I caressed the worn keys with a gentle intensity, as if I were laying a hand upon the cheek of a lost love. In a way I was, as the black and ivory bars, now dulled with age, had been my passion for the better part of my life. Though it had fallen into a state of disrepair and was horribly out of tune, my beloved piano would always have a place in my home.
My gift was recognized at an early age and I was lucky in that the only jobs I ever had were showcasing my talents. While my father had worked in the fields battling against Mota's unforgiving climate, I was kept indoors, studying and practicing for hours upon hours every day so I could one day share my music with the rest of the world. I played the compositions of those who had died centuries ago, along with the music of my contemporaries. It was no secret that my favorite performances were the ones in which I got to play my own works; this was my preferred way of communicating, my form of expression, my shouts of joy, my cries of pain.
I played in Paseo for both massive crowds and intimate audiences. I played for government officials and for wealthy families. I played for the shopkeepers and the farmers. I played for the children and hoped to instill in them the love for music I had felt for as long as I could remember.
Regardless of where I was, I always played as if it would be my last time ever touching the instrument that had brought me so much delight and wonder. I didn't look at the keys, I didn't feel them...I was them. The piano and I were one and the same, a mystical hybrid that was the embodiment of every emotion I had ever felt. I filled the stage - naked, exposed, and vulnerable, baring my soul to close friends and perfect strangers night after night. To constantly share such an personal gift was frightening, thrilling, and utterly satisfying.
In addition to being a concert pianist, I taught lessons to dozens of eager students, both young and old. Watching them learn and grow was nearly as rewarding as my many performances. In a way, it was almost more meaningful to see them discover their own enthusiasm and abilities and realize that they themselves were capable of creating something magnificent.
With the eventual dominance of Mother Brain, I thought that the quality of our creative pursuits could only increase. If the people of Mota didn't need to constantly focus on survival, more attention could be paid to the things that enhanced our lives and brought beauty into our world. We would flourish and live in a cultured society, speaking the universal language of art that every Palman, Motavian, and Dezorian could understand.
The realization that I had been wrong took quite some time to accept. The citizens of Mota grew lazy and complacent and turned their noses up at anything that took too much effort or seemed unnecessary to them. The idea that music was not an integral part of our very existence was a foreign concept to me and I fought valiantly to preserve my craft.
Despite my best efforts, I was unsuccessful. The number of my concerts decreased until there were no longer any people willing to purchase tickets. I traveled around to the various towns hoping I would fare better there, but I had no luck. I tried to teach, but no one wanted to learn. Eventually, I settled for playing in nightclubs in Piata, until I was informed that my services were no longer needed. Apparently, it seemed absurd to pay a person to do a job a machine could accomplish.
The singers stopped singing, the painters stopped painting, the dancers stopped dancing. The connection I had felt with those around me when sharing my music had been broken. We no longer shared our happiness, our sorrow, our moments that formed the milestones of our lives. We felt nothing.
We were no better than the mindless drones that patrolled the borders of the residential areas. We had forgotten what it was like to be living, breathing creatures capable of true emotion. We had lost ourselves and I wanted nothing more than to believe that music could save us, that it could bring us back from the brink of our own destruction.
I, of course, appreciate all forms of art and support anything that inspires passion and creativity; however, it is natural that I would be biased towards music. I could think of nothing else that had the capacity to bring people together in triumph over the evils of the world. Whether they were united to perform together or to listen with each other, the bonds that represented our humanity could be rediscovered and we would be complete again. For it is music that can, like no other thing, simultaneously engage our bodies, minds, and souls; our hands, heads, and hearts.
Every glimmer of hope I ever had eventually faded away and, finally defeated, I returned to my home, the small town of Oputa. I was afraid to speak my thoughts out loud, but I couldn't help but wonder if Mother Brain was truly making our lives better if she had managed to strip away this essential part of us. It could be argued that there was no overt action that cast away our creative endeavors, but the quality of the life she had cultivated for us was certainly to blame. If she cared for us so much, how could she let these things escape us?
And so I sat alone in my small house at the edge of Oputa, where I could play as often or as little as I wanted and not bother anyone around me. With no audience, I played for myself, trying to regain the love for my art that had been the driving force throughout my life. Though the music was frequently able to reach through the barriers of my frustration, it was also a reminder of the current state of Mota. My personal performances grew further apart until I, too, became one of the people I had looked down upon and despised so much. I was an empty shell of my former self; though I was free of any need or desire, I was also devoid of the longing for beauty and the motivation to create that had always inspired me.
It was on one of these days, as I absentmindedly ran my fingers along the keys and reflected upon my life's work, that the fateful knock at the door came. I put on my glasses, as my aging eyes were beginning to fail me, and stood up to answer it. Standing on my doorstep was a strange trio - a young man who wore an agent's uniform, a taller, older blond man with an air of sadness about him, and a strange-looking girl with pointed ears dressed only in a leotard.
The agent spoke first. "Are you the piano teacher?" he inquired.
I eyed him curiously. "I am Ustvestia, a musician," I confirmed. I stepped aside and allowed them to enter my home. We stared at each other in silence for a few moments before I softly asked my hesitant question. "Do you want to hear me play?"
They each nodded their heads. As I sat down on the bench, I became aware that I was no longer accustomed to entertaining guests in this part of my house. Before I could offer to retrieve chairs for them from elsewhere, the blond man casually leaned against the door frame while his two companions sat down on the floor and looked up at me expectantly. They were ready; I hoped I was, too.
The keys felt both strange and familiar to my old hands. When I first struck them, the poor intonation of the simple chords made me wince, but I tried to ignore it and kept on. My fingers began moving faster and the music came flowing back to me, rushing forth as I finally allowed it to be released after all these years. I was complete again, I was made whole; I had found the other half of my body and the largest part of my soul.
I played every song I could think of, wanting to savor all of my lost memories. I covered thousands of years in less than a day, channeling those who had come before me. My hands initially ached from the years of disuse, but the pain vanished as I was filled with the love and warmth that had been missing for so long.
I am not entirely sure of how long I played, but it was enough to reawaken my spirit and bring me back to life before the eyes of my captive audience. As they were young, they were unsure of how to show their appreciation, but it did not matter. I should have been the one thanking them, as they were responsible for reminding me of who I was. The lost years did not bother me; from now on, I would always look towards the future.
I turned to face the agent. "Do you want to learn to play the piano?" I offered.
He considered the question. "Yes." His brow furrowed in concern as he began rifling through his pockets. "How much?"
I looked at the dusty, crumbling piano, the dilapidated walls around me, and my desire to see the rest of Mota again. "Two thousand meseta," I asked of him.
He agreed and I gestured for him to take a seat next to me. For the rest of the afternoon, we worked together. He was a smart man and he was able to grasp the technical concepts easily, but I reminded him that feeling was just as important as thinking. I watched the music build inside of him and a glance at the others proved to me that I was not alone in witnessing the transformation. There was only so much we could do in the space of a few hours, but the seeds had been planted. There were at least three more people on the planet willing to listen again.
After they thanked me and bid me farewell, I stood at the window and watched them leave. Though I had woken up that morning bitter, cold, and alone, I had regained my faith in the powers of music. It had never died inside me, it had just been dormant for many years; perhaps it could be the same for others in Algo. As the agent and his friends disappeared from sight, a small smile slowly appeared upon my face for the first time in ages. There was hope.