ruth’s solc: the harmonica.
Snuggled on the couch. Surrounded by my favorite quilt. Alone. I hold a new book. I take a moment to notice the dark cover. Although it is hand-drawn, it almost looks like a photo.
Barbed wire slashes through a boy in stripes, holding a harmonica. In the background, more men in stripes look on. They all look worn, run-down, tired. Yet, there appears to be hope amongst them.
I begin to read. Slowly I linger on each page. Slowly my eyes waltz across the images.
A happy family, who has found joy in the simple. They love one another and although a war is raging outside, it is far away and they are left untouched.*
I turn the page. The pictures turn cold. I don’t want to read on. My heart aches.
But he has his harmonica. He touches it to keep from losing hope.* The commandant of the camp learns he can play Schubert. Since he loves Schubert and he is in control, he forces the boy to play for him. Each night he calls for him. Each night the boy plays. Each night the commandant tosses him a crumb of bread. He feels sick for playing.
I feel sick for him. And I don’t understand the commandant. He appreciates beauty in music, but treats human beings like dirt? I wish the boy would quit playing for the commandant, because the commandant doesn’t deserve it. Yet, he can’t quit, because he doesn’t deserve to die. I turn the page.
“I despised myself for every note,
every harmonica-breath until
one day a whisper grazed
my ear. ‘Bless you.’
‘For what?’ I asked the dark.
With the last turn of the page, the colors warm and my heart does too. He is playing for the memory of his parents, for the others in stripes, and for hope. I close the book and let the tears stream down my cheeks.