Did you know that Yaeko's violin has a name? It does! It's called L'Infinito. During her horrible stay with Adele D. Hoffman, she would often stare at the box containing it. She knew what was in it, that it had to be a violin from Izumi Ishikawa, her late manager. Instead of opening the box and playing the amazing Stradivarius Izumi had spent almost all of his fortune securing for her, she would, in her depression, stare instead at the box and the lightless corner in which it sat.
Her guardian-to-be, Elizabeth Finnegan, was instrumental (pardon the pun) in getting L'Infinito to her. With Dr. Akimoto's help, they sent L'Infinito to Yaeko from Switzerland. The chapter below details the day they chose to do so.
Akimoto gives a speech railing against consumerism in the middle of the chapter, one of my very favorite speeches in the entire series.
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THE WAITING room was lavish, private, and soundproofed. She and Isao sat in plush chairs she reckoned cost more than a down payment on a small house and looked expectantly at one another.
An employee opened the door. He held a tray with a bottle of wine and two glasses, a white towel draped over an arm.
He approached and smiled pleasantly. “While you wait. May I?”
They nodded. With great economy of movement he half-filled each glass, handing one to
then one to Isao. With a bow he exited.
“Here’s to our angel,” said Isao.
They delicately clinked glasses.
took a sip. She didn’t have the palate to distinguish fine wine from the
ten-dollar variety she typically bought, but could tell that this was quite good.
Isao nodded in satisfaction. “Excellent. Excellent.”
He gazed at her. “And here’s to you, Elizabeth. You are not only Yaeko’s true protector, you have proven to be a steady and uncompromisingly courageous friend.”
She was taken aback. “Why … thank you, Isao.”
They drank again.
“There is a wealth beyond all others,” he went on. “Friendship. Allow me to say that I never thought I’d feel as close to anyone as I did to Izumi. You have proved me wrong. Thank you.”
He held his glass up again, and again they drank.
She stared after swallowing. “You surprise me sometimes.”
“You are a very steady man, one not often taken by emotion. Sometimes, like now, you open yourself up.”
He smiled and went to respond, but stopped, because the door opened again. Through it stepped two men dressed in black suits and wearing white gloves. The one in front held the door for the one following, who came in carrying a long, thin, stainless steel box.
She and Isao stood.
A long cherrywood table ran along the far wall. A computer sat on it, along with two phones and a FAX machine. The men set the container at the right end.
“Is there anything else we can do for you, madam, sir?” asked the leader. He had a strong French accent and a gaunt face with smiling eyes.
“I requested mail services,” said Isao. “Are they still available?”
“Yes, sir. We can package anything from here and send it by courier directly.”
“Will you send someone up in an hour?”
“Of course, sir,” said the leader. He bowed shortly, as did the other, and they left the room, closing the door behind them. She and Isao approached the table.
Isao reached into his suit and pulled out a white envelope. He opened it, unfolded the paper, and studied it.
“Would you mind doing the honors?” He pointed at the electronic keypad on the top of the box without looking up.
“Sure, sure,” she answered, setting her glass down.
He read the alpha-numeric combination, twenty-five characters long, which she punched carefully into the keypad.
“Press enter twice, wait for a second or two, then press it one more time,” he instructed.
This she did. A moment later the seal on the box released with a quiet hiss. There was a sharp, quiet click, and the right side of the box opened slightly.
He lifted it fully. They stared at the contents inside.
L’Infinito, the sixteen-million-dollar Stradivarius Izumi Ishikawa bought for Yaeko just before his death, lay cocooned in form-fitting yellow foam, along with the bow. They were sealed separately in clear plastic bags.
Stuffed into the padding was a letter.
gazed at it. It was for Yaeko, from Izumi.
She picked it up. “I wonder what he told her.”
“I expect it is typical Izumi: epic and encouraging and very compellingly written. He saw what she was going to face. With some very minor exceptions, his premonitions have been spot-on. I’m sure it’s a big dose of light and love. May I?”
He reached for it. She handed it to him and gazed at the Stradivarius.
The violin seemed almost unreal, so beautiful was it, even through the plastic.
“I want …” Isao began.
She glanced at him. “Go on … What do you want?”
He put the letter on the table. “So many things come in and out of our lives,” he started, staring at it. “Most are mundane: bottles and dishes and cars. Comfy chairs and fine wine glasses.” He motioned at the one in her hand. “Airline tickets and shoes. They pass into and out of our consciousness like feathers or dust specks. We pay them almost no attention, if we pay attention to them at all. We have been brainwashed to be consumers: to consume everything and even everyone. Everything—every thing—is measured strictly by its utility: What good is it to us? And when we have finished with it—or the person—we throw it, or them, away.
“That is how almost everyone on Earth proceeds through life, and it is wrong. Our planet is literally baking to death because we choose to be consumers instead of appreciators.”
He gazed at L’Infinito. “Consider the violin. How mundane, don’t you think? Even one as grand as this one. They’re common! We give them to our kids to give them something to do. We pay for lessons and clap pleasantly at their recitals, if we can be bothered to attend them. When they graduate, we put their violins up for sale on eBay because they’ve been sitting in the attic for months, maybe years, gathering dust, unused and forgotten just like that half-empty bottle of drain cleaner in the back bathroom cabinet....”
“It was an instrument of utility only, one meant to amuse one’s child, let’s say a daughter, which we treat as an object or thing as well. If we’re lucky, maybe that violin educed our little girl, taught her a little about herself. If we’re even luckier, perhaps even a little music came out of it. But it and the music were always things, meant to keep the other thing, the child, away from drugs and gangs, or perhaps to engender that elusive sense of pride we always longed to feel for her.
“Perhaps she shows some promise, no matter how small, and maybe she earns a scholarship to a music school of some kind, and we pat ourselves on our backs for our brilliant foresight. Off she trots to college, where she takes the classes and earns the grades. The violin in the thing-daughter’s possession is still nothing more than a tool: to earn good grades, perhaps to win a chair in a local orchestra or as a member of a bluegrass band her dormmate put together. The violin is a tool, a thing. And she is too. It’s how she has learned to view herself and the whole world; it’s how she interacts with herself and the whole world.
“And so she plays the violin, and those who listen to the melody proceeding from it use it, and even each individual note within it, as tools as well. The listeners consume the music and the notes; they consume the auditorium and the lights and the stage; they consume the two or three hours with their dates or spouses as a means of relaxation, or giving themselves a break from work, or as a means of garnering sexual favors later or smoothing over an argument they had before. They use all of it to assuage the gnawing sense that their lives are utterly meaningless. The daughter, the violin, the music, the orchestra, the auditorium and its stage and lights and chairs are consumed in order to gain the approval of the herd, to look cultured or distinguished, to be noticed, as is the fine drapery covering their backs. Tools, tools, and more tools. Tools inside of tools. Tools that spawn more tools. Forever! Do you see?”
“There are those—very few of us, yes, but we do exist—who live life completely differently. This—” he motioned emphatically at L’Infinito—“is not a tool. It isn’t a thing. It has its own spirit, its own soul, even its own consciousness. We—” he brought his hand to his chest and slapped it against it—“we give those things to it. We do. We love it as we love our own flesh and blood. And the music that comes from it? We don’t use it to get laid or to lower our blood pressure or to look cultured and cool to our peers. Those are violations! I’d go as far even to call them sins, because such choices do direct harm to our spirits, our souls. Do you see? Do you,
She nodded again, staring. It was a rare sight to see Isao Akimoto so impassioned and animated. She thought of making a joke, maybe asking what was in the wine, but stopped. She had agreed with every word he had spoken.
“Few on this Earth choose to live that way because it requires that they love, truly, and so to let life and those ‘things’ and people change them, impact them, evolve them, in a very real way to become them. ‘Things’ are not mundane to such people, no matter how common. Life as a result becomes the astonishing miracle it was always meant to be.”
He brought his uncompromising stare to the violin.
“I wouldn’t bring this up if I thought that you didn’t think this way. You’ve told me about your childhood, about the swingset out back, and your lost child, and the toolshed and its forgotten tools, and your own violin and the plush toys your mother threw away.”
He waited for her to react. She didn’t. The agony of her past was still there, forever fresh. Her lost baby and Owen, her toys and the swingset, the toolshed and the tools and the spiders.... She thought again of her violin and vowed when she got home to give it a good cleaning and have it tuned.
“This violin is alive,
Elizabeth. And so is Yaeko’s music. And so is
she, more than most can ever comprehend. Few have eyes to see it. No, strike
that. Few choose to have eyes with
which to see it. Life as a consumer, though bland, though mundane, though
utilitarian, though bereft and devoid of any spiritual nutrition, is infinitely
safer and easier. Life as an appreciator
takes enormous, daring courage, and is many times anything but safe and easy.”
He held up.
“We can’t do what consumers would were they in our place,
Elizabeth. We can’t! This violin was made by
the finest violin maker in history, and it’s going to the finest violinist in
history. Can you imagine the music
she could bring from it?”
“We can’t treat this moment, this violin, or our relationship to its new owner as most people would were they placed in this situation. We can’t simply pack it up and send it on its way. We must mark this moment, and do so as genuine appreciators. We must.”
“What would you like to do?” she asked when it was clear his speech had ended and the air in the room became too silent for her comfort.
He smiled and shook his head. “I don’t honestly know.”
“You … you’re her healer,” she considered.
“And you are her stalwart protector.”
“Let’s go from there and see what happens,” she said, shrugging and laughing weakly.
He smiled wider.
It wasn’t meant to be an elaborate ceremony, and it certainly wasn’t meant to be stone-cold serious and unsmiling. The gravity of the moment was already there like that of a tremendous star. They didn’t need to add to it. They were already caught in orbit around it.
What they decided to do was employ the gentleman who served them wine and whose name, they learned shortly after, was Francxík. They called down to the front office and asked for him. Several minutes later he appeared at the door. They told him what they wanted; he smiled in understanding and,
Elizabeth thought, appreciation, and agreed
to take part.
The impromptu ceremony required that he unseal L’Infinito and its bow from their plastic cocoons after taking them to the ground floor. From there, and with them in hand, he would rise up to this floor via the elevator. He would exit the lift and bow to Isao waiting there, who would take L’Infinito and its bow and, with him alongside, walk quietly to the room where
Elizabeth waited. At the door they would bow
and present the instrument to her, which she would take and place into the box
that would ultimately be shipped to Yaeko’s new home in Imperial Beach, along with Izumi’s letter. Elizabeth would bow and
hand the box to Francxík, who would take it from the room and finish packing it
after taking it down to the courier’s office. When that was finished he would
send for them so that they could impart a final blessing to the box and its
Silly? Overblown? Not,
thought, to anyone who actually listened to Yaeko’s music.
Isao’s speech still echoed in her mind.
She considered Harry Potter and JK Rowling, its author, and realized that for every hundred who claimed to be a fan of the series, which made Rowling a billionaire, probably only one actually was. The rest were just herding along for the newest big thing.
Tools, tools, and more tools.
So too with Yaeko’s music. Those with ears to truly hear it were few and far between. The rest were simply tagging along because it was what everyone else was doing. The notion dismayed her for a long moment, but passed when she considered how the herd, by herding along as they do, had made Yaeko very wealthy, Izumi too, who with that bounty had bought this very violin.
The herd had its uses. Consumers had their uses.
When Francxík and Isao appeared at the door with L’Infinito and its bow, she was shocked. Following them was at least ten bank employees, including its CEO, who had heard what was happening (Isao had to inform the CEO of the ceremony to maintain security protocols) and insisted on joining in. He was part of Yaeko’s network, as were those at the door, she was told later. Judging by their solemnity, as well as the many pairs of wide, unblinking, glittering eyes, this was a big deal for them.
They entered the room, Isao leading, L’Infinito and its bow cradled safely in his arms.
No one was snickering. No one was amused. No one was shifting back and forth uncomfortably or impatiently. They, and she, watched as Isao bowed deeply and presented the instrument to her.
She tried to take it with as much grace as she could muster. It felt as though she was grasping Narsil, the Sword of Elendil. She had always been her own harshest critic, but with some inner Aunt Madelyn-inspired fierceness, she stifled the insistent impulses to judge her every movement.
L’Infinito and its bow in hand, she approached the box and very gently placed them in it. She said a silent prayer: Let this bring light, my angel, when the darkness becomes too great. I love you, sweetie.
She turned, eyes burning, and handed the box to Francxík, who took it from her, bowed, and left the room.
The crowd, Francxík, the CEO, Isao, and she stood over the box in the quiet of the courier’s office, which was on the ground floor. One by one each touched it and said a few words.
didn’t remember the specific words spoken, only the wish, which was offered a
dozen different ways:
Let this bring light to you, Yaeko Mitsaki, when the darkness becomes too great.