I waited till Thursday to swing by Toby’s store. The feelings of shame and frustration had died away a bit since my disastrous stint on the decks and I now couldn’t wait to see Toby again. The desire to be in his company was much stronger than my embarrassment at showing him up in such a way. I left the music school and decided to walk to Sway Records. It was a glorious spring day, with the sun shining warmly and the trees coming to life, awakening from their winter barrenness. I had been cooped up for far too long in the dark rehearsal room, bent over a piano, and I badly needed the exercise and the fresh air. After four days of practising the Mozart piece, I still hadn’t managed to get into its flow and really feel it. I was getting slightly worried. Ed hadn’t said anything yet, so I wasn’t sure if he had picked up on my ambivalence. So what was really at the root of my feelings? I decided to try a systematic approach and analyse what had triggered this shift and when.
My mood in general had dipped since the terrible DJ gig. But I found that I had already got over my awful performance. In its place, there lingered the sense of unity I had felt at the rave, as well as the moment of absolute bliss when I had managed to get the crowd going. Toby had opened up a whole new world to me. It was still music, but so different to anything I had known. This, I suddenly realised, was the big change. I had glimpsed a different reality, one that offered me an alternative route in life to that of Juilliard. What if I had been playing the piano for all these years just because Mum had wanted me to? Had I been living her dream all along, only out of a desire to please her? It was a frightening thought. And what would my mother have thought of this DJ-ing business? I had a suspicion that she wouldn’t have approved, mainly because she’d think it was taking me away from the piano.
These were the moments when I missed Mum the most. By conventional standards she may not have been the model mother, but she had been my best friend. I could talk to her about anything that was troubling me and afterwards I’d always feel better. My head was so muddled these days. What with not feeling at home in the house I was living in, trying to be a DJ yet failing spectacularly at it, and starting to feel doubts over my chosen path, everything seemed to be in a mess.
It was in this state of mind that I approached the record shop. I had brought the records with me, still in their shopping bag, as an excuse for dropping by.
When I walked in, Toby looked at me.
‘You’re wearing that?’ he asked.
I glanced at my clothes. I was dressed in my usual school attire of scruffy jeans and a sweatshirt top and I immediately regretted not making more of an effort. Toby had seen me many times in this sort of thing, so I felt stung by his comment. Was he already tiring of me, as Laila had predicted?
You’ve got a gig tonight,’ Toby explained.
I stopped in my tracks, stunned. I couldn’t have heard right. But Toby nodded, as though reading my mind.
‘Tonight? On my own?’ Toby kept nodding, amused by my sudden panic. ‘But I can’t. I’m not ready! You saw what happened last week.’
‘Exactly,’ Toby said, somewhat enigmatically.
I shook my head adamantly. ‘No way.’
‘I saw you taking it all in. I know it got you.’
Nothing Toby could say was going to change my mind. I was all over the place as it was; I didn’t need to feel even more confused and unsure of what I was doing with my life and where I was going. And I could certainly do without the embarrassment.
‘You’d get paid,’ Toby added, as though knowing that was the one thing that might make me reconsider.
But even the money had lost its lure, although I was certainly in sore need of it. The universe had given me a chance and then it had given me a sign – I was not meant for DJ-ing. I had tried my best, but I didn’t have what it took. Doing this gig would have been akin to banging my head against the wall.
‘Sorry,’ I said and walked out.
I knew I had disappointed Toby but I couldn’t force things just to please him. The idea that I may have pursued my dream solely out of a wish to please Mum was still haunting me, so anything that resembled such a scenario was off-putting right now. I actually hated him for trying to push me into another gig, because he had ruined my chance to just hang out with him. How could I now pop round to see him when this was hanging over us?
On my way out I took my mobile and rang Amy, hoping she was free for a coffee. We met up along the South Bank and took a seat on one of the terraces to soak up the last of the afternoon sun. Amy straight away noticed how stressed I looked and asked me how I was doing. I launched into a long rant, telling her all about the rave and admitting my doubts over Juilliard. Amy tried to comfort me, telling me all these feelings would eventually settle down and I’d know what to do. But the thought of just sitting and waiting till such a time made me even more agitated. And who was to say how long that process would take? I didn’t have that long to spare. The Juilliard audition was fast approaching and I couldn’t afford to be this distracted. As though testing me to my limits, our conversation was interrupted by my mobile. The screen said ‘Toby calling’. I ignored it.
‘Look, you’ve always wanted to play the piano, right?’ Amy said. ‘It always come first. Even when we were little – you weren’t allowed to come out and play until you had finished with your practice, remember?’
Gosh, I had forgotten all about that. I couldn’t remember if I had days when I wished that I was out playing instead of being seated at the piano, though. I wondered what happened if that had been the case – did I throw tantrums? Did I have days when I hated the piano?
‘But no matter what you love doing, there will come a time or even several periods of time when you’ll question it. It’s natural. It’s part of the process. Don’t think it means you’ve made the wrong choice,’ Amy counselled.
Her calm voice helped. Slightly more relaxed, I even managed to laugh at myself and my DJ-ing attempts. What I couldn’t understand was how one could enjoy something so much yet be so rubbish at it. It didn’t make sense. I loved the piano, but I was also very good at it. The DJ-ing was a paradox. Once again, though, Amy put things into perspective, reminding me that it took many years of playing the piano to reach the level I was at. I couldn’t just expect to start DJ-ing like a pro on my first night. She had a point.
‘Why not just treat it as a hobby?’ she suggested. That way, it wouldn’t how good or bad I was, only that I was doing something that was enjoyable. Plus, she pointed out, it would also give me musical versatility. It was all true, I mused.
Just then my mobile rang again, showing the same number. Toby was being very persistent.
‘Is it him?’ Amy asked.
‘It doesn’t matter,’ I said, letting it ring.
‘Oh go on, don’t be silly. Answer it!’ Amy urged me, but I was very reluctant.
‘We didn’t have a fight, but we left things on a bit of an awkward note…’ I tried to explain, while the ring tone kept on.
Finally, Amy snatched the phone off me and pressed the answer button, then handed it quickly back to me. I had no choice but to speak to him now. It turned out that Toby hadn’t called to badger me over the gig. He had a very different proposal for me. One I couldn’t refuse.