This is the first post of Knights of the Revolution, a serialized libertarian novel. A new chapter will appear (at least) once a week on Art For Liberty.
Thomas Sindamo stopped dead in his tracks and stood up straight. He had been hunched over to one side, lugging his burden across the infirmary. Though he was strong for a ten year old, the bucket he carried was almost more than he could bear. He had been dreaming up bitter recriminations against Sister Schiller as he carried the heavy bucket full of some foul smelling semi-solid mixture when he heard a song faintly emanating from Sister Schiller’s tiny office. The music, barely audible, grabbed Sindamo’s attention, so much so that he forgot his anger at the punishment he was receiving for failing his afternoon math test.
He walked past the stairway entrance that would have taken him out of the mission’s infirmary and into the cool African night (and the latrine where he was supposed to take the bucket). The night’s chore was forgotten as he followed the music. It was louder now, and he could recognize it as some kind of classical music. He continued on to the office at the end of the long infirmary hall.
After absent mindedly placing the bucket off to the side, he opened the door to the office without knocking. Normally, Sindamo would have knocked. Not only was it against the rules to enter a sister’s office unannounced, but Thomas Sindamo was a polite, shy boy who would never knowingly annoy his teachers.
He found Sister Schiller sitting behind her desk, looking at the radio. She was illuminated by the rays of the setting sun coming in through the office window, and Sindamo could see the glint of a tear in the corner of her eye.
Sister Schiller was a demanding taskmaster, quick to mete out punishments to children who failed to live up to her exacting academic and behavioral standards. Under normal circumstances, Sindamo would have been highly surprised by the soft, flushed expression on Sister Schiller’s pale, worn face, but he too was absorbed in the music coming from the radio.
The melody was simple in the same way that a direction from God would be simple. It constituted a final, definitive, irreducible statement. The tune built itself up slowly out of contemplative, hopeful string sections, like a scientist who senses that he is closing in on a tremendous discovery. Different sections of the orchestra grasped the tune for flickering moments only to dissolve away from it. Sindamo silently urged the musicians on the radio to hold onto that melody. Â Finally, the full theme, the revelation, burst forth, manifesting itself in triumphant bursts from blaring brass instruments. It was the most beautiful thing Sindamo had ever heard.
“Ode an Die Freude. The Ode to Joy.” Sister Schiller seemed to be talking to herself, but Sindamo knew she had translated the song’s title from her native German to the English spoken by everyone at the mission.
Then the melody was lost in frantic brass and doubtful, questioning strings. However, that doubt was wiped away by a single clear voice, singing a few sentences in incomprehensible German. Then, as the melody came back, the voice cried one word that was echoed by what seemed like a thousand voices and transmitted over the radio: “FREIHEIT.” And suddenly the melody was back, this time sung by the lone singer, and then the thundering chorus.
The word visibly impacted Sister Schiller, whose tears no longer sparkled in the corner of her eye, but streamed down across her face. Sindamo, not knowing any German, had no idea what the word meant. Whatever the meaning, Sindamo could hear a crowd erupt in furious applause and shouts of happiness as if they had been waiting years to hear that word.
Sindamo wanted to ask what was going on, but saw that Sister Schiller was totally absorbed by the music. Even a ten year old could tell that Sister Schiller’s life, or, for that matter, any life, had contained few if any moments such as this. Interrupting it would be a sin more unspeakable than the ones Sister Schiller claimed would invite damnation.
The singers thoroughly explored the melody, disassembling it and building it back up over the next fifteen minutes. After the crashing, culminating finale, Sister Schiller reached over and turned the radio off. She sat quietly for a moment and then turned to Sindamo.
“Thomas, remember to thank God you were able to hear that.” Sindamo thought it would be better to thank whoever made the music and suggested as much. Sister Schiller laughed. “Herr Beethoven is long dead, child. Besides, I imagine the reason for the concert makes him pleased enough with his work as it is.”
“What is that reason, Sister?”
Sister Schiller explained about the wall that had separated her country and family for most of her life. She said that the wall had fallen, and now people in both parts of the country could do and say the things the government of one part had forbidden. “That’s why they changed the words tonight. What happened wasn’t about ”freude‘, joy. Of course, we all felt that, but this is more specific. Someone put in the right word.”
“Was it ‘freiheit‘?” Sindamo asked, remembering the word that had triggered the cacauphonous applause and the rebuilding of the melody.
Sister Schiller nodded. “Freiheit. Maybe you’ll understand what it means someday.”
Sindamo wasn’t satisfied with that answer, and curiosity overcame his politeness. “Well, what does it mean?”
“Freedom, Thomas. Today, we heard the Ode to Freedom. And now that the world has heard it, everything will change. It might take longer in some parts than others, but as long as there are people to hear that music, no one who claims arbitrary power over another is safe.”