This story is one of the finalists of Young Post's 2017 Summer Short Story Competition. Each week during the holidays, we will publish one of the finalists' stories. The winning entry will appear in Young Post on August 26.
I’ve always loved singing. It’s a way of clearing my mind of all the fleeting, insignificant thoughts and worries that collect and multiply in there until I’m left with only raw emotion, and that’s the only thing I channel into my singing. And the best part is I don’t need anything except my voice to do it.
Being heard, on the other hand, is a different matter.
Even though it’s morning, the entrance to the night club is open, so I tentatively knock on the door and enter.
“Hi, I saw the ad earlier today that you have an empty space tonight for performing. Is it okay if I come and sing?” I ask hopefully. My spirits soar as I wait for a response from the nightclub. This could be my
“Sorry, there’s already someone in that space. Maybe you can come again another time.” My hopes come crashing back down as quickly as they had risen. I trudge on down the street, then stab the doorbell of some random cafe with my finger. Who knows, I might have better luck this time.
“Hello? I heard that you were accepting singers, and I was wondering if I could come along?” My heart hammers.
“Sorry, we’re busy at the moment. Talk to you later.” I groan and turn around.
I turn the corner onto the next street. In front of me, rising several storeys above the shops and cafes which surround it, is Diamond Records. Involuntarily, my feet walk towards the building and through
the revolving glass door. I see a sign directing me to the room where open castings are being held. No going
“Hi, I’m Cara Lin, I heard you were allowing singers to audition?” Perhaps, just maybe, they would say yes. The third time’s the charm, right?
“Sure, go right ahead.”
I almost scream in glee. Finally, after hundreds of thousands of attempts at getting a chance to sing, there’s someone who will accept me. I read the man’s shirt label, and it says Simon Wong.
I take a deep breath. “I won’t just survive ...”
RING! RING! RING! I jump backwards in fright. It’s Mr Wong’s phone. Smoothly, he picks it up and answers it, seemingly forgetting about me. What, I hear him say. Yes, I’ll be eating dinner at the Mandarin Oriental tonight. See you there. I stand silent and motionless, unsure what to do while he speaks. He ends the call a minute or so later. Without looking up, he addresses me.
“Sorry,” he says. “Time for the next person.”
“Pardon?” I croak. I had only sung one line!
“Next!” Mr Wong barks, his head snapping back to give me an evil look, and when all I can do is blink, he makes a shooing motion at me.
For a moment, all I can do is stand and gape at
Mr Wong, my head clouded with incredulity. How could this possibly have happened? I had practised for days and nights on end to make sure my performance was pitch perfect. It wasn’t even fair – I had barely even sung one sentence! I hurry out the door, and the skies start pouring down on me. Even the weather seems to be mocking me.
It’s because you’re terrible at singing, a voice in my head admonishes me. You should just give up. The voice starts to mimic my friends and family. First, my mother: get a more realistic career. At this rate, you’ll never have enough money to support yourself, let alone your father and me. The voice then morphs into my father. If you were going to sing, why did you even waste my money going to school? You should have just studied, then gone to work as a banker, or an accountant, or even a shop assistant. Then it’s my best friend’s voice which I hear: you don’t even look like a singer, you’re not even pretty enough.
Stop, I tell it hollowly. But the voice only grows more persistent. You’re just telling me to shut up because you’re a failure and you know that it’s true. Just give up. The voice reverberates in my skull. Failure. Failure. Failure.
I trudge home miserably in the rain, thoughts as grey and bleak as the overcast sky swirling around my mind. Failure. Failure. Failure.
As my thoughts grow duller, my mind idly wanders and stumbles upon an old memory …
I’m in Primary Four, performing as Dorothy from Wizard of Oz for the school play. I breathe in deeply, trying to calm myself down. My drama teacher waves at me to step out from backstage. I step onto the stage, the bright lights dazzling me. Out of the corner of my eye, I see a couple whispering to each other. Are they talking about how bad my hair looks, or how my shoes are one size too big? I see a lady looking around the room, and her eyes fall on something near me. Is she wondering how badly I’m going to sing? Self-consciously, I trace her line of sight, and realise she’s staring at Dorothy’s dog, Toto. My dad cheers loudly and I blush as the audience laugh. “Somewhere, over the rainbow, way up high” ... the audience falls silent, and the hall is so quiet you could hear a pin drop.
“Hey! Dorothy! Your voice cracked!” I freeze. It’s probably just some stranger speaking without thinking, but I am horrified. Was it really that obvious? My eyes sweep around the seats, and I realise everyone is talking, probably about me. A voice from backstage – my drama teacher’s – shouts at me to continue the song, but her voice, along with everyone else’s, is muted. I panic. I spin around towards the curtain and dive behind it, then muttering inaudible apologies, I push and shove past people in a desperate effort to get away, an endless stream of tears flying from my beet-red face.
A new voice interrupts my reverie. A softer, kinder voice, coming from somewhere else in my subconscious. It’s my old singing teacher. You are better than you think, I hear her say encouragingly. You just have to believe in yourself. Her words disperse all my negative thoughts, and as my head clears, I realise that she is right.
I’ve been plagued by so much self-doubt lately, it’s no wonder my singing’s been terrible. I roughly wipe the tears from my cheeks, rubbing at the tear stains until my face is red and blotchy. My eyes are still rimmed with red and shining with tears, but I don’t care. What matters is my voice.
My heart pounds in a frenzied beat as I make my way to the Avenue of Stars, my blood rushing through my ears as I squeeze through the crowds. You can do it, my singing teacher encourages me. Despite her kind words, my sudden spurt of fearlessness is already wearing off. I become increasingly wary. Will they support me? Will they stop and listen? Or will they simply walk past, expressions blank, and continue with their daily lives? Stop judging yourself so harshly, says the voice. It’s too late to go back anyway. I take a stand and begin to sing.
“Just a small town girl, livin’ in a lonely world, she took the midnight train goin’ anywhere.”
Several curious tourists stop and stare, one or two bobbing their heads to the beat in recognition. I keep going.
“Just a city boy, born and raised in South Detroit, he took the midnight train goin’ anywhere.”
Out of the corner of my eye I see a young girl dragging her mother to a halt, jabbering something I can’t make out. Is she telling her mother to stop because she wants to listen, or is she just pointing out my puffy red face? Focus, the voice chides me. I rein in my thoughts and focus on my singing. Is my pitch okay? Am I going to hit the high notes? Stop worrying and just sing! The voice cries.
So I keep singing, and the people are still watching. I don’t hesitate as I reach for the high notes, and I hit every single one. They come out as clear as a bell, and I can’t help but think, is this really my voice?
By now, the crowd is cheering and clapping wildly. Some are holding up phones to film me. I smile at them, tears filling my eyes once more, only this time, they are tears of gratitude.
“Don’t stop believing, hold on to the feelin’” ... as I sing the words, I realise that I’m no longer afraid; I’m actually enjoying myself.
I finish the song and time seems like a blur. People are whooping and cheering. I don’t deserve their kindness. Of course you do. You’ve been brave. Tears sting my eyes and I turn to leave, but I feel someone tapping my back. It’s a child, staring up at me with eyes full of wonder and admiration. “You’re gonna be famous one day, I know it,” she grins a gap-toothed grin at me. “Do you think I could ever be that good?”
My heart melts at her words. I kneel down in front of her and smile warmly.
“One day, kiddo. One day.” The grin on my face mirrors hers, and she wraps her tiny arms around me. I chuckle and hug her back.
Now, I perform every other night at Tsim Sha Tsui’s Bar City, just about scraping together a living so I can support myself and my parents. Here, most people sip on their drinks and talk with each other, paying no attention to me, but I don’t mind anymore. I have a chance to do what I love for however long I want, and I’m happy with that. At the end of my performance, I notice a woman sitting on a couch at the back of the dimly lit bar. She is the sole customer who claps at the end of every performance, the only person who seems to notice me. Every time I sing, she watches intently, the drink she ordered long forgotten, the smoke in the air unnoticed. When I turn to leave, she stands and walks towards me.
“Hey! Wait up!” She hurries over.
“I’m Cammie Kwong, and I’m from Cinepoly Records,” she begins. “I heard your singing, and I think it’s fantastic. I’d really like to sign you up to our label, but I’ll need you to come and audition. Are you interested?”
I gasp. Could Cinepoly Records really want me?
“Uh… ” I’m unable to utter anything else. Thump. Thump. Thump. My heart betrays me, dangerously close to beating out of my chest. Should I say yes? The opposing voices in my head are at war once again. You should, says one, you’ve earned this. No, retorts the other, you’re still not good enough. I look from side to side, catching Cammie tapping her foot impatiently, waiting for a response from me.
“Yes!” I exclaim. “I mean of course, I’d love that.” She chuckles and tells me to come to an audition tomorrow at the Cinepoly headquarters.
After she leaves, I come to a realisation. I’ve come so far from where I began. No longer am I the insecure teenager that I was two or three months ago. No longer am I the embarrassed singer who panicked every time nobody listened. No longer am I the underdog.