( Present Day)
Next Applicant Please…Mr. Neil Whelan.
The program coordinator called out for the next contestant. I craned forward searching for Neil who had been waiting off stage for his turn. The moment held utmost importance in our lives. I was extremely nervous but at the same time firmly confident. My current mental state not at all implicated that I wasn’t sure during the previous auditions. However, today I felt a sense of pride without any fear of the outcome. I felt pride since my best friend was going to be auditioned for the best school of music in the world- The Juilliard School. I felt fearless as I knew that irrespective of whatever happens in the end my fallen warrior has already found his path.
This was the same auditorium that had denied his music for the last four years. This was the same auditorium that had shut its doors on him during each of his four struggles. This was the same auditorium where today Neil was called upon once again, for the fifth time, to prove that love and passion conquers all.
Neil finally made his way towards the stage, walking the same path for the fifth time. With his favorite guitar resting on his back and strapped across his chest, he made slow strides towards the center. Each step of his was deluged with inexplicable emotions. Emotions that had designed his personality…framed his motivation…crafted his confidence…preserved his hopefulness. Those few footfalls held within itself four years of a story of hardships and failures….a journey marred with seemingly immovable obstacles…a quest of relentless love for music. I loved this guy to his core and worshipped him as my Rock-God.
There were four judges present to review the performance and score the contestant on his/her performance. They occupied front seats of the auditorium and instantly recognized Neil as he took his seat on the odyssey stool at the center of the stage.
“You back again…Whelan”, the oldest judge sneered shaking her head as if she already knew the result.
“Do you know him?”, one of the judges asked surprisingly.
“Everyone knows him John…It has become a ritual to audition him every year for the past four years. I have made this time clear to the admission department that this should be his last attempt to prove himself else he is out or I am going to discontinue participating in auditioning the applicants ”,
the lady smirked as she completed her sentence.
A sudden surge of blood thirst anger rushed into my brains listening to her contemptuous remarks. Moreover I wanted to punch the lady on her face when the other two judges simply nodded and gave their consent to whatever she said.
“Come on buddy…give them their fuckin time…This is all you dude…the Rock-God” my rage shouted within my brains. On the contrary, he seemed to be as calm as an ocean, unaffected by the condescending conversation. Adjusting the height of the stool, Neil settled himself.
“Mr. Whelan…you may start. You have 30 seconds to prepare and tune your instrument”, the coordinator reiterated the instruction.
I was half-seated with all my attention drawn towards the stage. My stomach churned with jittery excitement and my heart pumped blood with an added vigor. Even though the hall was empty but for few of the applicant’s guardians and the judges, I felt it was nothing less palpitating than a live show. Neil tuned his guitar strings and brushed his fingers across them giving away a pleasant music of commencement. A sense of nostalgia gripped me and the past four years sprung up in front of my face in a fast forward mode…
The first failure motivated Neil and he was sure that the second attempt would be the final one. He multiplied his efforts. His world shrunk around his guitar. His appearances at different parties and social events reduced. Sure of himself and his efforts, Neil went on for his second audition.
“Mia…I will get through…I will see you in the evening at Jake’s party” It was the last reflection of self-confidence that I witnessed in him…the last light of happiness that I found in his heart.
He didn’t qualify. He did not meet me for the next six months…did not answer my calls…did not reply to my texts.
The third failure shattered his social life completely. I tried to visit his house but each time was greeted by the locked door. His no-show continued both in person and in calls. No matter how much I tried to extend my support, I was met with cold shoulders. I became restless and concerned seeing the downhill in his attitude. I did not want my Rock-God to collapse beneath the mundane rules that have been set to judge the competency of an individual. I knew deep down that he was different…that he was talented…that his luck had gone out of its tune. Another year passed away so soon that I did not realize Neil met with another failure in his fourth attempt.
LOSS and PITY were the only two words when I heard about his results from his mother. Yeah, I did keep in touch with his mother as I could not live peacefully without knowing how he was holding up. Impatient and Irritated I texted him while driving my car to his home, adamant to force him out of his reclusive cosmos.
“Why are you so fuckin complicated…Neil. In one moment you are so easy to talk to and in the other you seem a complete stranger. What the hell is wrong with you”…his cellphone beeped with the message.
Expressing emotions has always been a herculean task for him. The undulating longings have been playing with his heart, pushing him down to the depths and simultaneously pulling him up to the surface. He already knew what he wanted but the journey of pursuing his destiny seemed incomprehensible. The mind is not an easy animal that can be tamed with a wave of wand. Such a circumstance brings up questions, which are simple to ask but complex to answer – what all battles he has to fight with himself to win the heart of the destiny…how much love he has to show towards the journey to see the light of the finality…which all emotions he has to subdue to witness the finale of the fate. One can never fathom the devastating storm of despondency that keeps on banging the grey matter unless one decides to swim in those undulating longings.
Unaware of my presence, Neil just sat on the chair with the cellphone in his hand, rereading the message and making no sense out of it. The texts in the message were lost in the swarm of words that reverberated all around him…FAILURE. DEFEAT. END.
The walls of his room that once embellished with the posters of greatest guitarists were ripped off from different areas…the strings of his guitar were slashed at various locations between the neck and the saddle…the body of guitar was the first to be the victim of Neil’s frustration…the dairy and books lay all over the floor…the whole room was in a state of mess with toppled furniture, strewn apparel and torn pages.
A new page was added to the clutter as Neil crumpled it and threw it, while deleting my messages as expected. The page landed on my feet. I stood there silently witnessing the whole ruckus. I wanted to mollify Neil’s agitation…convince him to go for another attempt…tell him that life doesn’t stop, yet I did no such thing. I was broken in inside like the uneven fragments of his forsaken guitar. Each tear drop that left my face encapsulated prayers, silently beseeching strength for his broken soul.
The lone wolf started his musical notes. I instantly knew that the song was none other than the best suited for his struggle…Stairway to heaven by Led Zeppelin…the god of acoustic composition of the era. As the fingers delicately pulled the first chord, I felt an electric spark run down my skin, giving me an adrenaline shot. The coordination between the strings and his hand started to integrate the musical notes with the air that flowed in the hall carrying the intensity all around. The first fifty-two seconds of raw music replicated perfectly the original notes calming the nerves and soothing the soul.
He gazed into my eyes, gave me a smile, bent slightly forward bringing his mouth close to the microphone and sang the first line…The smile transformed into sheer emotions that he was breathing out in those lines. There were no signs of doubts in his voice…no prediction of his audition in his mind…no loss of four years in his eyes. He was singing and he was living the moment. The fingers notched up their movement…the chords played along…dancing merrily along the beats…jumping from one string to the other and back to the previous…Our feet started to move along the beats and the bodies swung with the musical waves. Irrespective of who were present, the judges…the audience…the coordinators…or me…we were connected deeply to his heart…we were experiencing the electrifying emotions that was excruciatingly intense. His quest seemed to quench our thirst for peace…his journey appeared to oblige our presence.
Neil’s eyes were closed…his body was swinging in rhythm…his lips were exhaling the wondrous piece of harmony. The whole panel was awestruck…infused with the new fervor that Neil’s aura was inflicting upon us. Every lines was felt…every music notes was heard…the real face of my Rock –God was finally making his huge debut. The amplified emotions were slowly brought down as Neil retraced the stairway to heaven with his final movement of the strings and concluded the rhythm into an absolute peace…into a comfortable silence…into an awestruck faces…
This was the Rock-God…Neil Whelan…the lone wolf…a twenty five year old normal guy…a four-time failure…was at his best at that moment… I did not care about his results as I knew he had won the battle with himself. Like a phoenix, he has risen from the ashes of his failures, conforming that love and passion conquers all.
An ancient saying rightly sums up that each failure takes away a part of you, the best part – the fighter. Every failure defeats the fighter in you…severs it into several pieces and throws those pieces away into the black hole of nothingness. However, the saying doesn’t end but continues redefining the lost fighter. The loss of that fragment of one’s soul drives the thirst to search for a stronger self within oneself. The lost fighter part is replaced with a stronger one. The only condition remaining is not to stop, not to give up and no to stop believing. In the end, the journey will transform you into the FALLEN WARRIOR…
Tell me my readers what is more important…
“Winning small battles with the world or Winning the ultimate WAR with YOURSELF ? “