The sky was a dark shade of grey as if foreshadowing what was to come.
Nicholas took out his violin and gently placed it on his left shoulder. The moment the bow in his right hand made contact with the strings, all of the storm clouds vanished, revealing a bright sun adorning an ocean-like sky.
A 19-year-old Nicholas turned into a four-year-old boy walking down a narrow street paved with cobblestones. His mother was right next to him, holding his hand, skipping as she went and smiling. Nicholas had been to Zagreb many times since then, but no other trip had such an impact on his life as the very first one.
Entering the Jelačić plac, the boy and his mother stopped by a mime, who was trying to get out of an invisible box. The pair giggled at the silliness of the performing man. While it was entertaining at first, they soon got bored and ended up moving on. Only a few meters away, a woman dressed in all back stood motionless. A sign at her feet explained that nothing would make the woman move. Naturally, there were multiple people making funny faces at the lady, trying to make her laugh, but to no avail. Nicholas wondered why someone would choose to stand in one position all day and deny themselves the pleasures of talking and laughing. As they kept on walking, they saw a man sitting on the ground and bouncing a soccer ball on his foot. A group of teenage boys surrounded the man, whistled, and cheered as he performed his act.
Since it was a beautiful, warm spring day, the mother promised her son a scoop of ice cream from a tiny shop she used to frequent with her father when she was a child. But before they got there, they encountered one more street performer. A haggard old woman stood on the corner and quietly played her violin. A few people stopped to watch her perform. Some of them even tossed a couple of coins into her open violin case. The sound of the instrument was enchanting to Nicholas, so he asked his mother to stay and listen for a while. The performance was so magical that he had even forgotten about the promised ice cream.
The woman looked as if she was not aware of anything that went on around her. She was in her own world, clearly grieving something or someone. The tune tugged at Nicholas’ heartstrings. To his surprise, the next song was far from sad. The woman beamed with joy and energetically wielded the bow. Nicholas could not believe how quickly his mood changed, depending on what was being played. He vowed that day that he would get a violin, learn to play it, and make other people happy by performing for them. After all, there was too much sadness in the world.
With his eyes closed and his head in the clouds, Nicholas did not hear his mother come into the room until she touched his shoulder. He jumped up, nearly causing the bow to fall out of his hand. His mother informed him that Sergei – his friend – had been drafted into the national army along with a few other boys from the village.
“They will come for you, too. You know?” – she asked, hiding her shaking hands behind her back, trying not to show how much she worried.
Nicholas knew she was telling the truth. A war has broken out, and fighting age males were being turned into soldiers. He could not believe that in the XXI century, people still had to worry about bombs flying above their roofs. There was no violent bone in Nicholas’ body, and he planned on saying exactly that to whoever came to draft him. He was not going to touch a gun, let alone hold it, or worse – kill with it. He could not even imagine a life without the violin. It saved him so many times in the past, and it was going to save him again. Nicholas had a plan. He heard that the authorities were not drafting anyone who had been serving the community. While he did not see himself in the role of a priest, he believed he could find a job that would keep him far away from the frontlines of the war.
Since posting resumes online did not bring the desired result, Nicholas decided to take matters into his own hands, and so he decided to personally approach potential employers. For days, no matter where he went, he had been instructed to apply online and to wait for someone to reach out to him. Nicholas had been waiting for too long. More and more of his local boys had been drafted every day.
When he saw a job posting on the primary school’s door, he thought he finally caught his break. The ad was for the position of music teacher.
“Perfect!” – Nicholas almost exclaimed out loud, unable to contain his excitement.
As he entered the administrative office of the school, the secretary looked up from her desk in surprise. She clearly had not expected him. Nicholas explained the reason for his visit, but the woman claimed that there are no available openings for any of the positions at that school. After he went outside and brought the posting from the door back, the secretary agreed to take his resume to present it to the principal. Nicholas hoped that she would not throw it in the trash the moment he left.
His phone vibrated gently as he walked out of the school.
“Job opportunity” – was the title of the email that popped up on his phone.
He input the address from the email into Google Maps and set out towards it without a second thought as the email highlighted the fact that walk-ins are welcome. Once he arrived at his destination, he verified the address against the information from the email and the fact that there were jobs for anyone in a variety of positions.
Upon entering the building, he was greeted and asked to sit down in a cozy waiting area. Within minutes, he was called in for an interview.
“Do you have any talents? What can you show us? Why should we hire you” – one of the men sitting behind a desk asked without asking Nicholas his name.
“I play the violin” – Nicholas answered, wondering if he could call himself talented.
“You know this is the military, right? Why would we need someone who plays the violin in the military?” – the man in the middle asked, looking up from a pile of papers in front of him.
“Music is good for morale” – Nicholas answered, surprising himself with such a smart and quick response.
“Go on, then. Show us what you can do with that instrument of yours” – the third man said, leaning back in his chair and crossing his arms.
Nicholas pulled out his violin and the bow and started playing, losing himself in the music as per usual. When he opened his eyes, the three men were applauding.
“You got the job” – the first man announced, noting something on a piece of paper in front of him.
Nicholas could not believe his luck. He could not wait to share the good news with his mother.
“I went to so many places today. Again. No one would even talk to me” – he began.
“Rumor has it that there is an imposed hiring freeze for all males” – his mother said, gently touching his arm, trying to comfort her son.
“The military is recruiting” – Nicholas said, trying to sound neutral.
His mother was taken by surprise. She had never thought that her son would want to enlist.
“They hired me to play the violin to boost morale” – Nicholas explained.
“I will stay far away from the frontlines, and I will be doing what I love” – he added excitedly, hugging his mother.
She did not know whether to laugh or cry.
“Surely, he does not believe that” – his mother thought to herself, hugging him tightly.
When they drove Nicholas and other young men onto the front, he still thought he would play his beloved instrument. That was until he was handed a rifle.
“I’m here for the morale. I play the violin” – he said, handing back the weapon.
The man handing out the guns laughed.
“You were hired because you’re good with your hands. Channel your emotions through this instrument instead” – the man said, pushing Nicholas onto the battlefield.