He’ll show up, I tell myself. Two more minutes pass. There’s no more feed for me to scroll through. I look around. No one. I light a cigarette.
A few drags later, I crush it into the ashtray. The damn thing’s made me nauseous. Still, I’ll probably smoke another one in a couple of minutes. It’s better than having no distractions. I take the cheap coffee, that’s still way too expensive for my current income. It’s scorching, undrinkable. I can barely hold it. At the same time, a burst of wind assaults me, scurrying down my neck and bothering every single nerve on my skin. My leg-hairs rise in protest and are subdued by the tightness of my jeans. My skin’s dry. It hurts, and I think of what I’d give to be lying on my couch, in sweatpants and with a blanket around me. Nothing’s right: the coffee’s too hot; the air is too cold and too polluted, and the only fucking reason why I’m sat outside is so I can sustain the vice of nicotine. I sigh, look at my watch again. Twenty minutes late, great.
My mind starts racing, I imagine him not showing up. I imagine everyone here looking at me, knowing.
Eventually, he shows up.
“Hi, sorry. God, traffic was awful today.”
“No worries” and I smile, so as not to say “Wow! You can afford to drive in this city? I can barely manage to afford the tube, or the occasional uber when I’m really in a pinch.”
“So, I’m Noah.” He says this smoothly, stating an obvious fact but without being condescending. “Marta said you had a few demos to sample?”
I start rampaging my backpack. I finally get a hold of the USB stick, and hand it to him. He laughs, takes it from me and puts it inside his wallet – as you would a baggie of drugs, I think.
“Alright, but you got anything on your phone that we can listen to right now?”
“Yeah, of course, sorry.” I start scrolling through my saved tracks. “It’s just, I don’t have that much space on my phone. A lot of things on my phone aren’t mastered, I’m still working on them, you know?”
“It’s alright man, just wanna get a feel of your style.”
I play a couple of songs for him. I can’t read his face, which makes it harder for me to decide to skip ahead to the chorus of a track or to move on to the next one. Suddenly, someone calls him. He picks up. “Yo!” Silence. I pause the song. “Yeah, no I’m not too far from Liverpool Street right now. Yeah, I can meet you in 20, I’m with the car so we can go straight from yours” Another silence. “Alright, see you in a bit. Ciao.”
“Alright, man, I have to go. I’ll have another listen later; properly.” He flashes his wallet as he says this. “I’ll be in touch, okay? But it was nice to meet you” He offers his hand, and I – thank god – intuitively don’t shake it too formally, but rather offer him something between a handshake and a high-five. Then, he’s gone; and I’m left there with my coffee that’s now drinkable and what feels like a weight off my chest. I obsess over the meeting for the next week. I finally reach the conclusion that, in the 10 sentences exchanged between us – if that – there’s nothing I could’ve said or done that would’ve helped my cause.
Marta gave me his number. Apparently, he’s this rich kid from her uni, who’s got loads of contacts in the music industry – it’s the family business. He’s constantly scouting for talent, trying to make a big discovery and “make it on his own”.
- “What do you study, again?”
- “Politics, Philosophy and Economics” – Marta says, drying a glass
- “Right, so why the fuck is he studying that if he wants to work in the music industry?”
- “I’m guessing it’s a trophy degree. Probably comes from one of those families that consider you useless unless you have a flashy degree.”
- “Hey, I think table four’s ready to pay.”
Today I have a shift with her again.
- “So? How’d it go?” – She seems genuinely excited about it.
- “We’ll see. We barely talked. He listened to a few tracks; said he’d be in touch.”
- “Oh. Well, want me to ask him about it?”
- “Nah, that’s fine. Thanks, though. I appreciate you doing this.”
She’s half-turned to the kitchen, collecting the incoming steaming dishes and spreading them across her arms. She smiles. “No problem; keep me updated. And go change, I feel a rush coming.” I nod, two fingers to my temple, as a soldier would salute their sergeant.
At night, when we’ve completed all the closing duties, we stay back for a beer. Our manager’s pretty lax about it, says it’s fine as long as we don’t drink his whole stock and we don’t make too much noise. I have a feeling he’s alright if she does it, but if it were me alone, or with a friend of mine, he’d be pissed. I don’t say anything, though.
- “So, what’s the plan?”
I take a sip of my beer. “The plan?”
- “Yeah, you know. What are you gonna do if he doesn’t contact you again?”
- “Don’t know. Keep making music, I guess. I mean, what else is there to do, right?”
I catch looking her at me skeptically, my eyes previously occupied with the joint I was rolling. “What?”
- “Nothing. It’s just… I can’t quite figure you out.”
I pop the joint in my mouth, light it and spread my arms out. “I’m an open book. What’d you want to know?”
- “How did you get here?”
- “In London?”
- “No, you know what I mean. At this stage in your life, where you literally don’t give a shit about anything except for your music.”
- “It’s not me who decides.” I smile, knowing how much that cliché makes us cringe. She laughs. I pass her the joint. I put on La Llorona. I close my eyes, resting my neck against the back of the booth.
I think of my parents. How they were convinced I was a prodigy. How supportive they’ve been; they still are; convinced I’m destined for greatness. I think of the sleepless nights, wondering whether I made the right choice. The self-doubt. The bitterness. The hating my music, thinking everything I’ve ever made is shit. The unbearable thought of disappointing my parents. I think of the great artists I’ve listened to. That feeling. The admiration. The inspiration. The solace; like when everything else in my world had melted away, their virtue remained, steady and triumphant. How it suddenly gave me something to hold on to. To aspire to. And going back into the loop. Trying again. Making more music; feeling like this one’s a little bit better. The pride, the fulfillment. The happiness. Thinking life’s worth it, just for that little bit. And the enjoyment, of discovering other artists, new sounds, different essences.
- “It comes and goes, I guess. But I don’t see myself doing anything else; wanting anything else.”
We stay a bit longer, but she’s tired, I can tell.
- “Shall we?” I finally say.
We put the two empty bottles in the sink and empty the makeshift ashtray. I shut off the lights and lock up. We say goodbye, and as I walk down the street, I’m already anxious to play the next track I’ve got stuck in my head.