Thursday, April 23, 2009

Adrian's Last Song

In this exclusive excerpt from a novel by a local writer Fadzlishah Johanabas Rosli, the main character Adrian is in love with Rina. A Malaysian with a touch of the Irish in him, Adrian is working his gig in a bar, when he meets a talent scout not exactly looking for singing talent ...
Adrian's Last Song
by Fadzlishah Johanabas Rosli

I had been singing here almost every week for the past year. More often than not, the bar was almost deserted. For a supposedly hot location, not many patrons acknowledged the existence of Ben’s Singers’ Corner. They prefered discos and clubs like Nuovo, Modesto’s and The Beach. If I had any friends, I’d go to those places, too. Maybe.
     Tonight, however, the turnout was almost decent - the seats adjacent to the stage were full. Most likely the occupants came to hear the R&B singer, performing after me. I couldn’t even recall her name. Never cared, really. I suppose I could be having stage fright right now if I cared about what other people think of me. As it was, I was going to sing my song, get paid, and get home.
     The spotlight was glaring right at me. That and the cigarette smoke fogging up the bar, I couldn’t see my surrounding much, even if I tried.
     “Um…” I mumbled into the microphone. I doubted anyone would be listening over the din of conversation. “This is one of my favorite songs, one I don’t sing much coz it was made for someone who was special to me.” That was always the case: someone special. She really was, to me.
    I plucked the opening chords with my old and well-used guitar. The notes were tentative at first, barely audible, but with the second set of chords, it was only me, the glaring spotlight and my guitar.
       Nothing else existed. Nothing else mattered.
     I did not sing until well into the first minute of the song, and as I plucked the chords, my attention was not on my fingering. The song was so familiar, so intimate, that playing it was like second nature to me. I let my mind wander back years ago, to my only memories of her: how her hair bounced when she moved, how fluid and effortless her movements were. The deep dimple on her right cheek when she smiled. How she smiled, only for me. When no one else would.
     My voice was thick with repressed emotions when I started to sing.
My world is dark it’s hard to breathe
I’m drowning in my fears
Within the darkness you’re the light
You’re reaching out for me
But I just can’t see

Save yourself and don’t turn back
Don’t look out for me
It’s far too late to save my soul
Just go and let me be
Just go and let me be
Just go and let me be

Your burning light, it shines on me
So bright that I can’t see
I turn away, I run and hide
But you still reach out for me
And I’m reaching back

Save yourself and don’t turn back
Don’t look out for me
It’s far too late to save my soul
Just go and let me be
Save yourself and don’t turn back
Don’t look out for me
It’s far too late to save my soul
Just go and let me be
Just go and let me be
Baby, can’t you see
It’s far too late for me
So go and let me be
Just go and let me be
Just go and let me be
Let me be me

     I sang the last line without the guitar, letting the ending note linger for a moment. The world did not come rushing back to me; I was still within my solitariness. The song still lingered in my heart and ears. Only someone who experienced a song so profound that only it  existed for them could understand what I was feeling right now.
     The sound of clapping was initially distant; like overheard from next door. But it got louder, and only then did I realize the audience were clapping for me. I would be lying if I said I didn’t care if they applauded me or not; I was not above feeling good when appreciated.
    I smiled sheepishly when I heard someone yelling “Encore!” I nodded at the guy’s general direction and muttered a sincere “Thank you.”
     Usually I was more eager to leave the stage than remain on it longer than necessary. This time, however, I wanted to stay, to sing again. But there were other singers waiting to get on stage - the R&B singer, for one.
     I gave a small wave, walked off the stage and took a seat, and eased my guitar into its canvas case. I only noticed a pair of polished leather shoes in front of me when I was zipping up the case. With those shoes came an obviously tailored and expensive pair of slacks and matching suit. The owner was wearing a penguin suit - even had a tie on. 
     “Yeah?” I was sweating underneath my hooded jumper.
     He held out his right hand. The ring on his middle finger looked expensive. His nails were shiny and carefully clipped. I took his hand, after hesitating a bit. Firm and sure handshake. I have to admit, I was intrigued.
     “I’m Peter Han. Call me Peter. " He frowned. "Can you pull back your hood for a while?”
     I arched my eyebrow at him, wary. “I’m not sure…”
    Without releasing my hand, he offered me his name card with his left hand. Peter Low Ju Min, Talent Scout. Face One Modeling Agency.
     “Just pull back your hood.”
     “I’m gonna need my hand first.”
    This time it was his turn to raise an eyebrow at me. Which looked intimidating, with him looking down at me. But he released my hand, finally, with one fluid motion. 
      I pulled back my hood and ruffled my hair. I stole a glance at him : he was appraising me.
     “Stand up.” 
    This was unsettling. I obeyed, without so much as a rejoinder - even more unnerving. 
    The tip of his sleek, well groomed head did not quite reach my eyes. He enquired, “How tall are you? 5 11?”
     “Just under 6’”.
    “Hmm.” I gulped, at that. “Could clean up a bit. But edgy is good."
    Then he said, "You interested in modeling?”
    Whatever spell he had on me now broke. I snorted. “Me? Modeling? You’re kidding right?”
   I lifted my guitar case and slung it across my shoulder, ready to leave. “Look, man. I sing. You would’ve noticed if you were here a few minutes ago. Don’t even know I’m good. I’m not a model. ” I shook my head, in amusement. "No way."
     “Yes, well,” he replied in a near clipped manner. “Of course I came to see Nika sing.” The R&B singer. So that was her name. “And you were lucky I came early. Of course you can sing. Everyone here can attest to that. But it’s getting you nowhere.” He paused, as if weighing what to say next. “Look at modeling as a stepping stone for something bigger. You’ll get to meet people, important people. And who knows, maybe your singing career will launch itself then.”
    I snorted again, but this time with much less enthusiasm. My fingers toyed with the strap, impatient.
     “I can see you’re a smart kid. Think this over. You have my card. But don’t take too long to answer. I have a short attention span.”
     With that, he brushed off imaginary dust off his sleeve and walked away. His attention was now fully on the R&B singer. I was left not quite gaping, but I must have forgotten to breathe for almost a minute. I was tempted to look around, to see if anyone was making a joke - but you had to have friends in the first place to be teased. 
   I flipped the card in my hand, looking at the glossy red surface with a white outline of a side profile, the face ambiguous; at the center, then at the other surface. Joke or no joke, the guy must have been crazy to come up with the idea that I could model - something I never, ever, imagined doing. Ever. My own reflection would be laughing at me right now.
     Still flipping the card with my thumb and middle finger, I looked up towards the stage, at Peter. The cigarette smoke fogging up the bar was less dense from where I was standing, so I could make out his figure quite easily. He was clapping. Even that looked controlled, professional. His suit really looked expensive - even I could figure out that much. He walked toward the stage and stopped in front of the R&B singer, who was hidden from my view. She had finished her performance. That was fast. The way they greeted each other, with such familiarity, left me little doubt to his authenticity.
    I looked at the card again, logo side up. Model. Me. Those two words dominated my thought for exactly two seconds. Then I snickered, shook my head slowly, and pocketed the card.
     Just as I was looking up toward the exit, I saw the one face I had been dreaming of seeing me sing, but never expected to.
      I saw Rina walking out of the bar.
      With a man trailing her.
Listen to Adrian sing:

Fadzlishah Johanabas Rosli's childhood memories are filled with forays into the world of Narnia, up the Faraway Tree, battles and dragonflights across Krynn, and wielding powerful spells that shattered Planes.
Now, a good deal older but not necessarily wiser, he is mesmerized by the Great Love.
From the recesses of his mind, to the Written Word, Fadz wants to share his world in exchange for a chance at immortality.

Whenever not lost between the covers, or picking on someone's brain (literally), he frequents these pages:

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