of Janáček’s Sinfonietta playing as his eyes swam through the sentences where it was mentioned.
“Isn’t the author of the book Japanese?” said he, amazed. Sinfonietta was a rather Czech, even rather Moravian kind of piece. It seemed unusual for it to be mentioned by an Asian writer.
“I think you should read it,” she repeated and the smile in her distorted telephone voice was very audible. Viktor couldn’t really see how reading 1Q84 by Mr. Murakami could help him with his little mechanical-clock-being-white-and-everything-feeling-weird problem but he gave up anyway and told his girlfriend that he’ll try.
There wasn’t much to know about Viktor. He was a violinist and that was it. From when he could remember, violin was aplha omega to him. Which of course meant that during the pandemic he was basically jobless, joyless, purposeless couch potato that spent his days watching shows on Netflix, trying to figure out cooking or torturing his neighbours with hours of obsessively practising pieces that will not be performed – or at least not this season. He felt bluer than the blues.
Since the mechanical clock mysteriously changed color (or Viktor started hallucinating which, to be honest, might be a more likely option) and Viktor’s girlfriend Izumi told him to read the Murakami stuff, his brain couldn’t get rid of Sinfonietta. It was driving him even crazier. Taa daa daa daa, ta da daa daa dah dah… Over and over again. At one point he even went through his old sheet music from conservatory times. And there it was, at the very bottom of the box. The complete score for Janáček’s Sinfonietta.
He took his violin, opened the score on the sheet music stand and started to play. He didn’t even finish the first movement when he suddenly felt the urge to stop at once and grab the book. He played a few more measures. After that the temptation became almost unbearable. Finally he stopped playing, put his violin down and opened the 1Q84.
Viktor really never was much of a reader. But now it seemed like the lines and pages just poured inside his head. There was something about the story that resonated with his very soul. Izumi really knew why to make him read this. The plot was illogical and didn’t really have the gradation that we’re used to from all the popular movies that everybody loves. It reminded him of some of the 20th century music. It felt natural while strange. The book really got to him.
When he – after few days – finished reading the last page, a strange buzz came from the outside. Viktor looked out the window and to his surprise, the (still) white mechanical clock rotated faster and faster. What a weird world, he thought. Suddenly he was sure he’s not in Brno anymore. In the book he just finished, one of the main characters found out it isn’t 1984 anymore and called the year 1Q84. Viktor was absolutely sure that the same thing happened to him.
This is BRNQ, a city of empty streets and desserted theatres and music venues. City of overwhelming silence, city of nothingness. City of fear that something tiny and invisible is coming to get you. City of white mechanical clock rotating with enormous speed, reminding everyone how time irreversibly flies away as we do nothing and just wait for better days.
Viktor almost felt tears in his eyes when he realized this. But he decided right away to fight it in the only way he knew. He took his violin, a stand, Sinfonietta score and with a face mask he left the house. He walked straight towards the rotating mechanical clock that almost looked like a blurred white space missile as the speed accelerated. It was the scariest thing he’d ever seen. For a moment that courage that led him outside seemed to fade. Viktor put the violin case on the ground and sat next to it. He felt helpless.
“Bluer than the blues, aren’t you?” said a man’s voice and Viktor raised his head to look at the stranger.
He smiled sadly: “ What would you know about blues, Mr. Janáček.”
Janáček quietly stood in his long coat and a hat, watching the sad violinist.
“I would ask you to help me, Mr. Janáček. But this is BRNQ. There is no music being played for people’s hearts now. There is just silence. Silence and waiting. The world has been changed by fear and that’s how it is. You have no power here, nor do I,” said Viktor finally and his words echoed across the empty square.
“Oh dear son, have you learned nothing?” laughed Janáček.
“Didn’t you just read a book in silence for days while still hearing the music in between the lines and pages right inside your heart? Music is not a thing that can be killed by a tiny bit of silence. Music is wild and eternal and actually – when you think about it in detail – music is made by a sequence of little silences between the notes. The Japanese call this ma. The emptiness that is actually a significant object. They believe that what is there can be as impotant as what is missing.”
“What the hell do you know about Japanese, Mr. Janáček,” laughed Viktor but he felt like he’s starting to get what the ghost came here to say.
“It doesn’t matter what I know about Japanese. It doesn’t even matter if I’ve ever heard the blues. What matters is that you know perfectly well how to get back from BRNQ,” said Mr. Janáček.
Viktor slowly nodded. The courage came back again.
He opened the case and took out the violin. Opened the score and took a deep breath. He started to play the Sinfonietta, facing the white mechanical clock like if he was fighting it with the music. Few measures in, he realized it actually does something. The rotation started to slow down little by little. Then the clock began to turn back into its original color. He felt like the most powerful violinist in the whole world.
When he finished, the clock looked absolutely ordinary. The whole world didn’t feel weird anymore. Viktor was back in Brno. He smiled, so proud of himself, wanted to turn around to thank Mr. Janáček’s ghost, but there was nobody behind him. Instead an applause started to echo across Náměstí Svobody. Viktor looked up and saw people on balconies and inside open windows clapping their hands and smiling ear to ear. Díky!, some of them shouted. Viktor was in shock at first but then he bowed a little.
That evening he went to bed feeling undeniably happy. After few weeks in quarantine he finally wasn’t scared. His life, the musica, was still alive and to be reborn stronger than ever – and of course also Brno was.