“Hello everyone, we’re Armchair Anarchist and–ARE YOU READY TO ROCK ‘N’ ROLL?!”
A few faces turned but then continued chatting in their groups, martini glasses floating in front of their mouths.
“I said–ARE YOU READY TO–”
“What?” Maurice covered the microphone with his hand and turned towards Jamal who was slouched over the keyboard. “What is it now?”
“I have to go to the bathroom.”
Maurice shot him a glare. “What? Didn’t you go earlier?”
“Yes. Well, I tried to, but this hotel is like a labyrinth. I couldn’t find it and got scared. I didn’t want to miss the performance. Sorry.”
Maurice rolled his eyes. “I’m sorry, but you’re just gonna have to wait.”
Jamal stared down at his keys.
“Okay. Is everyone ready?” The rest of the band just looked at him with dull eyes. “Good. No bathroom breaks.” He turned back to the microphone and smiled. “Okay. I know times have been rough, but just remember…ROCK ‘N’ ROLL!” But everyone in the large room either continued chatting or were scraping utensils against their plates.
Maurice opened the song by chugging some notes on his bass. And soon the drums followed a bit late. And then the rest of the band joined-in, also a bit late. They played a bombastic little diddy, only slightly aware of some of the faces becoming irritated as the walls of the hotel’s multi-purpose room vibrated.
However, Maurice caught something in the edge of his eye. He shifted towards Jamal; one of his hands awkwardly danced on the keyboard while the other seemed a bit preoccupied. “Jamal,” Maurice whispered to him. “What are you doing?”
Jamal tried leaning over the keys to hear what Maurice was saying, but jerked back when he accidentally hit a few discordant notes. Maurice approached him. “What are you–” And that’s when Maurice realized it. “Are you–is that a bottle?”
“Um…yeah.” Jamal set the bottle filled with yellow-brown liquid down by his feet. His other hand flung back onto the keyboard. “Sorry man, I had to go.”
“Did you just…” But Maurice just shook his head and went back to center-stage. Soon the song was over and he thanked everyone in the room for being there.
After the gig ended their van rolled back onto the highway. Maurice still couldn’t shake the image of the bottle by Jamal’s feet, ready to be kicked and expel itself across the stage, igniting some sort of spark. Fortunately, that didn’t happen, but Jamal was still stirred by it. He was tempted to let Jamal go, but he was family. And he wasn’t that bad of a keyboard player. He could easily get a better, more experienced player over Craigslist, but he would probably have to pay them more. Jamal, despite his nervous disposition, was happy to be there. It was either this or working for his dad at the bodega, getting yelled at either by customers or by his own father.
Maurice watched the lights speeding through their windows then disappearing as the road elevated. But, this was no way to become big. In order to be successful you had to make sacrifices. This Maurice knew, but he was also too nice. As a result, he was stuck. He sighed and dug his face into one of the croissants he snatched from the buffet table. The band had been given some food, as a courtesy, but Maurice felt like grabbing something else for himself, he wasn’t sure why. It was slightly warm and a bit bland. But it was good. The only thing he had eaten all day. And the van pressed through the dimming skyline, heading towards another town hundreds of miles away.
Written for OLWG #161.