The Guitarist: Part One
"Hey, Johnson, where're you heading?"
The orange Grundo stopped in his tracks. He ran
his paw through his bright green hair as he turned to look at me. A slight,
almost unnoticeable look of annoyance came upon his face, and though the expression
went away as fast as it came, I could tell he was not his usual self. Something
"Johnson." I jogged up to him, flashing as bright
a smile as I could. "I've been looking for you the whole day. Why didn't you
go for practice today?"
He looked at me long and hard, and I could feel
his eyes drilling into mine. I couldn't help but shudder a little at the intensity
of his stare. John had never looked at me like that before. It almost burned
with a sense of contempt, even hatred. After a long pause, he finally answered.
This was not the Johnson I knew. We had known
each other since our days as baby Neopets, and Johnson had been my best friend
even before we knew how to speak. He was always the cheery Grundo who was mostly
unaffected by anything and everything, who taught me how to live each day without
worries, who would grip my arm tightly to signify his determination to stay
by my side as my best friend no matter how difficult a phase I was going through.
No, this wasn't the affable and optimistic Johnson I knew.
"What's wrong, John?" I asked, concerned. I could
tell he was upset - but why? The question lingered in my head. The intense glare,
the reluctance to answer, the strange air about him - it was all wrong. As his
best friend I always could read Johnson's mind like a book. For once in years
I couldn't understand him.
"It's none of your business," he spat. Malice
sprouted from his words. With that, he left, continuing in his path, nonchalantly
walking, as if the conversation never took place. As if we were only strangers
who happened to cross each other's paths.
"John?" I called. He only moved further and further
away from me.
"Mike! Can you PLEASE concentrate and stop playing
all the wrong notes?" A commanding voice and a burly figure shook me back to
It was Tuesday once again, exactly one week
after that chance meeting with Johnson on the street. Since that day I never
saw him again. I tried to look for him everywhere - his Neohome, our favourite
hangout, the Neopian shop he liked to go to... Nothing worked. He didn't come
for band practice and no one could contact him.
Johnson and I belong to a rock band called Gruundo.
The four of us in the band - Henry, "Mupper", Johnson and I - were childhood
friends with one true love - music. We especially liked rock bands like Wock
Til You Drop and Sticks 'N Stones. They were, in fact, our childhood heroes
- and yes, they are still our most favourite bands today. "Mupper", Johnson
and I are almost equally adept at playing the electric guitar, something we
picked up after watching our first Wock Til You Drop performance. We always
enjoyed experimenting with our guitars, making weird but fun sounds, creating
avant-garde, alternative rock music. The three of us sometimes get together
to have impromptu jamming sessions at my Neohome - it always ended up in us
composing a new song. Then "Mupper", as he wants to be called (as a boy he used
to be teased for his name - Scarver - and so he made up this nickname for himself),
decided that since we met up with each other so often, we might as well come
up with our very own band, and so we roped in Henry as the drummer. And here
we are today.
As a band we were, I guess, pretty accomplished
in the genre of rock music. We travelled frequently from our homeland in Kreludor
to the Tyrannian concert hall to perform, and each time the attendance was almost
full. Soon we had enough Neopoints to rent a small studio, and we no longer
had to go to each other's house for our weekly practices. In fact, some of our
wildest fans have even personally come to Kreludor just to drop by for a visit.
We had a degree of popularity, dare I say, comparable to that of Sticks 'N Stones.
"Has anyone seen Johnson, anyway?" At the sound
of the name I jerked up, abandoning my thoughts. Mupper looked around the studio,
with a worried look on his face. "I wonder why he hasn't come to practice these
few weeks. Do you know why, Mike?"
I shook my head sadly. Part of me was ashamed
that even as a best friend I was ignorant of where he was. Another part of me
blamed Johnson for not turning up for practice for so long. It seemed as though
he was ready to quit the band - which was exactly what I was tremendously afraid
"Do you think he'll be coming anytime soon?"
Henry asked. Mupper and I simply shrugged.
Then, as if on cue, the studio door swung violently
open, and there stood an orange Grundo with that very familiar green hair -
Johnson. Henry, Mupper and I were dumbfounded.
"John!" I shrieked, my mouth still hanging wide
open. "Where did you -"
"I'm quitting," he said, in a cold, unfeeling
voice. His face bore no expression whatsoever.
"You're…what?" Henry, like the rest of us, was
wildly shocked as well.
"I'm quitting this band. I'm of no use here
anyway. I bet Gruundo can survive with just the three of you experts." The tinge
of sarcasm in his voice stabbed at my heart.
For a while, the room experienced a deadened
silence, unnatural and awkward.
"What do you mean?" I asked, breaking the silence.
As soon as the words left my lips I regretted even asking that question. He
could, at that point, simply lash out at each and every one of us in the studio.
Apparently I had said something without thinking - what if the reply was too
hard a blow for me?
But Johnson was quiet. His eyes, full of fires
of spiteful anger, even hatred, pierced me deep and hard, as if he was trying
to answer with his eyes.
"You all know full well what I mean." And he
went out, as abrupt as he came.
It had been two weeks after Johnson's departure,
and Gruundo had not been performing well. In actual fact, we had not been performing
at all. Without Johnson, we no longer looked forward to each practice, simply
because our cheerful element was not there anymore.
What was worse, without Johnson's bass part,
all the songs had to be redistributed between Mupper and me, and difficulty
coping with extra stress and workload made each of our performances a big flop.
Neopians no longer wanted to pay to watch our concerts. We lost a large part
of our fan base. What with all that competition from other up and coming rock
bands, our ticket sales dipped even more. But what was worse, I would say, was
that we no longer enjoyed ourselves playing music anymore. Not without Johnson.
If John was here he would have said something
like, "Aw, come on. Don't you think you guys need more perseverance than that?"
If he was here. And if he wasn't acting all strange,
like he did two weeks ago.
I still didn't understand why Johnson claimed
that we should be able to comprehend what he said. Why did he think that he
was useless in the band? Could it be something we did?…I tried hard to recall
incidents when we had been nasty to him - but he must have forgiven us! I never
knew John as one to hold grudges. Quickly I tried to divert my attention to
thinking about why he should stay. Had he forgotten the first day we formed
our band, when we said we would stay together for as long as we lived? I was
his best friend - all the more reason he shouldn't leave!
I was sitting in Hubert's Hotdogs, pondering
hard over John's sudden departure, searching my heart and mind for an answer.
Henry, coming back with a plate of piping hot hotdogs, sat next to me.
"Mike," he began, munching on a Water Hotdog.
"Stop thinking so much about it. What has happened has happened." He handed
me a Hotdog, but I pushed it away with my paw.
"Don't starve yourself, Mike. He's not going
to come back even if you don't eat for days. And - you'll need a full stomach
to think better, don't you?"
I relented and took the Hotdog. Henry was a natural
born coaxer. Somehow he was always able to persuade us to do what he wanted.
I grinned in remembrance of the time when he convinced us to perform without
him, simply because he wanted to spend that day with his cousin who came to
visit. I don't know how, but we made do without a drummer that night, and actually
managed to do quite well…wait a second - maybe he can help convince Johnson
to come back!
"Henry, do you think you can persuade Johnson
to come back to the band?" I inquired, hoping that he would say yes. "I mean,
you're such a great persuader,"
The drummer paused for a while. Slowly, he said,
"Well, as the assistant leader of the band I am obliged to question John
over his abrupt exit…but whether I can get him to come back would be another
matter all by itself. And then there's another problem - we don't even know
where he is. Have you tried looking him up in his Neohome?"
"I have. He's never there. Looks like he's made
up his mind to avoid any contact with us, so much so he's willing to abandon
even his Neohome."
The two of us were silent for a while, looking
out of the glass window at the Neopets and Neopians passing us by.
"You know," Henry said quietly, breaking the
silence between us. "The only other time we had such difficulty with Johnson
was when we lost the Neopian Guitar competition. Mostly he's a nice guy, but
he can act pretty extreme when he's provoked."
I nodded slowly. That Guitar Competition
incident, as we had come to call it, took place not too long ago. In fact, I
can still remember vividly what happened then…
To be continued...