Birth by Guitar
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Some people are fond of saying that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. It would be more accurate to say that history is doomed to repeat itself.
- Excerpt from The Coolest War: Memories of a Critic, by Anonymous

As the sun set over the Seine river, the migration began. It was slow at first, with a few figures crossing the waters by bridge. As the sky darkened, the travelers multiplied. They came in bicycles, boats, taxis, and trucks. A few walked. A few more ran. The sun sank completely below the horizon, and the migration ceased. The crowd, now a few hundred strong, reached its destination, merging with the multitude of individuals who were already there. It was closing time at the Sommes-Nous Devenus Magnifiques, and the final exhibition was about to begin.

The Sommes-Nous Devenus Magnifiques opened its doors for a month every ten years, closing them for fifteen minutes at sundown. A large poster glued to the wall of the gallery lied about the reason for this closing in seventeen different languages. The poster identified the downtime as, among other things, a time to have lunch (French), a cleaning period (English), a dirtying period (German), and a mandatory smoking break (Swahili). In truth, the gallery did not shut down during these fifteen minutes. It simply moved outdoors.

The gallery's doors swung closed, and a final figure darted between them. She carried a weathered guitar under her arm. The figure leaned against the side of the building and began to tune her guitar. When the job was finished, she raised her head, acknowledging the crowd for the first time.

"Ah!" gasped the Guitarist, feigning surprise. "Who might you lot be?"

The crowd erupted into a roar of sound as hundreds of voices rose to answer the question.

The Guitarist clicked her tongue. "This simply will not do," she said. "You must appoint a speaker from within your ranks if you wish to be heard." She paused, adjusting a few of the strings on the guitar. "Go on, make your selection. Choose somebody to do the talking. Nobody in particular."

As it did every night, the crowd parted to reveal a serene, well-dressed man. The man strode to the front of the crowd and locked eyes with the Guitarist. The crowd held its breath. The man coughed, and the Exchange began. It was an old performance, one that had been scripted decades earlier. As the two players spoke, the members of the audience mouthed the performers' lines, having seen the Exchange dozens of times before.

"And who are you?" asked the Guitarist.

"I am, as you requested," replied the man, "Nobody in Particular."

"Why are you here?" asked the Guitarist, gesturing towards the crowd. "What did you hope to accomplish by gathering before me tonight?"

"We have come to be cool."

"Why not take a dip in the river, then?" the Guitarist replied with a smile. The crowd chuckled. The joke wasn't particularly funny, and hadn't matured well after a thousand repetitions, but the crowd always chuckled.

"We're here to listen to music."

"Is there something you had in mind?" the Guitarist asked, lazily strumming a chord.

"A special song, stolen from the future." The man doffed his hat.

The Guitarist grinned. "Ah, but the future comes later." She placed her hand on the neck of the guitar. "It will be stealing from me."

The Exchange was completed. The crowd cheered, then fell silent as the Guitarist began to hum. She tried a few notes before she felt her voice catch on the proper one. She hummed again, and her voice caught again. She tried once more, and felt the catch in her throat tear itself free, releasing a deep, throaty voice. The Guitarist opened her mouth and sang.

Brother, won't you lend your ear
And help me if you can
'Cause I ain't seen hide nor hair
Of the Manna Charity Man.

They said he had no soul for jailin'
Nor the talents for work in art
The Circus didn't call him, no
He's been helpin' from the start.

Well if manna falls from heaven
Then it lands above our heads
But don't you frown, 'cause the Charity Man
Said he'll keep all of us fed.

Oh, the Fact'ry's still now workin'
Smokestacks pushin' smoke
Assembly line still movin'
Overseer can't take a joke.

Brother, won't you lend your ear
And help me if you can
'Cause I ain't seen hide nor hair
Of the Manna Charity man.

Charity Man said don't you worry, now
Charity Man said don't you cry
Said he's knockin' on doors all the way to Heaven
Ain't nobody gonna turn a blind eye.

Seen Jailers down over by the docks
Jailers don' understand
Jailer-man always askin' if
I've seen the Manna Charity Man.

Charity Man's been workin' on something
Way deep underground
But I ain't seen no Charity Man
Since the Jailers came lookin' 'round.

Brother, won't you lend your ear
And help me if you can
'Cause I ain't seen hide nor hair
Of the Manna Charity man.

The Guitarist bowed her head, and the crowd applauded. The man smiled and tipped his hat again, vanishing into the throng. The doors of the gallery creaked open, and the wind picked up, carrying the song to the lips of the performer who would sing it for the first time, years later.

Somewhere between the singers, in a small house in New York, an insomniac tapped his pen against a sheet of paper. He was meant to be writing a highly important letter, concerning nothing less than the fate of humanity, but he could not find the right words. Truth be known, the writer was beginning to doubt his own cause.

A breeze blew through the window, and the paper rippled beneath the pen. The writer rose to close his shutters, then froze. For a moment, he was certain that he'd heard a voice drifting through the room along with the wind. Then, he dropped back into his seat and began to write, the voice and the window forgotten.

In the interest of sharing all of God's miracles with the least of His children, and in the interest of humanity as a whole, I am pleased to announce the formation of a new organization that shall work towards the liberation of those in poverty, in depression, and in the throes of death. This organization shall hereby be known as the Manna Charitable Foundation. May it prosper for generations to come, and all of mankind with it.

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