Everyone liked him. Though he had the shoulders of a baseball player and the complexion of a surfer, Paul was a post-graduate student in music and the conductor of the symphonic band.
After tapping the baton against the metal music stand several times, he called, “Okay, settle down, everyone. Let’s start from the top.”
The murmurs of the group faded away. Instruments were poised at lips in preparation for the first note.
To cue the band, Paul quickly extended his arms out overhead. He left them raised, elbows slightly bent, fingers loosely holding the baton. Though his eyes were open, Paul did not see what was before him. He was looking inside, watching and listening to the metronome within. Both baton and band waited.
Paul swiftly brought his arms up. The baton carved a large arc in the air. Everyone breathed in, ready to exhale into their instruments so the song could be released.
Except Paul didn’t bring his arms down to mark the first beat.
The baton remained in the air, restrained from freeing the music. Like the baton, Paul’s body was rigid and still.
Everyone’s diaphragms stretched in anticipation. Lungs were full, uncomfortably pushing ribs out. People could feel the pressure in their abdomens travelling to their throats.
Everyone waited, their unblinking eyes fixed on Paul.
The air did not move.
Suddenly, Paul’s body relaxed, the baton tumbling down with his limp arm. An embarrassed smile crossed his face.
“Sorry about that—”
—and everyone laughed, finally exhaling.