As I clung to the handrail on the Tube, the early morning work commuters indifferent to my attire, I realised that, for the first time, my two worlds were about to collide in quite a dramatic fashion. My skimpy black shorts and silver top may not reveal that I was actually DJ-ing, but they would certainly indicate the double life I had been leading. I cringed inwardly at the thought of Ed and the disapproval my get-up was bound to elicit.
I then wondered, once again, what my mother would have made of the DJ-ing scene. Opening up to Toby over bagels had not just brought back the past. It was more than just the reliving of the memories. I had begun to question some of the things in my life and some of the answers made me uncomfortable. Even guilty. Once I had told Toby about my mother’s channelling of her life’s ambitions into me, and of her belief in me, I wondered, for the first time, if I would have chosen the piano had it not been for Mum. Had I ever once expressed the desire to sit down at the piano and learn to play it? Was it my admiration of Mum that had prompted that first ever lesson? Or had my mother placed me there of her own accord, to see what would happen? And then, when I demonstrated some skill, she recognised my potential and decided to nurture my talent. Was that how it had happened?
It was all too much of a blur when I looked back on those early years. I could recall sitting on the bench, the white piano keys much wider than my tiny fingers, and the stinging sensation in my fingertips after the lesson was over, sore from too much playing. But I don’t think there had been any resentment or disinclination towards the music. It was unfair to Mum, I realised, to try to blame her for the quandary I had driven myself into, all by my own doing. And deep down I knew, had Mum still been around, I would have been able to talk to her about it openly, even the DJ-ing stuff. Once I’d explained to her how the DJ-ing worked in music terms, she would have realised how creative a form of expression it could be. Or was I being naïve to think this?
Argh! I just couldn’t take this. I had never been so unsure of what I wanted from life. It was a most unpleasant state of being. Perhaps it was all just down to a lack of sleep, I tried to reason. Things would settle down soon enough, and I would begin to see through the thick mist that kept clouding my mind. I roused myself at the sound of the automated station announcement and moved forwards, towards the exit, as my stop was coming up. I glanced at my mobile. Damn, I was running late. Again. And I was exhausted, my adrenaline having finally run out. I made a mental note to grab a triple espresso before heading to class.
I quickly downed my caffeine-packed cup in the corridor before going into the rehearsal room, as food and drink was not allowed inside. Glancing at my watch, I realised I was unforgivably late for the memorial concert rehearsals – a full twenty-five minutes. At least the last time I was only five minutes late and I had been ‘properly’ dressed. I doubted Ed would let me get away with this indiscretion. Mustering up my courage, I quietly opened the door and snuck in. To my dismay, I saw the page turner seated at the piano and playing my part, whilst the others took their turns at their solos. I didn’t have to look at Ed to know the face he was pulling – that of extreme annoyance. The page turner silently rose from the piano when she saw me, letting me in, but the switchover caused a bit of an abrupt moment in the performance, disrupting the song. I very quickly found my place on the sheet, but I knew the damage had been done and that I’d have to face the consequences.
As the page turner returned to her duties, standing by my side and turning the music sheets, I furtively looked in Ed’s direction. He gravely shook his head at me, as though I had committed the worst crime in the music school’s history. I felt sorry for being late, but I also felt angry; it wasn’t like it was such a terrible transgression. It was only one late morning. It happened to everyone out in the real world. And then I paused. Why had I just made that distinction? Why did I think this world was not real, when it was all I had ever known up until a few months ago?
Unsettled, I played a bit erratically for the rest of the morning. I tried to prepare in my head some excuses and arguments for the inevitable showdown with Ed, but unfortunately my brain wasn’t cooperating. It looked like I would have to resign myself to grovelling in silence. But then Ed surprised me. We had barely reached the last note of the piece and the end of rehearsals when Ed stalked out, without a word. The rest of us stared at each other, confused. It was not like Ed to behave like that. Even when we performed really badly he usually had a way of making us feel better and inspiring us. This was altogether out of character. And I had a sinking feeling it was all because of me, which made me feel really bad, as the rest of the group were on the receiving end of this slight through no fault of their own. I may have got out of receiving a lecture, but I wasn’t sure if this alternative was any better. Beyond tired, I decided to skip the afternoon’s classes and head to Tom’s. I needed some sleep. I was beginning to experience a highly skewered version of reality and I thought I’d be better off recharging my batteries.
I retreated to my bedroom and to the welcoming folds of the bed, where I slept straight through to the following day. Feeling refreshed, I got up around midday and saw that Toby had texted me details of a gig that evening, to be held underneath a railway bridge. Thrilled, I immediately responded, agreeing to it.
That night at the railway bridge, two things happened that made it a memorable gig. As I changed a record, which the appreciative crowd received with rapture, a promoter approached my booth, asking me for my business card. I didn’t have one, but that was beside the point. I was chuffed beyond words to have been asked for one! It meant someone liked my work enough to take my details and pass them on, or even hire me. Too busy to chat to him, I gestured towards Toby, who quickly approached the promoter and started to talk to him. After a while, the promoter left and Toby gave me a thumbs up with both hands.
The next thing that happened may not sound as monumental, but it meant something to me. Scanning the dancers, my eyes picked out a familiar silhouette. It was Laila. She wasn’t dancing; instead, she was standing watching me. When our eyes met I gave her a tentative wave, unsure of why she was there in the first place. I couldn’t imagine she had come just to listen to me DJ. Laila didn’t wave back, but she did nod, albeit in a begrudging kind of way. It didn’t matter, though, because for me that was a sign of her approval and it meant a lot. Unable to suppress my glee, I grinned back at her, but she was gone. Perhaps some dancers happened to obscure her from view, or maybe she had left. Either way, it was a validation of sorts and I treasured it.