Story by Simon Nguyen
L was an internationally acclaimed sculptor, and a beloved figure in a country torn by a fierce and enduring civil war. Although he had done all he could to avoid setting foot into the political fray, becoming part of the conflict was inevitable. L was commissioned by the central government to craft a soldier statue--one that was to be the centerpiece of the newly built memorial. As an artist, L found it very difficult to decline such an offer.
In preparation for this work, the famed artist spent many months visiting battle frontlines, military camps and hospitals; he hoped to find inspirations for the statue from these visits. But despite all the traveling and numerous sleepless nights, he was still unable to realize the desired inspirations.
Just when his effort appeared futile and he might have to settle for something less, a memorable encounter at a military barrack bred new life to the project. During a brief visit to the military facility, L stopped by Mess Hall for lunch. There was a big commotion inside the hall. A group of soldiers were busy consoling a young comrade, who was mourning the death of a fellow soldier. Witnessing the incident, the artist’s eyes immediately lit up; he had just discovered what he had long sought for.
“Soldiers are not fighting machines; they are human beings. That’s the most beautiful of all things.”
When L requested the camp commander to allow the young soldier he met the other day to work as the model for his project, the commander was very surprised. There was nothing “ideal” about the young soldier. He was not the tall, youthful, proud-looking soldier seen on posters and in TV commercials. The guy was just a regular soldier—nothing more and nothing less. The camp commander recommended to L other soldiers whom he believed more resembled the ideal soldier. The artist, however, insisted that the young soldier was his only choice.
After three long months, the statue was finally completed and revealed to the world. Reactions to the work ranged from “amazing” to “magnificent”. The soldiers themselves loved it. Finally, there was something they can truly relate to.
The war came to an end. As in any war, there were winners and losers. L and many of his colleagues were detained for their affiliation with the old regime. One of the officers in charge of where L was held happened to be an admirer of the artist. He counseled L to deny any involvement with the famous statue and pledged to take care of everything else. You will be freed in no time, the officer promised.
Two days later, the artist was taken from his cell to a small and dimly lit room where an interrogation session was scheduled. He was greeted by two interrogators—one young and one seasoned. After a few rounds of trivial questioning, the inevitable question finally popped up. L was asked if he was the author of the famous (or infamous) statue that was perceived to be glorifying the old regime.
This question had been on his mind the last two days. L had been constantly debating within himself how to answer it. But when the question came up, he wasted no time to answer and did it in the simplest way possible. “YES!”
The firmness in which the artist answered the question surprised the interrogators—the veteran officer especially. The guy asked the same question again several times as if wanting to hear a different response, but L remained unyielding in his answer. Confounded by the artist’s resolve, the veteran walked toward L and looked directly into his eyes. “You may return to your cell. Life will be rough on you from now on.”
The next night, L was taken once again from his cell. But the destination had changed; a torture chamber and not an interrogation room awaited him. Inside the chamber was a group of six men–wearing military uniforms. The men greeted him with devilish laughter and took turn beating him. One guy appeared to really enjoy kicking his head. He did it repeatedly and with great force. L lost consciousness many times during the beating, only to be awakened by improvised “cold showers”. L’s ears were bleeding profusely; his whole body was soaked with blood. After almost two hours of severe beatings, the torturers had had enough. L was carried back to his cell.
L awoke the next morning from the terrible “nightmare” he hoped to forget. It was a beautiful day outside; the majestic sunrays that were peeking through the window provided undeniable proof. But there was something missing from his world. Everything was so calm, dead silent in fact. Have the crickets stopped making sound? What happens to the traffic noise from nearby highway? Is it Sunday already? It was not until five minutes later when he finally realized the cause of this silence. He had lost his hearing. He had become deaf…..forever.
- Fifteen years later
Autumn once again reigned over a peaceful San Jose neighborhood. A special package was delivered to one of the houses in the neighborhood. What was inside the package? A glorious sculpture and the following words:
“A true artist always stays true to his art and to himself. L, thanks for everything.”