Our boss got arrested last night. We were surprised to hear this, because Ms. Chang is such a suit. Grumpy even after her morning coffee—fetched by whoever is unluckily in her radius when she asks—Chang is the kind of boss who keeps her job for her capital and not her charisma. She’s always on the straight-and-narrow, so much so that she makes us use a script to sell the Steinways. This begs the question…what could Chang have possibly done to land herself in jail? And also, is her bail money coming out of our paychecks?
A group of us show up at the County Detention Center. It’s our first outing as a team. Stankovic, the assistant manager, approaches the desk. We hold our breaths as he says, “We’re here for Ms. Chang. Eh—Melody Chang.”
The clerk rifles through his papers. How many small, grumpy women could he be confusing her with? Finally, he looks back at Stankovic. “Yes, Chang. $300.”
Customers try to talk down our prices all the time, as if they don’t realize how priceless Steinways are. To put any number on the elegant instruments in our showroom seems a sin. Yet Stankovic seems to think he can haggle the price of releasing Ms. Chang. “250,” he says.
“Excuse me?” the clerk looks at Stankovic as if our assistant manager has walked into the wrong place. Well, we all feel that way.
We can’t see his face, but we imagine Stankovic reddening like he so often does when a customer lets loose on him. And just like we do in the showroom, we come to his rescue, hissing suggestions in his ear.
“You can’t put a price on Chang!”
“Ask what she was arrested for!”
Stankovic runs a hand through his balding hair. “Sorry-eh-$300, yes. Eh…what was she arrested for?”
The clerk glances down at Ms. Chang’s papers again. We hold our breath, waiting for the answer. “Civil disobedience,” the clerk states this as though he were bored by it. Maybe he’d hoped to read, “Arson,” or, “Murder rampage”.
What had she done, specifically? Had she yelled a cop? Maybe knocked someone’s handbag to the ground? We struggle to picture our boss as…disobedient.
“Civil disobedience,” Stankovic repeats. “What is that?” It’s unclear whether he is asking for a definition or a clarification.
“She was at the protests last night,” says the clerk. “You got $300?” He looks first at Stankovic and then to the group of us awkwardly clustered in the middle of the waiting room.
“The protests?” Amie blurts out. She’s Ms. Chang’s sister’s husband’s niece, or something like that, and the only one of us who thinks of Ms. Chang as a model figure in her life. “Like, she was protesting?”
Amie’s redundant question goes unanswered, but all of us are having trouble with the picture. Ms. Chang, wearing street clothes. Ms. Chang angry at something rather than someone. Ms. Chang, raising a homemade sign made of cardboard and inked with unprofessional lettering.
And then, through the fog of confusion, we envision Ms. Chang, not backing down in the face of a cop who was trying to silence her. Ms. Chang, insisting that every human life is priceless. Ms. Chang, not caring how shrill or undignified her voice might sound, so long as the world heard her message, because she was right, because she would fight, because she knew that like her beloved pianos, every human sang a beautiful song, and she could never speak wrong about one over the other.
The fog clears, leaving us still and silent, blinking in awe. We start opening purses and wallets, digging change out of our pockets, asking if the clerk takes Venmo. “Cash only,” he responds, uncaring.
Among the six of us, we cough up the bail, as though we are the ones paying for the “civil disobedience”, and yet, feeling that we, too, have become a part of the protest.
We murmur to each other as we wait for Ms. Chang to be released. Always someone to be tiptoed around, Ms. Chang has morphed into a hero figure in our minds. We are eager to see her emerge, to demand details, to tell her how impressed we are.
Our boss emerges, wearing a stained T-shirt, jeans, and sneakers. She clutches a drawstring bag tightly, and holds, yes, a cardboard sign. Ms. Chang looks at all of us with steel in her eyes. This is the Ms. Chang who knows she’s won something more than just a good sale or a high-end showroom performer, but a new part of her life.
Amie, the only one who can, hugs her uncle’s wife’s sister. Stankovic takes the sign from Ms. Chang, and we all look at it.
CHANG FOR CHANGE. Black Lives Matter.
Of course she had to put her name in the center of the message. No one ever said she was creative. Always direct. Always on message. That’s the Ms. Chang we know, and the same one who was arrested for protesting police violence.
“What did they get you for?”
“Was that your first protest?”
“Did they tear gas you?”
“Did you hit a cop?”
“Are you going back?”
“Can I come with you next time?”
Ms. Chang looks like she wants to sidestep our questions. In effect, she does. She simply opens her drawstring bag and pulls out a portable fan. “I blew tear gas back at the police,” she says.
There’s a beat of silence. We try to decide if this is a joke.
Collectively, only one of us react. A simple, “Wow.”
Ms. Chang nods, signature and business-like. “Who is at the store?”
“No, no, no,” she shakes her head in that familiar, she-knows-best way. “He will sell everything half-price. Let’s go, let’s go.” She waves her hands, ushering us out of the detention center like she’s shooing pigeons.
Maybe we’ll fight to be the one fetching her coffee, tomorrow morning. And maybe we’ll fight alongside her in the streets. Hopefully, Matthew will bail us out. Full price.