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After a month of having my name on an undesired nominated list, which I was dying to remove myself from the paper of adversity, I ultimately stood in the darkness behind a stage, bracing for an announcement, sweating from a nagging worry while awaiting the crucial result. Many guitarists were here with me. They seemed nervous and tense waiting with bated breath.

“Everyone!” a woman shouted on the stage. “Are you ready to meet our Fuzz Noise’s Best Guitarist?! MAKE SOME NOISE!”

“YEAH!” a crowd answered.

My heart was racing. Helmeri Karppinen, another guitarist in my band, sat among them. He didn’t make it to the list.

“And the winner is…”

It’s going to be ‘me’ again, isn’t it?

“Andrey Paklatsky from ‘Beneath the Dawn’!”

Yeah… it’s me—again. I DON’T NEED ANOTHER ONE!

The audience was giving me thunderous applause while most of the musicians just sighed with… I didn’t know, and I didn’t want to know. Some congratulated me. Some glanced at me, and then she called me to the stage.

I strode under the spotlights, wearing a bright smile and taking a quick look at him. He looked at me too, but he seemed happier than me. She handed me a golden star-topped trophy. It was my first award after I joined the band. I was in other bands before.

I felt like I couldn’t accept it in any way, shape, or form.

My hands slowly reached for it, shaking from feelings that I couldn’t explain. Those watchers stood up, offering me the fuzzier cheering, which was causing beads of sweat on my forehead and they were simultaneously streaming down my face.

At last, I held the unwanted prize in my hands. Giving the attendees the same smile but slightly wider again this time. She did it likewise. My legs felt like it had been undergoing surgery.

I was losing my nerve.

Eventually, the chamber was at peace. I felt that serenity again.

She passed me a microphone. I grabbed it, thinking about what I wanted to say.

“T—thank you,” I said, voice trembling. “I can’t be here without your votes. They mean a lot to me after all these years with the people I love.” I paused, looked down before facing them again. “Your votes are a part of my journey, but most of all, this prize belongs to my teachers. Many of them, including my parents. This very award.” I held the memento higher while moving it around for everyone’s eyes then lowered it to my chest. “I must dedicate to them. All of them.”

I passed the microphone to the lady then bowed before the patrons who were giving me another ovation.

I wanted to run away from this. I heard nothing but my cursed name from her and everyone. I felt like I’d been cursed since forever. I felt acute discomfort when lots of people were shouting my name over and over. This kind of thing didn’t happen in our shows.

It had to deal with something when I was just a boy. I grew up winning this very same stuff repeatedly because of those instructors. It was the reason why this shiny thing must be in their hands instead of mine.

Backed to the topic. As I kept winning the instrument competitions during the age of innocence, my friends kept fading away after each one while I kept getting those louder cries of admiration. I, Andrey, was the person who slowly erased their existence, endeavor and acceptance.

It was hard to bear. The feeling of leaving someone behind unintentionally due to my music skill. It was fair, but life wasn’t fair when it came to emotions. I’d involuntarily carved permanent scars on their hearts: the scars of insecurity.

I couldn’t count the numbers of those people who were now insecure about their ability. I wondered what they would feel when they see me performing and enjoying my times on stages. Would they feel pain? Would they feel joy? Would they feel jealous? I had no idea.

I wished I could go back in time and let them win too, so they could have some kind of under-the-spotlight moments, at least. It was the only way to maintain everything after I lost contact through my capability. No one wanted to be unrecognized in the world of attention. I could even say the whole world, honestly.

After my life’s troublesome event of the award and brooding about the past, I directly went to our current five-star hotel. I could call these hotels ‘home’. I wasn’t alone, of course. I walked with all the band members. They’d been waiting for my moment of unwelcome glory. For them, it was, perhaps, one of their best things ever.

I felt so uncomfortable with all their congratulatory words, especially from Helmeri. I guessed we need to talk for a while after things settle down.

Practicing some songs with my guitar alone was meditation for me. When my negativity passed, I got myself ready for a conversation with Helmeri.

I knocked on his wooden room’s door. He opened it, kept looking at me while moving his widened eyes up and down. Helmeri was clean-cut, had an athletic build, hazel eyes and an inverted triangle face that could both attract the opposite gender immediately or make his enemies retreat by just meeting his eyes. He was just in his early thirties, but his guitar skill should’ve been praised too. He deserved it.

“Are you okay? he asked worriedly. “You didn’t seem to be alright earlier too.”

I scratched my head then chuckled. “Yeah… I don’t feel like I should have that with me and stuff, you know.”

“Why not? You’ve come so far. You deserved that. They voted for you with reason. It isn’t like we, the band, are going to be separated by what you’ve got in your hands for your well-deserved reputation.

I shook my head.

“Hey,” he said, “wanna come inside and have a drink?”

“Sound… good. Perhaps.”

“Just get inside.” He waved his hand with a more confused look. “Come on, Dyukha.”

“Okay. Okay.” I said, behaving like a scared cat because of his eyes.

We both got inside the suite after the torment. I slumped against one of the sofas while he was getting me a bottle of strawberry-flavored vodka. He always preferred brandy to everything else, although he drank my front-runner alcohol on occasion too.

When the drinks arrived, things settled down, and so was Helmeri before me. There was no glass for me owing to how I drank this thing.

“Don’t knock it back,” he said, “or you’ll fall on the stage tomorrow.”

“Hell no. It’s at night. I’ll be just fine in the afternoon.” I yanked the bottle, swigging the red-colored liquid of doom.

“Whoa! Whoa! Wait! Wait! Wait!”

I stopped the narrowed waterfall. “What?”

“You won’t even make it to your room. Take it slow.” He started pouring another liquid of doom into his glass then took it.

“Let me be honest, Heimer. I need it. I need this to erase all the bad feelings after I won.”

“Why you hate it so much, seriously? The whole band’s got a new boost. It isn’t just you—alone.” He gestured at me.

“You think so?” I swigged it again. “That—wasn’t even an actual judge from those experts. I saw those looks, Heimer. The looks of disapproval. People who are better than me, those who had been nominated, remain in the shadows. Perhaps because they don’t have that kind of look and they aren’t in popular bands.”

Instead of saying anything, he gulped the orange alcohol down and made the waterfall again.

“I didn’t even wan—”

“I can’t help you with that,” he cut in, voice grim. “It’s passed. Accept it. Whether you like or not, Andrey. You can’t change anything, even if you throw that trophy out of the windows. It stays with you. To make it clearer, it stays within you.”

“I feel like I… can’t.” I scratched my head, looking down.

“Why? Aside from those things. Your childhood doesn’t count.”

Thank God.

“Remember that gig last Friday, Heimer?”

“I do. And?”

I faced him.

“That guitar guy’s so underrated. You know, they’ve been in the scene for years, but they still aren’t big like us. I feel bad for him, maybe even the whole band.”

Helmeri met my eyes, sipping the drink. “Almost everything takes time to be recognized unless they go viral. He won’t even make it to the list in time anyway. You were nominated a month ago.”

Right.

“Heimer, I did mention them, posting some vids on my Facebook, but they don’t get that much attention.”

“Because people are interested in you, not them.”

Right.

But I had a question: “Will people expect more from me tomorrow? What if I can’t deliver?”

My friend chuckled. “Just do it the way you always do. We always play songs as they’re intended, Dyukha. Don’t expect them asking for more. You better expect them to bring gifts for you in the front row.”

Right.

I took a last sip of the calming liquor, put it back on the table and prepared to leave this room. “Don’t knock my vodka back or I’ll kill you tomorrow, Heimer.” I stood up, and my world was shaking slightly. It was affecting me: the booze. “Gotta sleep before this consumes me. Bye!” I waved.

“No toothbrushing? Your mouth is going to be a stinky monster tomorrow. Don’t talk to anyone after you wake up without brushing your teeth first.”

I laughed heartily, shambling toward my room. It felt like a happy ending, but it wasn’t.

The next afternoon, we went to the stage for a soundcheck and blah blah blah. I talked to our bassist, Sigfrid Blomgren, about the ceremony and my conversation with Helmeri a bit. He seemed to understand my point. Helmeri would be behind me like Sigfrid himself, being the bassist, although Helmeri and I played the same thing.

I sighed deeply.

I couldn’t get the feeling of being under the spotlight alone out of my head. It couldn’t happen to those bands with just one guitarist. An answer to all of this could be found tonight during the concert.

The time had finally come. It started differently. I meant before we started playing. When stage lights went dark, all I could hear was “Andrey! Andrey! Andrey!” My very name had been cursed to a whole new level after this point. It continued for eternity until our first song began.

We riffed together; the leading men and instruments of the metal scene. I sensed a fading aura of my guitar partner. It was abstract, yet I could feel it wholly. I tried playing the equipment as normally as I could. Nevertheless, they, the audience, seemed to be asking for more from me.

It wasn’t like you said at all, Heimer.

I couldn’t give them more. Only the same stuff. No improvisation like jazz or anything like it. Whenever the beams of lights shone upon me from the man-made sky during my solo parts and likewise, the discomposure shone even brighter.

I got gifts, of course. Lots of gifts. I had to take them with smiles and saying grateful words to the givers or I could end up as the most heartless guitarist in the universe.

I felt fake joy. They felt real joy. We both won, perhaps.

At some parts when I stood side by side with Helmeri, playing the guitars together, things were entirely different. I felt full equality between us. Playing as it was intended created the balance during the side-by-side sections. They applauded us strongly and equally after our vocalist said our names at the very end of the show’s encore because I tried my best not to outperform him by any means while I was soloing the name-shouting part.

Nonetheless, I had to bear the burden of being the unwanted front-runner like the crimson vodka, and it would go on eternally. I could even see more awards coming to my hands again and again.

I just wanted to be an ordinary guitarist who played in this friendly band. The fame slowly pulled me out of the place I longed for.

Helmeri was gradually losing his current position. At some point, I could lose him like how I lost those friends before, and I would be the only one to be blamed for everything.

This world was such a mad world.

I’m sorry, Heimer. We aren’t equal anymore.

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