I was in a forest. A forest full of trees and grass and twigs. No people there except for me and the other soldiers. It was a forest, an abandoned forest in the middle of nowhere. There should not have been a piano there.
But there it was. Sitting in the center of a clearing, silent and pointless and rather pathetic looking. It was the forest. The only wood there should have been trees and twigs and logs. It was a place for nature, not something crafted by man. Pianos do not belong in forests.
I moved closer because it caught my attention. Nobody else seemed to notice, or if they did they didn’t care. But I did for some reason. I remember thinking maybe if I moved closer, I would find out why I cared so much, a meaning behind what felt like the line being pulled in on a fish-rod, with myself being the fish. So I stepped forward, though I will not say that it was all together willingly.
It was missing a total of 14 keys. Eight of them were white and six of them were black. That is the first thing I noticed about the piano. The second was that weeds had grown up in between the legs of the instrument, rooting the piano there as though it were part of the forest, grown like some sort of badly misshapen tree. Still despite all that, the wood’s finish was still glossy and the ivory of the keys was still smooth to the touch.
Smooth, like the way ink flows out of a pen. Smooth as I signed my name on a line, binding me into service to my country. I was not sure I wanted to when I wrote my name. I was not sure I wanted to go to war. Still my father told me this is what boys do. This was how boys became men. They fought. They served their country. It seemed to me then that Manhood should be black like ink then. But in the entire time I had been there, making myself a ‘man’, all I could see was that if war is what it means to be a man, then it was red. Deep red, flowing like ink but nobody seemed to want to use it to sign their name.
I didn’t blame them. After all, I didn’t want to write my name with it either, so who was I to criticize them. And yet I couldn’t help but wish somebody would. That somebody would rush out and write their name in all capital letters and say ‘this is mine’. Maybe then I would not have to feel as though it were my own. When I signed my name, the ink rubbed off on my hands, staining them black. Now my hands were red, and everyone else’s hands there were red, and something inside me wondered if everyone’s hands are stained red to the point the world considers it normal?
So maybe that is why I felt surprised when the white ivory keys did not stain when I ran my fingers across them. A whisper of potential sound leaked out. Abandoned and missing keys, yet the piano still worked. I hesitated for a moment before pressing my finger down, making it sing. After I gingerly lifted up my finger, I was surprised once again to see no stain. Just white piano keys.
Its funny how in the strangest of situations, people tend to notice little details. I was standing in the middle of a forest, in the middle of a war, a piano in front of me that came from lord knows where and all I remember noticing is how pianos are made of wood.
Pianos are made of wood and here it was sitting in a forest. A piano does not belong in a forest. The only type of wood that should be there should come from trees. And a piano, while still coming from trees, has had its wood twisted by man. Man, whose hands are red. And yet the piano’s keys were still white. And yet, even though it was broken, and parts of it were missing and it was in a place it really had no business being in, the piano still made music with its white keys. Music comes from man. And music is beautiful, even if the pianist’s hands are red.
But as fate would have it, I would not be allowed to sit there philosophizing about this piano forever. My commander called out my name, saying we were moving on. Just as I was unsure of why the piano called to me, I was unsure of why I did not want to leave. Maybe it was because to me it seemed lonely. Sitting in that forest, forcibly silenced because who else would stumble upon that piano and then sit down to play it? It seems to be a cruel and unusual fate to condemn something built to fill the air with noise to an eternity of silence.
And maybe it was this too. The fact that it was only 14 keys missing. Those keys could easily be replaced. The weeds could be uprooted, the piano could be saved. A part of me wanted to ask the commander if we could do just that. But the words didn’t make it past my lips. It was a stupid question and I knew it. Just as pianos do not belong in forests, they do not belong in war.
So I turned. I turned my body and made myself march like a soldier. A soldier on the way to yet another battle. A soldier on the way to prove his worth by shooting more soldiers who were doing just the same thing. I couldn’t help but think about how much better the world would be if that instead of preaching to young boys that manhood is forged in red, we taught them about the forgiving whiteness of piano keys that refused to stop singing and never seemed to stain.