Following the Vienna premier of Falstaff, Giuseppe Verdi walked slowly away from the orchestra pit, leaving the musicians and the audience behind him. His fine suit was drenched in sweat; he had been conducting for hours in the sweltering heat of the Austrian summer.
As he labored, step by step, down the corridor towards his dressing room, a small boy - definitely not one of the nobility who sat fanning themselves in their boxes, perhaps a street urchin with a taste for fine opera - walked behind him.
"Signor Verdi?" the boy asked. "Signor Verdi?"
"Yes?" the great composer said, turning to look at the child.
"Do you need any help?" the boy asked.
"No," Verdi said, leaning on the wall, beginning to turn back towards the dressing room. The composer was not as young as he once had been; years of writing had taxed his eyes, and years of directing had left his body spent.
"I just want you to know," the boy said, "I think - I think -" he hesitated, staring at the great conductor standing in front of him.
Verdi pulled a handkerchief from his suit's front pocket and mopped his forehead as he looked over his shoulder at the boy.
"I think you're the best ever!" the boy managed to say.
Verdi's mouth tightened. A new generation of composers were already coming into their own - Puccini from Italy, Mussorgsky and Rimsky-Korsakov from Russia, Strauss and Brahms in Germany - and Verdi knew that his time in the spotlight was coming to a close.
"Yeah," Verdi said. "Sure." He put the handkerchief back into his suit and resumed his slow walk down the corridor, towards what suddenly felt like not just a dressing room but an overwhelmingly obvious metaphor.
The boy pulled a bottle from his jacket pocket.
"You want my Coke?" he asked.
The composer looked at him, stunned.
"It's okay," the boy said. "You can have it." He raised the bottle, offering it to the great man in front of him.
Verdi shook his head. "No, no," he said.
"Really, you can have it," the boy insisted.
Verdi smiled. "Okay," he said, reaching out and taking the bottle from the boy's hand. As he took the bottle, it was as if a new symphony, built of instruments such as no man had ever before heard, began filling the air with a joyous, heartwarming tune that managed to avoid infringing on the copyright of any composer popular or well-funded enough to sue.
Verdi began drinking the ice-cold soda, and a choir began singing from within him, filling his heart with delight. He tilted the bottle upwards and didn't put it down until every drop was gone.
The boy watched him with big eyes, let out a sigh, and began to walk back up the corridor towards the masses of audience members still applauding the opera's end. "See you around," he said, knowing in his heart that he would never have the opportunity to talk with the great composer again.
"Hey, kid," Verdi said, his smile broadening and the fatigue disappearing from his frame.
The boy turned, his mouth opening slightly in confusion.
"Catch," Verdi said, pulling the handkerchief from his pocket and throwing it to the boy.
"Wow!" the boy said, his young, innocent face lighting up with joy. "Thanks, Giuseppe!"
Verdi smiled at the happiness he had brought his young fan, and the happiness that the boy had brought him in return. As he turned to walk down the corridor to his dressing room, the future suddenly felt a little brighter.