“Open up wide Billy.” Dr. Harold’s voice is a rich baritone, authoritative, but gentle and reassuring.
“Agh ghihh?” replies the child in the chair.
“Yes, that’s good Billy. Let’s have a look.”
Dr. Harold furrows his brow. “Billy, those sweets you’ve been eating haven’t done you much good. I see a cavity in there. You know what that means, right?”
“Yes, Dr. Harold,” the child replies, closing his mouth. “It means the big needle… the ann-ex-te-thingy.” The look on his face betrays a hint of trepidation, but he’s doing a great job keeping a brave facade.
“Yes, Billy. I’m going to use the needle to give you anaesthetic. It will hurt a bit, but it will allow me to plug that cavity in your tooth without hurting you further. It’s a tiny bit of pain, to avoid a bigger pain later on. Sound good?”
“It’s ok Dr. H. I trust you,” the child replies, smiling.
Dr. Harold ruffles the boy’s hair affectionately and gets to work.
Harold cleans up his medical implements and starts putting them away. It is a deliberate and quasi-meditative ritual. He contemplates this little village —his birthplace— with its narrow streets, crooked alleys, colourful fields, simple houses and modest people. For many years now, he has devoted his life to them as their medical doctor, dentist, mayor, and very often trusted advisor in matters both personal and business related. And for two hours every Wednesday evening, his soothing baritone voice keeps them company on the radio, playing them a selection of contemporary jazz numbers by legends such as Nat King Cole, Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington.
He has given them every ounce of his energy and every minute of his time, and in return, they have blessed him with their love and trust, which he will never betray. He will protect the serenity of this tiny community and preserve the beauty of its innocence till his dying breath.
As he ruminates, a dark shadow crosses his face. But then he shakes it off and smiles. “No. I will do what needs to be done,” he whispers to himself. “I will not let it threaten us or taint our innocence.”
He closes his medical cabinet and retreats to his study.
A visitor from outside the village. He is Mary’s second cousin, and he comes bearing exciting stories about what it is like to live in the big city. Word quickly spreads across the village, and very soon, Mary’s tiny coffee shop is overflowing with people who want to hear what the visitor has to say. Dr. Harold is there too, sitting at his customary table, sipping tea, listening and observing. He remains quiet, passive.
The visitor’s body language is animated. He speaks with an excited tone of the wonders of fast automobiles, huge construction cranes, and flashy night clubs with beautiful women and loud jazz played by the coolest cats in town.
“But there’s more,” he bursts out. “Soon, very soon, you won’t even need to travel to the city to see these wonders!” he says, his voice rising, hands flailing. “The TELEVISION will bring ALL OF IT to YOUR HOUSE!”
The crowd draws a collective breath and holds it in. There are five long seconds of silence, and then a barrage of questions assaults the visitor. The crowd is hysterical, their curiosity feverish. The visitor tries his best to keep up with the questions, but his voice is soon drowned by the ruckus.
Dr. Harold stands up, his movements deliberate as always, and walks out of the small coffee shop. Nobody notices his departure, much less the resigned look on his face. It is only a matter of time now. The cursed plague is at the doorstep, here to ruin their innocence. But he will not allow it. He will protect his flock.
He pauses at the door to his small laboratory. This is where many years ago, he spent countless nights refining the formula for a special compound for treating dental cavities; the same compound that is now in the teeth of every man, woman and child in the village. And it took all of his ingenuity and scientific expertise to find a way to keep the deadly micro-organisms dormant within it, so that they would not awaken and poison their host’s bloodstream until given the proper stimulus.
But this evening, that’s exactly what will happen.
Harold sits at his radio console preparing for the evening’s program. Everyone in the village is gathered around their radio set, waiting to hear which of the jazz greats will be entertaining them.
To Harold’s right is a switch. Once he flips it, his radio console will begin to transmit a high frequency sound that, while inaudible to the human ear, will awaken the deadly micro-organisms inside the compound in his listeners’s teeth. Death will be merciful, fast and painless — a small pain worth enduring, that will protect them from the much greater pain of losing their innocence.
Harold turns on the microphone and pushes the volume slider.
“Dear friends,” he says, his voice soothing. “Earlier this week, a little boy sitting in my dentist’s chair, said something wonderful to me.”
“I trust you, he said.”
“And this reminded me of how grateful I am to all of you for giving me your trust every day. It is a gift I truly cherish. And as a special treat for that little boy, here’s one of my favorite songs… Nature Boy, by Nat King Cole.”
The song plays, and as it approaches its final notes, Harold contemplates its words, “The greatest thing you’ll ever learn, is just to love and be loved in return.”
The switch makes an audible click. Harold relaxes. He doesn’t feel it, but he knows the micro-organisms are already in his blood. His community will remain untainted, and now, there’s no use for him anymore. He is serene. He closes his eyes and breathes one last time.
Did you enjoy this story? Check out the behind the scenes article to find out what was going through my head when I wrote it. And don’t forget to subscribe to my newsletter so that I can let you know as soon as I release other stories!