We were at our second stop on the tour. Our first was at Garaj Istanbul and the turn up had been more than what we had hoped for. Now we were at a small underground jazz club called Generique and we were ready to thrill the crowd. It was in small clubs like this that we had started playing our songs. Red curtains, exposed brick work and wooden floor characterized such clubs and it brought back warm memories.
Back then we were known as Mortar’s pestles. Durukan who had formed the band had come up with the name and we loved it. But then we started to get more famous and we wanted to change it to something easy to remember and catchy. So Ender and Scott came up with Swing Low. Durukan and I thought the name was too generic but it caught on quickly. We were Swing Low and we made good music.
We gathered together backstage before we went on stage to have a verbal rundown of how the songs would progress.
“Kwame don’t go doing your own thing when we start playing All Around Town,” Durukan warned me and Ender and Scott laughed. “We know you can get carried away easily.”
“What can I say I love what I do,” I told him with a mischievous grin.
He frowned then shook his head and smiled. “Let’s do our best and show this people a good time.”
“Oh yes,” the rest of us echoed.
We made our way through the red door and took our place on the dark stage. Ender took his place on the piano, Durukan with his bass, Scott with his saxophone and me on the drums.
“Ladies and gentlemen for the first time in Generique for your listening pleasure I present to you Swing Low.”
A thunderous applause after then the stage lights shone on us and we started to play one of our most popular songs to start; The Thorn Birds. The crowd went wild and and that tingling feeling I always had before I struck the drum that ran from my heart to my hands roused. This was why I played. It was like magic seeing what the merging of different sounds could do to people. It could take them to a different place, make them forget the world, make them remember things and make them just want to dance till they had no strength left.
Forty-five minutes later and we ended with the song Fess Up which I wrote. I hit my drumsticks together as the crowd stood up, clapped and hooted and did things that showed they loved us. Then the image froze. It always did when it was over.
I awoke to the sound of the slight humming from the machine close to me. The nurse was there to take off the wires connected to my head and once again something died inside me.
“Just relax. I’ll bring you the pills for the nausea,” he said to me. I nodded. He left and I pushed the blanket away with my right hand not wanting to look at my left. Why should I anyway? There was nothing there anymore. I staggered to the window to take in the view of the trees. It always soothed me the sight of nature. Before everything changed, when I was not on tour or working on any songs with the band I used to hike through any forest I could find to relax. On the side of the building was the name VR tech. It blinked to show an old man smiling. It blinked again back to VR tech. Virtual reality. There was nothing subtle about what was going on in this building.
My life had changed so quickly it had seemed to me like a dream. After the accident I wondered for a long time why I had not died with the rest of my friends. Why was I the only one spared? What was I to do with one hand?
I heard a familiar voice and walked closer to the door. Looking through the transparent glass, I saw Fey, my half sister. She had been the one taking care of me despite my many flaws. She was talking to one of the VR tech personnel. From their body language I could tell whatever they were talking about was sensitive.
They stopped talking and I went back to the bed and sat down.
“How are you?” she asked halfway through the door.
“A bit woozy.”
The nurse came in after and handed me some pills which I took with some juice.
“Feel better,” he said and left.
“What is it?” I asked Fey. She moved to sit on the couch opposite the bed.
“It’s nothing.”
“You can’t hide anything from me Fey.”
She took off the scarf around her neck and tried not to look so unhappy.
“We have no more money. Your sessions here have continued because the people who run this place love your music. But it is so expensive.” She clasped her hand together looking almost nervous. “What are we going to do?”
What she meant to say was what was I going to do? She was scared I might do something drastic again. The first few months after the accident had been like a surreal experience. Durukan, Scott and Ender were gone. Swing Low was gone. Then I came to. As if just waking up from a dream and clearly saw my reality. I could no longer play drums. My friends were dead. I could no longer do music. I took the sleeping pills without batting an eye. But Fey had found me and I survived. I went through some counseling. That did nothing. I tried again and Fey came to my rescue. She needed me she had said. I was the only family she had left.
Then she found VR tech and we moved from Istanbul to Chicago. The first time with this machine was something I would never forget. Everything was real. I had my hands back. Everyone was alive and we played music just like we used to.
Every week I would come to be plugged to a machine and escape reality. It was the only thing that kept me going. For two years I lived like this and I was content. The outside world did not matter.
I thought about what my life would be without the machine and saw no use for living. I could tell myself to live for Fey. That that was enough. That she was enough. But that would be a lie.
I answered Fey as I lay down on the bed, “there’s nothing left to do Fey.”