Thursday, June 8, 2017

The Club, by Vojtěch Březík

 The Club

The inhabitants of Brno have long been used to the presence of many quirky characters which complete the cultural mosaic of the city. They have been passing these apparently less fortunate citizens with little regard or thought. However, the amount of involvement of these unique figures in the smooth run of Brno and possibly the whole country might be of much greater importance than it seems.


Dobrosh is dead. The news spread through the consciousness of Brno, emerging from within the homeless community at first, but quickly seeping into the whispers and comments on trams and buses of the public transportation, and of course eventually taking to social media.
The facebook walls of middle-class college kids soon filled with vague claims of acquaintance with the destitute man and a video of him playing a public piano has been shared many times over. His music was surprisingly well articulated and the scene was all the more touching for the imagined expression of remembrance of a different kind of life somewhere in his past on his rather amiable face, now obviously plagued by many years of continuous drinking, hard times in the cold of many winters, and boredom of the long hours around the noon, the curse of the life on the streets.
Some users even expressed their grief with a crying emoji – piety at the touch of a mouse button. Meanwhile, the people who actually knew him honored his memory in the underpass. Clad in multiple layers of shabby second-hand garb, they stood in a circle around a couple of lit red cemetery candles placed on his favorite spot where he used to play his flute to earn some change from the passers-by. One of the mourners was strumming a guitar, quite well, while another butchered his effort with a beat, performed on a small drum, annoyingly out of rhythm. Drunken shouts and arguments filled the space and the celebration eventually climaxed in a brawl with the police.

Standa paced up the street with a guitar case in one hand and a small cart with a battery-powered amp in the other until he reached his favorite spot at the mouth of one of the aisles running down to Masarykova street from Zelný trh square. He prepared a mic stand, put a blues harp into a holder fixed around his neck, and plugged the microphone and the electric guitar in. A couple of seconds to tune the instrument and he was good to go.
He rarely ever changed his set, composed mainly of Bob Dylan's greatest hits – he had been doing this long enough to know that originality does not pay.
He would spend the following two hours running through the songs twice around with a short cigarette break in the middle of his concert. He tried to keep a regular schedule, especially around Christmas when the earnings were the highest thanks to the people's sense of solidarity being awakened by the spirit of temporary, holiday-long humanism.
The shop keepers, unlike the passers-by, stayed in hearing distance long enough to know that you could hear The Times They Are A-Changin' always at 10:45 and 11:45 am.

A short, lean man was sharply pacing past the McDonald's on Náměstí Svobody, the remainder of the long hair on the top his head fluttering in the wind, his tan face strangely deviated to the side, turned away from the direction of his movement, the corners of his moth twitching. His fingers convulsed uncontrollably and there was something erratic about his walk that brought on the sense of chaotic motion even though he clearly had a very specific goal in mind given his rush in a straight line.
He could only ever be seen going one way – somewhere towards Joštova – several times a day. But never in the opposite direction. Nobody really knew his real name but some jokingly called him The Strider.

“Tram number six, going to Starý Lískovec through Poříčí, Celní and Osová is now leaving Mendlovo náměstí.” Announcing this message loud and proud, into what seemed to be just a regular watch, was a middle-aged man seated on board of the said vehicle, wearing attire that suggested a working-class background. His calm, matter-of-factual, professional tone could inspire the conclusion that this person truly knew what he was doing and probably had been on the job for at least a decade.
Several commuters turned their heads in surprise – this had not been a standard in public transportation. Some of the others stared intently out of the windows, trying to suppress smiles, forcing their lips to twitch and yet another group of bystanders were laughing quite openly, unable to resist the temptation, knowing that The Announcer was in fact just a publicly-known nut job, his watch was just a watch. Living inside of his personal matrix, his strange but harmless haunts of trams inspired probably by the trauma of his being fired from a beloved job with the public transportation company, he was the source of comedy for anyone who realized the true nature of his announcements.

Dobrosh had been dead for several years and the city had forgotten, quietly going about its business – Standa went on with his busking, The Strider continued his life's mission of fast pacing and The Announcer managed to keep the people of Brno informed about their travels. Who had the time to think about one dead homeless looser when the current president Zeman died suddenly and a snap election was about to be held in just a couple of days? According to the polls, the candidate with the highest chance of becoming the next leader of the state was the former Minister of Finance, present premier Andrej Babiš, who was presently touring major Czech cities to trade free sausages and beer for some last minute sympathy in the direct vote. His visit of Brno was scheduled in two days' time.

At 3am, a short, lean figure was sharply pacing through the darkness. Street lamps cast multiple long shadows at the fountain at Zelný trh square, his destination. His chaotic convulsions suddenly stopped about ten steps away from it and he approached the opening in the fountain's side slowly, calmly and with the confidence of someone who knew exactly what they were looking for. The Strider inserted his finger into Hercules' lion's head's right socket and pushed a hidden button, allowing a trap-door to open. He then descended into the cold halls under the square, the door closing behind him without a sound. Faint tones of piano music were rising from beneath the ground.
The Strider entered a large room with damp bare stone walls and assumed his place behind a circular stone table. The others were already seated. A gaunt silhouette rose up from behind a piano in the corner of the hall, slowly walking towards the rest of the group, then taking its place in the largest of the stone arm-chairs around the table. He spoke softly but firmly:
“Welcome to the last briefing before Mission B. This is merely to confirm that every one of us knows their responsibilities. Is everything clear?”
A unison of voices echoed through the hall: “Aye!”
“Very well. Remember, the times they are a-changing tomorrow, 5pm, Freedom Square. Let us repeat the success of Mission Z. Long live Brno!”
“Long live Brno!”

The Announcer was staring out of the tram's window, looking at the black limousine standing in front of Hotel Grand. When it finally set off, he lifted his wrist to his mouth and exclaimed loud and proud:
“The vehicle is now passing the main station and will reach its final destination in about 3 minutes.”
Several commuters turned their head in surprise and the tram stirred with suppressed laughter.

The Strider reached the spot where Standa had his busking station at náměstí Svobody just when Babiš was thanking his audience which was applauding excitedly from under the stage. With the last wave of his hand, the premier started descending the stairs leading down from the stage and The Strider turned the volume knob on Standa's amplifier to the right and the whole square froze as the words of the song hit the walls of the surrounding buildings:
“Come gather round people wherever you roam...”
The politician raised his left eyebrow in open contempt towards the street musician.
With the third “the times they are a-changin',” a sound of a small muffled detonation came from under the premier's feet and he disappeared into the ground in a cloud of dust and smoke.
The music stopped playing, the people screamed in panic, running about aimlessly. The words “terrorists,” “Muslims,” “immigrants,” “European Union” and “Kalousek” echoed through the streets.
It took several moments for everyone to notice that the upper half of a person with a very amiable face was peering out of the hole in the ground.
Dobrosh exclaimed cheerfully: “I claim this person on behalf of The Prince of Darkness.” He added diabolical laughter, the artist's final touch, as a new round of screaming ensued. He continued smiling even though the police were making their way towards him. He remained calm and optimistic for he had nothing to fear – after all, he had officially been dead for quite some time now.

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