The Sound of Silence

Episode 4

Sofie and Carlo, the two interns working for this renowned festival somewhere in Europe, are also facing times of uncertainty.

Oxana stomped around the empty festival office feeling despondent. What was the point of being General Manager if there was nobody in the building to generally manage? She could be fierce to the walls, angry with the equipment, stroppy with the coffee pot and rude to the windows but nobody was there to care. Her useless, spineless Artistic Director, whose tantrums were like the tears of a six year-old, was being pathetic in his country cottage, she assumed. Probably taking his chickens for a walk.

She had tried being fierce on screen. It was not long since she had flayed Sofie with sarcasm for being late to the morning meeting, but there was no follow-up. She was just switched off. There was no lingering presence, no atmosphere of dread to cut with a knife. Oxana imagined Sofie shrugging, slouching around her house in pyjamas with pink bunnies on all morning, and ignoring the rebuke utterly. Why Oxana should imagine Sofie had pink bunnies on her pyjamas, she could not say – maybe a psychologist could write a treatise about it. For the record, Sofie was not slouching around and her pyjamas were light blue with silver stars.

With nobody to punish with her cheese-grater voice, Oxana felt lost. There was still a festival to organise – assuming that the virus shutdown would have finished in time. It was hard to know how, though. All her routines (and Oxana had been working for the festival for thirteen years, so had plenty of routines) were being upset, trashed, rendered useless.

She should even now be sending out teams of interns like Sofie and Carlo and school students earning pocket money to put programme brochures in all the cafés around town, piling them at the check-outs of the smarter clothes shops, placing display cases in all the hotels. Not this year. There was nobody to pick them up, no coffees being served, no summer dresses being tried on, no business travellers in the hotels.

The advertising space on official poster sites and in magazines had already been booked, the street banners made, newsletters sent out by email to the regular subscribers around the world. The festival's YouTube channel carried exhortations to come back this year. The artist contracts had been issued and mostly returned. Oxana kicked a desk and opened a window, leaning just far enough out for her cigarette smoke not to blow back into the room.

In one way she felt quite smug. Unlike so many of the festival directors around, she had not yet been ordered to cancel. With three months to go before the opening, there was at least a good chance it would go ahead, if not quite as normal. Indeed, if luck had timed it right, the start of the festival would be the moment when life returned to the streets and people could banish their fears.

She was in the middle of a long drag of tobacco when her phone message alert beeped, almost making her choke. It was impossible to hold the cigarette and balance herself out of the window while reaching for the phone in her back pocket. She let the smoke out gradually, relishing its soothing wisps, before closing the window and looking at the screen.

The message was ominous. “The mayor and the Governor will see you in half an hour. Not in person of course. Here is your Zoom code.” She had not asked for a meeting. Why would they think she had?