In the midst of all the self help gurus telling us to find our true role in life, a question that has always puzzled me was:
‘What if you found your true role in life and that role was something truly evil?’
It began with the rhythm and the rhythm was the low bass beat of the drum. The man could not remember a time before it was there. At one year old his mother had noticed that when left alone to play, he would often stare at the wall and just clap out its metre, again and again and again. As he grew older however, he showed no inclination towards music or the arts. Stocky and well built, his strength and coordination were uncanny. From the moment he could walk, he displayed an intuitive understanding of where to put himself in space. At school, he mastered sport after sport until he came to boxing and found his first love. He spent hours on the bag, punching flurry after flurry of punches into its canvas. His father built him a gym in the garage so he could practice on the nights when there was no training. Once his mother came to watch him but left, when she became disturbed by the uncanny cadence of his movement. It was as if he was dancing to a beat in his head, his hands and legs moving in perfect coordination.
When he worked out, the beat would be joined by music, the rich velvet of strings, ebbing and flowing with his actions and it was this which guided him. The rare occasions he put a foot wrong, a jarring note would mar the composition before the music resumed as he found his groove again. In the ring, at twelve, he trounced his first opponent within a round, placing the other boy on his backside three times without a punch landing on him once. The crowd of adults and children around him applauded, the music rose to a crescendo in his head and he had to resist the urge to shuffle his feet in time as the referee lifted his gloved hand in victory.
His second love came at the age of thirteen when he gave a speech in front of his classmates on the history of their country. As he stood up to begin, the music flooded his mind again, the drums, the strings and now the fanfare of trumpets. He started to speak, and the tune seemed to flow through his mind and into his words. He could see his classmates were absorbed, hypnotized by his words and a number of them started to tap their feet or to pick up their pencils and to mark the beat on their school desks. He held them spellbound and when the last word was uttered, there was a collective sigh around the room as the beat slowly left their bodies.
He became a leader.
Everywhere he went, a crowd of boys walked with him. He took control of the playground and would hold court from the corner next to the playing fields. Teachers were at first happy to see order where there had been chaos but later grew uneasy at the changes in the school. Children moved down corridors in strangely coordinated patterns, their feet landing in time. When they spoke, there was an underlying rhythm and cadence like music, and often several would effortlessly speak together in concert. Gradually, the teachers themselves succumbed to the spell of the beat and now the whole school moved to the same music.
When he grew to be a man, war broke out and his country was dragged into a bloody conflict with its neighbours. Heeding the call, he and his friends signed up and became soldiers. Again, as at school, his superiors were first impressed with the influence he had, then scared and then fell under it, so his regiment came to run like a smoothly oiled machine. When they came to the front line, he discovered his third and greatest love. With the first crack of bullets overhead they stormed the enemy lines, and a whole orchestra filled his head. He ran and shot and fought and nothing could stop him. Those around him saw his success and followed and because they followed they too were unharmed, and the unit swept through the enemy lines like a knife through butter.
He became a hero and rose and rose again until he was the youngest commander in the Army. Wherever the fighting was fiercest his regiment would be sent and he would appear at the head of his troops, as they won time after time. Often he would disobey orders to stay put and would advance and meet with victory. If he had failed, perhaps he would have been shot but success has a thousand fathers, so the jealous old generals overlooked his faults and the press called him a saviour. But one man cannot win a war on his own and his country had taken on many more enemies than they could fight. Year by year, the youth of the nation were slaughtered and the country bled to death until, weary and tired, its leaders called for surrender.
And the music stopped.
And the man felt powerless for the first time in his life.
And he dropped to his knees on the battlefield he had come to love and screamed his loss at the skies.
Years went by and the man, the music gone from his life wandered through the streets of the city and did not care. He got into fights, some of which he won and some of which he lost and he did not care. He slept with women; some of whom he loved and some of whom he did not and he did not care. He worked and felt no joy in his work but a dull absence where once there had been a symphony. Until one day, he passed a meeting of men, angry at the betrayal they felt they had suffered and one of them had served with him and called out his name and said ‘Him! It’s him; he would never have let this happen if he had been in charge. Let him speak.’
The man turned to look, and the crowd parted to let him through to the now empty podium. He opened his mouth to refuse but before he could utter a word, he heard soft at first and then growing in strength the rhythm that had been absent these long years. He moved forward towards the podium and it grew louder as he walked through the crowd. He placed his foot on the step up and the strings began and as he mounted the podium a fanfare of brass joined the music. Looking out over the crowd he saw that they were swaying gently in time, every eye upon him as he prepared to speak.
Now he saw he could make the world dance to the tunes that he spun. Peoples and nations and continents would march in time to his rhythm, that undying, unrelenting rhythm, marked out by the low bass beat of the drum.