Somehow, last year, I hadn’t been quite keen to attend the Christmas Party for Musicians. Maybe, I wanted it to be a quiet Christmas, just with my family. Maybe I wanted to call some old friends over. Maybe I wanted to go to a holiday to some tropical region. Point was, I didn’t want to attend the party, and there was no specific reason for it. My brain told me to deny and that was what I decided. When Frank had called up, I hadn’t said no… My friends expected me, and when I did not turn up, everyone would be disappointed. Well, I had thought then, if I met Frank, I would just tell him my decision. But that day had never arrived, and the date tumbled on to 23rd December, the day we were to set off.
I quite appreciated myself that I hadn’t told Frank anything, because in the late morning of 23rd December, as I sat by the balcony sipping coffee, I realized that I should have gone. There was no point sitting alone in the house, when all were enjoying the party. I trusted my whimsical brain; not wasting another second, I packed a few things, locked the main door, got in the car, and set off to the resort.
After four hours of tedious driving, I drove in the front lawn, immediately realizing that my decision was perfectly correct. The bushes and the trees were garlanded with lights. In the middle, stood a great Christmas tree with a humongous golden star hanging at the top.
I walked up to the front porch steadily. People were talking and laughing, occasionally glancing at me and smiling.
“Sir, you have luggage?” a porter came forward, lifting the bags.
“No, that’s all,” I said surprised. Were they waiting for me? How did they know that I would come? Well, that was unimportant. How awful would it have been, if I had not turned up at all! I couldn’t but admire my unpredictable brain for its whimsical decisions.
At the reception, a balding man was peering over his computer, fully absorbed in his work.
“Excuse me, I am looking for a room…” I faltered as the man looked up and smiled at me, “Sir, you already have a room booked on your name. A single occupancy for you?”
“Are you sure? There has been a mistake, I guess. My group might not have booked a room without my consent.”
“Let me check again, Sir, then,” he said, returning to his computer.
“Please don’t bother. You go ahead with a fresh booking for me. I am sure there has been some misunderstanding.”
“As you wish, Sir.”
I walked up to the room, and appreciated myself once more for coming here. There was a king-size bed in the middle, with a couch by the window, through which the countryside could be seen. A small round table and two chairs were placed in front of the couch, a delicately decorated flower vase was kept on the table. I was wondering which flower it was, when I realized something surprising. It was quite curious that I hadn’t met any of my band members yet. I was pleased with myself too; I hadn’t arrived with the team but everyone confidently recognized me as one of them. Had I become really famous after all?
My mind drifted back to the missing friends. Maybe they were just around, I thought. I would have to check on the evening schedule with them. That could be done later, too. There was no hurry.
I rummaged for the newspaper. Where was the thing? I got up hastily—I would check on my friends and ask for the newspaper at the front desk.
But they were nowhere. Well, I thought for asking for the newspaper and retiring to my room, when Frank popped out, almost out of thin air.
“Hi Austin, I was searching for you…”
“Listen, meet me in the hall at 4:30 pm. All will be there and we’ll talk. And yeah, don’t forget about the evening programme—8.30 pm sharp!”
“Okay… and sure, I’ll not forget.”
I glanced at my watch. It was 4:15 pm. Well, there wouldn’t be any time to lazily relax, I grumbled to myself. I walked up to the front office.
“Excuse me,” I said.
“We’re very sorry Sir, for being late, but your desired newspaper has already been delivered to your room.”
“Oh… thank you.”
Was I so famous? Well, it certainly seemed so, I smiled. They knew my mandatory daily newspaper, and had kept that ready… maybe a bit late. I was suddenly feeling very important. I strode up to the hall at sharp 4:30 pm and looked for Frank and the others. Astonishingly, not a soul was there in the hall. I decided to wait for five minutes… ten minutes… fifteen minutes. No, they were not to come. Perhaps, Frank had cancelled the plan after all. I stared at the empty hall; eyebrows raised. Well, I liked quietness and was not interested in silly chatting. I went back to the room, took up the newspaper and sat down on the chair, my eyes drooping. I set an alarm for 8:20 pm. Five minutes… and I was asleep.
“Ting!” the disgusting alarm sounded off, sharply at 8:20 pm, and I scrambled up. The show was due in 10 minutes!
Quickly, I dressed as much decently as I could, and ran halfway to the concert room. Approaching at the door, I straightened up, shook off my hair and got in importantly and was greeted by a recording, playing violin and a soft hush of talk. I glanced at the watch. It was 8:29 pm. I got myself a chair, and looked around. Where were the other members? I had a feeling of a sudden block of wood falling down my stomach. Was my band performing? Oh, I shook myself, that was not possible. Frank would have mentioned something. How could a music band perform without a drummer?
But it was strange. I hadn’t met any other member, except Frank, and he had told that I would be meeting all at 4:30 pm in the hall. Nobody had turned up there. And nobody had turned up here too. Did the team leave? I didn’t check that. There was a round of applause, as a woman came up on the stage. I would think about my band later, I thought, looking up at the woman.
“Good evening, gentlemen and ladies. I hope everybody is well and happy. Another year, and we have rounded up to celebrate Christmas and the New Year. Celebrations begin today…!” Another round of applause, “And we’ll be starting with our band, ‘Musicals’!”
I gasped and looked around. So, my band was performing after all. I gazed, shocked. I had to come to the hard truth—Frank had got a new drummer. But I couldn’t believe it. Why did he do this? He could have at least informed me. He had kept a room booked.
“We’ll welcome…” the woman was off again. Should I stay? I had a mind to pack up my bags that minute and leave. But I realized that my shock didn't allow me to move a muscle. “Valda and Vania Brown—singers, Frank Woods—guitarist, Albert Warner—keyboardist, and Austin Marshall—drummer!”
There was a lot of cheering and clapping.
My face, which had borne an expression of shock, from betrayal, a few seconds ago, had now changed. Austin Marshall... that was me. My face turned pale to blue to green to violet, the fear level increasing… as I saw myself getting up on the stage.