By Karabi Mitra
My piano teacher hits a white key and I let the sound wash over me. Nothing registers. I attempt to sing the note at the correct pitch, but I know that I am horribly off-key. My teacher has a faint smirk on her face. She presses another key. It’s a black one this time. I take a deep breath and sing aloud again. My voice warbles towards the end, and I swallow nervously when I am done.
My teacher is perched on the piano stool. She looks at me with a sardonic smile. She’s a beautiful lady, with high cheekbones.
She says, “The thing is, you can’t be taught to identify the pitch by ear. You can either hear it or you can’t.”
I agree with her. I stand there like a puppet, unable to look at her face. Instead, I stare at her long, elegant fingers, spread immaculately over the keyboard. The hands of a pianist. I look down at my own short, stubby fingers. My nails are jagged and bitten.
She sighs and swings off the stool. “Play the piece.”
I’ve been practicing it all week. I sit stiffly on the stool, and play most of the notes correctly. I feel relieved when I hit the final note and I hope my teacher won’t ask me to play it again. She doesn’t. She sits silently, inspecting an imaginary mark on her nails.
I stare at the music sheet in front of me. My eyes glaze over. The black notes blur into the white background.
There’s a knock at the door. “Come in,” my teacher says.
It’s mother, her faithful designer bag clutched in the crook of her arm.
My teacher stands up instantly and smiles sycophantically at my mother. I don’t blame her. My parents pay her handsomely for these lessons. But she is a musician, after all. And she understands that I have no interest in playing the piano. And that I am not talented at all. In this moment, I am sure that today is the day. The day she finally tells my mother that this is all a sham. That this must stop.
I look down at my uncertain hands, placed nervously in my lap.
My mother says, “How is Elizabeth doing?”
My heart beats loudly. My last piano lesson. My body floods with happiness.
My teacher’s eyes flicker towards me for a moment; an understanding passes between us. Today, she will set me free.
But instead, she says, “Oh, she is such a gifted child. I’ll see her next week, same time.”
The warmth vanishes. My mother’s proud smile fills me with despair.