BY CHAYA SANDLER
Kayla has her practical music exam. She is also waiting to hear how her job interview went. Her theory exam is the next day but she is uneasy….
Glass falls and smashes, scattering into myriads of shards, thrown up into the air and cascading down, the sound deafening in its intensity – the sound of broken dreams.
I got my early night, I was in bed by 10. When the dawn rose and demanded my attention, I arose and wearily made it into the kitchen, reaching for the requisite smoothie on my way out. I missed the tube. I caught the next one and leaned my forehead against a pole the entire time.
If you want to know what caused my sudden bad mood, I failed. I failed my practical exam and I therefore probably failed the entire A-level. I never failed anything in my entire life.
By the time I got to school I was slightly placated. Life moves on and it was such a beautiful day I couldn’t help smiling. The sun was throwing its warm radiance over the earth and the flowers were singing in return. The grass seemed to almost glow and the rose bush outside school looked like it had been painted. Painting the roses red… a giggle forced itself out and I found myself grinning. Ok Hashem, you win. I’ll try to be slightly less morose but I think I’m still allowed to mope.
As I neared the reception, my phone vibrated. I knew I had better check it quickly before I handed it in.
Hi. Just to let you know that we really would like to offer you a job, but unfortunately the position has been filled and we do not have any other openings. Thank you for applying; we will keep you on file.
I skipped first period again. And second. In fact, I took the rest of the day off. I turned around and stumbled home before collapsing onto my bed in a flood of tears. When Rachel and Abby came around later, I answered tersely and despondently. Eventually they left, leaving only the accusing pile of missed work and the echoing silence behind.
My mother came up later and tried to encourage me, but I wasn’t interested.
What had I done wrong?
In a flash of impulsivity, I looked up the name of the examiner who had listened to me and had told me I had probably failed. I called up to my mother, grabbed a hoodie and my keys and left. Standing outside his home 40 minutes later, the bravado left me, and when the door opened I stuttered and spluttered.
“Um…hi, er, I er, I…um, I was wondering, I mean, um… why did you fail me?”
The examiner, dressed in a grey cardigan and dark slippers, stroked his balding head and fixed me with a sharp gaze. He had definitely been a teacher once!
“Come in,” he said eventually, breaking the silence.
He took me into a living room that would not be out of place in a stately home. The armchairs were upholstered and made of grotesquely patterned material. They almost dared you to sit on their dust-covered surfaces. A large bookshelf framed one wall, and an actual fireplace, filled with real wood and covered by a grate, adorned the opposite wall.
Gingerly, I lowered myself onto one of the armchairs and almost sank to the floor. The examiner, who introduced himself as Montgomery, sat cross-legged on the sofa, staring at me.
“Not many students track down their examiners and come to their houses. That makes you a rather unusual young lady…. But I like different, it’s…” He searched for the right word, waving his hand around as though he was reeling in a fish and was going to pluck the word from the air around him. Did he think there were invisible words floating all around him? “Refreshing. So tell me, what brings you here?”
I took a deep breath. My cheeks were burning crimson, competing with the setting sun in the sky outside.
“I wanted to know why you think I failed. What was wrong with my piece?”
Why?! The question stumped me in its simplicity. Wasn’t it obvious why?
“Because…” I stopped. Why was it so important to me? Why did I feel like there was this burning drive inside of me, this desperate desire, a need to know?
“Because I thought it was really good, and I want to know what was wrong with it and how I can improve.”
“No?? What do you mean, no?!”
“That is not why you came.”
“Excuse me?! Who do you think you are – Sigmund Freud? I think I know why I came.”
“You can tell yourself that this is why you came if you like, but we would both know you were lying.”
I was so indignant I couldn’t even respond. The examiner leaned forward.
“Do you want to know why you really came?”
“It’s because you want to know who you are.”
“Ok, now I’ve had it. Yoda!”
“What I mean to say is that you define yourself by what others think about you. You think of yourself as a musician but you don’t trust that that is who you are unless I tell you it is so. You don’t believe in yourself and you need me to reassure you that you can play. My condemnation is so shocking to you, it shakes the core of your self- awareness.”
I couldn’t respond. That was not true… was it?
“I don’t know what you are talking about.”
“Why were you so bothered that you came here? You need to know what I thought of you because you need to know who you are.”
Preposterous… I wasn’t so shallow. Was I? Maybe I was. Why was I so bothered? Maybe I am so busy doing and achieving that I don’t really know who I am, I only what I do. When do I take the time to just be? I push myself so hard and so fast that I never stop to work out who I am and where I’m going.
The examiner stood up. “Think about what I said.”
He escorted me to the door, and as the door closed behind me, he murmured quietly, “For the record, you played beautifully. You just missed the brief.”