|Hilda listens carefully to the announcement of the new time table for the different year groups. “Second years: Music History and Form – Prof. Erasmus – Mondays and Wednesdays at nine.”
Again!! She still cannot believe that she failed this subject in the second semester after the distinction in the first semester when Strauss was their lecturer. This is the only subject she has to repeat, but they’ve swopped the two semesters around for the second years – heaven knows why! – so she’ll have to repeat it in this semester. She hates the damned Prof. What’s worse: she’ll have to start her week with him! She tunes out for the remainder of the second-year subjects, and allows vengeful thoughts to mill around in her mind. Somehow, she always ends up where she started a year ago: She doesn’t want to do this any more.
At the beginning of her second year B.Mus. she broke her ankle. One night, when the pain kept her awake, a thought slipped past all the dusty shrouds she had wrapped it in over the years. She thought she had buried it deep enough so that it wouldn’t come back to haunt her again, but at that moment she knew, with a clarity that she had never experienced: She doesn’t want to do this any more.
The thought refused to be ignored – it was teasing her. “So, here I am – still after all this time. I’m here to stay, so what are you going to do?” She called her mother to ask for more pain killers, and blurted everything, almost without breathing in between sentences – so scared that her nerve would go back into hiding.
“Mum, I’m studying for a career I don’t want. I don’t want to be a professional musician for the rest of my life.”
“Come on, Hilda. Drink your meds and try to get some sleep. We’ll talk about it in the morning.”
But the morning came and went, and the silence grew between mother and daughter like a thick fog. On the second day, the fog turned to ice. By the third day, Hilda couldn’t take any more and confronted her mother.
“Mum, we cannot avoid this topic forever. I meant what I said the other night. The issue isn’t going to go away just because you refuse to talk about it.”
“Hilda, I really don’t understand what the problem is. You are taking Psychology as an extra subject, so you can just as well finish your degree, and if you still feel the same by the end of your third year, you can carry on with your Honours and Masters Degree in Psychology.”
“But Mum ...”
“This is my final word. I still think this rebellion of yours is a whim that will blow over, and I wouldn’t want you to be sorry later on.”
“Third years...” forces her mind from its bubble of timelessness back into the now. “Ladies and gentlemen, please arrange lesson times personally with your respective teachers. Mr Naworski will only be back next week, but please finalise your time tables as soon as possible.” Ha! No violin this week.
“Harmony: Prof. Davies – Mondays and Wednesdays at ten. Music History and Form: Prof. Erasmus on Tuesdays and Thursdays at nine.”
What?! It is simply not possible. She shoves Barry in the ribs: “Who is doing History and Form?!”
“Erasmus”, he sniggers, “as if we need that for another semester!”
She breathes out slowly and just sits there for a while – thousands of thoughts racing through her mind. Prof. Erasmus for Music History and Form every morning, except Friday? Every week of my life for the next six months? No mercy, then?
She closes her notebook with a decisive snap of its hard covers. “Good luck, my friend. I’m not going to do this any more.”
“What?!” She ignores Barry’s ‘have-you-gone-completely-mad’ look.
“I’m saying that I’m going to do what I should have done a year ago. I can’t do this any more. I need to change my life.”
He looks at her, completely dumbfounded, then splutters, “A year ago? You never told me anything about it!”
“Barry, I don’t tell you everything, and I didn’t tell anybody about it a year ago, except my mother. Are you doing something after Johnson’s speech?” she asks, pointing at Prof. Johnson.
“Can we go for a drink?” She looks at him with pleading eyes.
“Yes. It seems as if you need someone to talk some sense into your head.”
“Oh, you sound just like my mother. And if you’re going to try to convince me otherwise, don’t even bother. I need a friend – not a third parent. The pair of mine will be hard enough to deal with. Whose side are you on anyway?”
“Ok, ok! What the hell is the matter with you? I don’t know you like this. It’s all aggression.”
“It is not aggression. It is a decisive stand, for the first time in my life, and it’s liberating!”
After a dramatic final speech from Johnson about hard work, they leave the auditorium and walk into the bright January sunshine. The cafeteria is close by, and it’s cool inside. She takes a long, pensive sip of the decadent double-thick milkshake in front of her.
“I don’t have time for more than my life story in a nutshell at the moment. I need to get to the admin building, but for some reason it is important that one other person in this world understands why I’m going to do what I’m about to do.
“It is my last chance to make this change, and if I don’t do it now, I’ll never have the courage, and I’ll be unhappy for the rest of my life. Don’t look at me like that. If you listen, you’ll understand – I’m sure you will.”
“It sounds to me more like you’re trying to convince yourself, but I’m listening,” he takes a sip of his beer.
“Maybe I am, but anyway... My mother gave me my first piano lesson when I was three – with little coloured cards to teach me the names of the white keys. I played my first piano examination when I was barely eight. I had my first violin lesson also in that year, and then music just consumed my life. There was never an option for me to explore whether I could play cello instead of violin.
“When I was little, I was really good in ballet, and I loved it, but my mother thought both activities took too much time, so she made the choice for me. If I think about it now, it was so ridiculous. I was only nine, for heaven’s sake!
“In my final year of primary school, I started to excel in swimming, and was invited to train with the high school kids. The fun of swimming was forever extinguished by the guilt that my mother poured over me on the first morning I headed for the swimming pool at six o’clock. ‘I wish you would, just once, be as excited about your violin as you are about this morning’s swimming’. Needless to say, the swimming didn’t last long. Nothing else lasted long.
“You and I were together all throughout high school: orchestra rehearsals, tours, courses. I don’t have to tell you anything.
“In my first year, I decided to take Psychology just for fun, but I got completely hooked, and for the first time, I realised that there were actually other possibilities in this world than to become a professional musician. My mother pushed the idea aside, of course, like all ideas that didn’t fit her mould for me.
“At the beginning of our second year I broke my ankle. Do you remember that?” He nods, and she senses that he is really listening – maybe for the first time.
“I told my mother then that B.Mus. was a mistake. She didn’t want to hear it. Today was just the last straw for me. Having Erasmus four days out of five for breakfast is just more than I can bear, but it isn’t because of him. I’ve come a very long way to get to this day, and there’s no turning back.”
Barry sits quietly for a moment, quietly sipping his beer, then says, “I’ll tell you something, Hilda. You’re brilliant at fooling people. You certainly fooled me all these years into believing that you were happy.”
“Well,” she smiles ruefully. “I tried to fool myself for most of my life, but it doesn’t work any more. But I’m going to leave you here with your beer, because I have to get to the admin building before they close.”
With every step, her breathing comes easier and her excitement mounts. She rushes up the stairs that lead up to the notice boards where the exam results are always put up – past them this time. She enters the building through the glass doors and goes to the all too familiar long counter. The lady at the counter smiles, and she doesn’t even make the usual call before she gives her permission to go upstairs.
She doesn’t take the lift this time, but takes the stairs – determined to climb her way to freedom one step at a time – all fifteen floors. At the top floor, she stands still for a moment in front of door number 1515.
She knocks, and enters. From behind his desk, Mr Smith peers over his bifocals, and then his face breaks into a smile. “Good afternoon, Miss Ramos. I haven’t seen you for a while.”
“Hello, Mr Smith. I’m afraid it’s serious business today. I would like to change my degree from B.Mus. to B.Soc.Sc. with Psychology and Philosophy.” She smiles at his expression, but carries on confidently, “I’m sure I can get credit for PSY101, 102, 201 and 202, but I’ll need to do Sociology, Criminology, and Anthropology from scratch.”
He sits quietly behind his desk for a minute, and then asks with a bit of a sigh, “Can I ask where this is coming from? You are in your final year.”
“I should have done it a year ago, sir. That’s what I wanted, and tried to do, but I yielded, yet again, into the role my mother had chosen for her dutiful daughter.”
“Your parents don’t know about this yet?” he asks with a frown.
“No, sir. They will know tonight – after it’s all done.”
“Hilda, I’ve known you since your first year. What has triggered this? Have you thought this through? Have you thought about the consequences of your decision?”
“Sir, I have thought about this change for a really long time. I am not a professional musician. I’m a people’s person. I had the first discussion with my mother a year ago. She suggested that I carry on and finish my degree, and then carry on with an Honours and Masters Degree in Psychology. I’m convinced though, that human beings are not islands, isolated from society, which is probably why all the other subjects are part of the package deal for B.Soc.Sc.”
He nods, looking at her pensively, but she can sense that she’s already won him over.
“I never got to finish this part of the conversation with my mother, because she wouldn’t listen. I cannot be a musician for the rest of my life because she wants me to be one. I won’t have a problem with my father. What will happen when my mother finds out tonight, will definitely not be a beautiful sight to behold – I am sure. But at this moment, I don’t care any more. I can’t live my life according to my mother’s wishes. She has her life, and I have mine. I can never go back and rewrite my story, but I sure as hell am going to write my own ending.”
He smiles, and takes a form from a pile of papers for her to complete. “What else can I say then, except good luck with the mum!”
(1 999 words)