I had passed by the guitarist often on my walk to work. He played there most days. I would see him each time, see his same outfit, his same position, half lying down against the wall, knee up and strumming away. We would both nod and I imagine he saw me, saw my ever changing button-downs and ties, friends that would come and go by my side. He never asked for money, though his guitar case was always open. There was never any sign to ask either, just a nod, an implication of respect. I always intended to bring him.
He is the one that brought it up and with sincerity that I do not see often and I answered him. He caught me in a moment. I told him that a place I love, that I loved, had just burnt to ashes and that I had watched it do so.
The first thing the insurance inspector did when he came was hand me his card. It said he was in the FCID division of his company, SMIF, which was a smaller subsidiary of the mother company CHANNEL. This was all marked for me there on the card. He never asked how the fire started, nor for any proof of our claim, he stayed a while, inspecting the ashes, filled some test tubes.
He jumped up and down on the ash to see it rise. “Protocol,” he said.
The inspector did ask me, however, what I did for a living. I had no acronyms. I told him I was a student because I had no other answer.
“What school?” the inspector asked me.
“I’m not in school,” I said.
“Student of life then, huh?”
“Student of discount plane tickets.”
We tried to hold a vigil for the place before all the ruins were cleaned up. We wanted to do it fast, like a funeral, soon after the body dies, we said. It was a Tuesday night and only half of us could come. It was cold that night and our candles were blown out easily. We were all still there, but had no place around us. It ended quickly and we all grabbed handfuls of ash and walked over to the river. I forget who said something and we all tossed our ash off the bridge and mostly the wind took it over to the bank, but some we saw trickle down and rest just atop the water and then it was carried down stream, eventually falling in.
It was that night that the guitarist saw me sulking on my way home and that night that I told him.
He asked me why we had thrown it in the river.
“Protocol,” I said. “The idea of the thing.”
He told me I had to go in after it, that the river is taking it somewhere.
“I’m not crazy enough to jump off a bridge,” I said.
He said, “You’re crazy enough to follow an idea.”