The Conscientious Man

Lucinda Palme

The Conscientious Man

One by one started to converge at the courtyard of a complex. It is a small complex of smaller buildings and a large six-storied building built in Dutch style in the seventeenth century. The open-to-air quadrangle of a courtyard in the complex was the venue for once a year free-for-all musical event hosted by Gothenburg Wind Orchestra.

The nonagenarian couple Mr and Mrs Englund came light by three minutes.

The orchestra’s ensemble has geared up to let their wind instruments to sing. The conductor was on his toes with his mouth to the mike. The soprano and sopranist were on their feet but little nervous. Most of the year and most of the times the courtyard is empty. The orchestra’s ensemble, stood and sat. It was armed for the special occasion of Swedish National Day with a 58-member choir of men and women, and boys and girls.

The orchestra stood behind the descending sun. The crowd of one thousand and eighty-seven basked in the glorious dusk: the summer solstice is only two weeks away. The evening was growing only lighter and longer and lighter. The crowd was delighted for there was no trace of rain though a forecast predicted a faint drizzle towards the late noon and soaked in music and national fervour.

As the conductor of the orchestra opened his vocal organ to welcome to the crowd, Mr and Mrs Englund slowly inched into the courtyard and stood by the wall of Kronhuset the city’s oldest building and the headquarters of Gothenburg Wind Orchestra. Mr Englund held two walking sticks to which he held as tightly as his hands permitted. He is aware that a fall will take him straight to the hospital! Mrs Englund walks without a stick, but holds the left arm of her husband with her right arm. She is his support and guide and the bedrock of life’s mobile activities like she was with many other things in their fruited and fruitful married life. They lived most of their lives not only as married couple but also worked together in their small crockery firm until they retired. They lived their retired lives with their little pensions from private and public sources.

Mr and Mrs Englund stood regretting for coming late. The long benches laid out from this end of the wall to that end of the wall barring for space to walk were occupied: the occupants were absorbing the sunshine and alerting their ears for the wind from the man-made organs to fill their eardrums. Many seated in the crowd noticed the couple. The ensemble observed the couple. The choir saw the couple but displeased for they stood when they cannot stand. It was a long gig lasting for more than an hour. The conductor announced what was going to unfold, and what would unspool from the musicians.

Wind organs roared, huffed and puffed, and roared.

Mr and Mrs Englund glanced into each other through their glasses ‘shall we go, home’. Mrs Englund clutched her husband’s hand, ‘let’s us go’. Mr Englund steered the direction of his walking sticks to walk out from the frontside of the orchestra where an antique shop and a café are located.

The crowd noticed but helpless: ‘should have come earlier’, ‘stayed at home’, ‘they should have done something’ …

Simon Hellström, sitting in the second row, sprang out from his vantage point and seat of comfort, and appeared before Mr and Mrs Englund. He told them to give him a minute for he would go and find chairs. Mr and Mrs Englund stood at attention, motionless. The music started to flow out of the wind organs and the soprano was singing: Ooo …

The entry shutters of a door into the Kronhuset building was open but was shielded with people: standing there to witness the evening. Simon peered into the hall to find some sitting structures, and thrusted himself through two people. A woman obstructed him: ‘where’. He told her what he was after. She told him sweetly: ‘nothing there, you can’t go inside’.

The musical wind was flowing. Gothenburg Wind Orcestra is not an ordinary band who will play music whenever there is a demand. They have defined dates and defined venues and the tickets are dearer. A person like Simon can only snatch a free-to-all music concert like this one. He decided to go back, and let the couple go, and he will go and sit. But a sense in him prevented him, and his thinking sense suggested him to look ahead. He sprang towards the café. Spoke to the man in the café, and came running with two foldable chairs, and placed for them right in front of the ensemble.

Mr and Mrs Englund sat on the chairs: the wind started to blow into their eardrums. Mrs Englund pressed her palms into the hands of Mr Englund: a conscientious man in the unconscientious crowd.

—Lucinda Palme