Chapter Twenty- Two.

"Once upon a time, there lived a young boatman by the name of Truong Chi. He was a very kind man but extremely ugly. he led a lonely life and spent his time fishing and playing the flute. All who heard his music fell in love with it. The beautiful daughter of a Mandarin Lord adored his music. Every evening, she waited for his boat to pass by her window. When she heard the sweet notes of his flute, her face sparkled with happiness!

Her father was very unhappy about his daughter's love for this poor boatman's music. He ordered his men to lock all the windows in his mansion. Truong Chi's music could no longer be heard and the lovely girl grew sadder and sadder.

She became very ill and no doctor could help her. Her father feared she might die. He promised to give her anything she wanted.

"Just the boatman's sweet music," she whispered. - Extract from a Vietnamese Folk tale

"Tom? Can I speak with-"
Will's voice broke through one of the practise sessions that the Melody were having. All ten of them decided to choose the third piece, because it was their favourite, and it is very easy to practise songs which are liked. After all, they all agreed that their performance during the third performance was the most satisfactory. The ten companions looked up at him, and Will glanced back sheepishly.
"Sorry," said Will, "But can I speak to Tom for a moment?"
"It's alright," said Tom, getting up and leaning his beloved cello against the side of the wall, "We're ready for a break anyway. I think we've been practising for at least three hours. Is it anything important?"
"Well..." Will looked at the rest of his friends for a moment, wondering if it was proper to say what he had to say in front of them, "I just thought you should know, Tom, that my parents, and your mother, and her new family- well they are going to watch all of you at the finals on Saturday,"
There was silence for a moment. "What?" Tom exclaimed suddenly, breaking the sudden stillness in the room, "They- she's coming? How did that happen? Did you-"
"I didn't invite them, if that's what you think," said Will, sighing and brushing his hair off his forehead, "My father called me yesterday, and he told me that he wanted to meet with me here, and I asked him why, because we haven't met face to face for years. He just said that all of them were coming to London, to watch the finals for the music competition. He's an important person where he is, and I suppose that people just expect him to be there. I didn't tell them, Tom, that you were in the competition, but I don't doubt that at least one of them will recognize you. We do look quite a bit like each other,"
Tom put his head in his hands. Lily put a hand on his shoulder, and he didn't shrug it away, "I don't want to see them, Uncle WIlliam," said Tom, "I really, really don't want to meet them. Especially my mother. She won't understand me for who I am now. She's ignored me for sixteen years! I can't see her,"
"I don't particularly want to meet them too, Tom," said Will, pausing for a moment to think of what to say, "But you'll never know. Perhaps Emily would have changed? She's older now. She was eighteen when she had you, and perhaps she was scared. Emily was far too young then, and she's old enough now to understand how important it is to be a good mother to you. But then again I could be wrong,"
Tom didn't move, "Oh..." he groaned, lifting his head slowly as though he was suddenly very tired, "I don't know, Uncle William. I really, really don't know,"

Their practices continued. For the finals, the Melody practised just like how Joey had put it, "Like people possessed". Sometimes the kind old tea- lady had to remind them to come for meals, or to play a little softer because the old man next door was sleeping, and most often, she would have to poke her head inside the little room to tell them that it was just a little too late at night to still be practising. Whenever things like that happened, one of them would glance at the clock at the corner and wonder how the time managed to pass them by like that. So quickly!
But they practised hard, and diligently. As Ali put it, "We've gone past trying to get our intonation right, or striving to achieve the best tonal quality that our old, grimy musical instruments can get to. There's just something else that we need to get to make this perfect, and I think that we have enough experience to get it. The problem is, I can't seem to figure out what it is!"
But somewhere in the depths of their hearts, each and every member of the Melody knew what it was.
It was emotion. And the ten companions from the tired, grubby streets of England knew just where they could find their own respective feeling and emotion. It was just like when the actors remember a certain event that had happened, and the sentiment that they had felt during those times. It was the same for the musicians. During each phrase, each line, each note they played, the Melody were literally lost in their music.

"I can't believe that you punks could actually make it into the finals,"
"Not punks," said Opus, practising a few notes on his clarinet, "We don't have the spiky hair, or the nose- rings. We're more like buskers. Get it right,"
The Snobs were standing around the corridor, as the Melody sat on the chairs, trying to clean their instruments. Harry was scrubbing at Lily's violin, trying to make it look shiny and new, and Joey was scraping some rosin off the strings of his violin. It was the day before the finals, and everyone competing in the competition felt much more nervous than usual. The Snobs were walking around Wood Vale, trying to work out some of the nervous energy that they had gained while practising.
"Just look at the state of their instruments!" exclaimed Derek, who grabbed Joey's violin from his hands and twirling it round to examine it, "It looks older than my grandfather! And the strings... They're probably going to snap off at any moment now!"
"Give that back," said Joey quietly, snatching his precious possession , "It belonged to my father and if you ever touch it again I am going to snap your fingers right off your hands and bury them in the backyard,"
The others stared at Joey. He was sometimes grumpy, and most of the time quiet, but he had never made a direct threat towards anyone. Derek took a step backwards too, looking at Joey the way a person looks at a werewolf. Turnip growled at him for disturbing the peace and snuggling back onto the pillows. The Snobs exchanged a look with one another and quickly changed the subject.
"We'll meet all of you at the finals, street kids," said Taylor, swishing her hair back, "And then we'll see which group is better,"
"We've made it this far by ourselves," said Rae is a soft voice, "I don't think that we'll let you win without a fight. Unless you haven't noticed, we've been practising quite a lot during the past few days,"
"If my father had it his way you wouldn't even have been allowed to enter the competition at all!" cried Gillian suddenly, "You're just a bunch of street kids! It's an insult for us to be competing against the bunch of you during the finals of this competition!"
"Your father?" Ali wondered aloud, giving a surprised look to Gillian and Taylor, "What does he have to do with all of this?"
"He's one of the judges," said Luke, with a satisfied smile, "Mr. Clement,"

"This is not good," Elena sighed, tying her hair into a plait, "They've got one of the judges on their side now. We might get five good marks and one lousy one from the judges, but the Snobs will get them all good. How are we going to match them?"
"It's cheating, isn't it?" cried Opus, bouncing around on the mattresses, "They can't cheat! It said so on the paper that Tom read out before the first elimination. They can't have anyone helping them,"
"We're losing out, but we haven't lost yet," Joey pointed out.
"If one of the judges is on their side then we can't help it," said Tom, looking out the window, "We'll just have to practise some more, and well, we can just try hoping for the best,"
Suddenly he froze. The others who were looking at him raised their eyebrows. What could have happened? Tom didn't move, like someone who had been caught red- handed with a priceless treasure. Joey walked over to the window to see what was wrong.
"Tom?" he looked out the window, towards where Tom's eyes strayed, "What's-" But he stopped. Will was standing outside the hall, and about six people were standing around him. Tom's eyes were riveted on those people, and his hands were gripping the window ledge so hard that Joey thought that it was going to break right off. Tom's knuckles were white and he was biting his lower lip anxiously.
With Will, there was an elderly man, and a white- haired woman beside him. There was also a family of four, a tall, upright man with fair hair, and a woman beside him who was plump and dark- haired. There were two children with them, both boys, who looked almost exactly like their mother. After looking down to the people below, Joey understood Tom's reaction.
"They're here," he whispered, looking up at Joey, "What do I do?"
"Do? Just show it to them. Show them what you're made of, Tom," said Joey, getting up from the side of the window and putting a kindly hand on his shoulder, "Show them that she made a mistake letting you go,"

"This is the day!" Elena yelled as they picked up their instruments that morning. It was a beautiful day; the sky was blue and bright, and there was not a cloud in sight. On the lamp- post outside their rooms, the birds were singing a cheerful melody for all of them to hear, "This is it! Are we going to practise any more today?"
"Sure we are," said Harry, holding his oboe in his arms, "We don't really have much to do today, before the finals in the evening, do we?"
He was wrong. After practising for two hours that morning, Will came over, almost as excited as the Melody felt. He took the boys to a tailor to get them new shirts and long trousers (much to Opus' dismay). The tailor had a very big shop, and he relieved Will's fears that their items would not be prepared in time by saying that all of the clothes that they had bought would be ready in two hours.
The girls were given new clothes as well. That morning, a pretty young woman with silky brown hair and a slender figure came with Will. ("Her name's Silvi. She's his uh... girlfriend," explained Tom) She took the five girls to a shop to buy them something nice and formal to wear for the finals. Apparently, there was a new dress code for all participants, and it stated that all of them had to wear something formal. Well, the Melody had nothing particularly dressy to wear that evening. It did occur to them that Will was going to have to pay for all their clothing, but he adamantly refused to take the little money that they could give him.
"My dad gave me some money," said Will, while he and the boys waited at the tailor's shop, "I mentioned to him I was sponsoring a few kids for the finals and he just whipped out some money from his wallet and told me to buy all of you some proper clothes to wear tonight. I told him that you were group number thirty- four so he's going to be watching out for all of you,"
Tom was the most silent of the ten of them that day.

"I'm nervous," said Lily, as the ten of ten finished their final practice, "I know we didn't make any mistakes at all during our previous practices, but I'm still going to feel nervous anyway,"
They put their instruments back into their respective cases and went into their rooms to change. Opus struggled with his clothes, and it took two of the boys, Harry and Joey, to hold him down so that Tom could fasten the button by his collar. After all the wrestling with their new attire, in the end the boys actually did look rather smart, and very unlike what they had looked like on the streets.
Elena, almost as finicky about formal clothes as her brother, had refused to wear a dress of any kind to the finals, so the others helped to chose a top and skirt for her. Fortunately, unlike her twin, she did not require any of the girls to help her put on her garments. The other girls wore dresses of dark colours; brown, black, and grey. It had been rather difficult to find sizes for any of them, because all of them had reached the gangly stage, but because of their adventures all around the streets, it almost seemed as though they would need to wear belts with their dresses. Rae was so skinny that it was possible for her to wear clothes from the children's section. However, eventually they found clothing for them to wear which actually looked very nice on them.
"Joey!" exclaimed Rae, as they met with the boys outside in the corridor, "You're not wearing your hat!"
It was true. Joey was leaning against the wall, his short, black hair more conspicuous than ever, and he had it covered with his hands, as if there was a snowstorm of dandruff on it. The other boys laughed, and the girls stared at him in amazement, as though they were witnessing a miracle.
"Will confiscated it," said Ali, grinning, "He said that there was no way in heaven that anyone was going to let him on the stage with that hat on. Poor Joey. The way we were staring at him a while ago, it was almost as though we thought that he didn't have hair at all before today!"
It was their final moment of laughter before the finals began.

They waited behind the stage, their heart thudding loud and clear. Will was sitting in his seat in the grand circle, and he was putting his hands together and praying. His parents and sister stared at him. The Melody was given orders from the judges that they would be the last group to perform that evening. None of them knew whether it was a good or a bad thing. So they just tried not to think about it at all.
All ten of them had their names pasted on top of their shirts so that everyone would know their names. Will had given their proper names, instead of their shortened nicknames. According to him, they sounded slightly more 'professional' than the ones that they were given.
"You don't look like a John," said Tom, looking at Joey's name- tag.
"And you don't look like a Thomas either," remarked Joey. Tom grinned.
The Snobs were magnificent that evening. Every person in the hall was taken by their music, including the Melody. The ten of them chose a different song from the Melody, and it was a comfort, because then none of the judges would be able to compare the two groups. It was unnerving somewhat, to hear their closest competitors play so well during the finals.
"Any last words?" asked Rae to Joey, as they waited for their turn to come, "I feel like I need to hear something,"
"Make it good," said Joey, running a hand through his hair, "Just make it good. There's nothing else we can do. We've practiced like zombies, and I think we've done everything that could be done beforehand. No one can do anything for us now,"
"... Group Thirty- four!" yelled the voice from the stage. The Melody exchanged a look with one another, and walked on the hard, smooth floor. It was as though they had forgotten the way; everything suddenly seemed so foreign. But luckily, nothing unfortunate happened. Robin sat by the piano. The others took their seats behind the stands with manuscript paper propped up on them and took their instruments out and ready.
They looked at Joey. His eyes were steady, as all of theirs were, but there was a nervousness that no one could deny. Then he looked back to the stage. Everyone down there stared back. The Melody wasted no more time. Joey nodded, and once again, the music began.
The judges sat in front of the stage, pen and paper in hand. When the ten of them began playing, the pens fell from their hands. Their mouths were open, jaws dropped on the table. The audience was mesmerized. And throughout all this, the Melody didn't actually realize what was happening around them. All their concentration was in the music. It was like being blind. They couldn't see anything, they could only hear. And they heard music.
With the quivering notes of their piece, the song finally ended. It was like waking from a dream. They opened their eyes. There was silence for a moment, and then clapping. A roar broke out through the audience, like a tear ripping through paper. The ten of them looked around at one another, and then they smiled. The ringing of the applause in their ears was enough for the Melody. They had heard it; triumph.

So they won. The Snobs didn't even stay behind to wish them luck, or to congratulate them. Will rushed over, with a smile so wide it looked like his face was about to tear into two. The Melody felt as though they were in shock. They felt numb, stunned, but a feeling of exalted happiness was rushing through their souls.
Suddenly, a voice cried through the numbness in their minds, "Thomas! Oh Thomas, it was so wonderful, Thomas!" the woman exclaimed, taking Tom's hands in hers, as she beamed, "I'm so proud of you, Thomas, really. I knew you could do it, I really did! And now, you're all off to a famous music school, and oh! I just can't say how much this means to me, Thomas!"
The others had their eyebrows raised, but they quickly lowered them, as Tom sneaked a glance towards them. Joey's words still rung in his head. "Show them that she made a mistake letting you go". They echoed there, a dull banging compared to his mother's hyperactive fussing. He closed his eyes, and drew his hands back.
"I've been your son for sixteen years, Mother," said Tom, his blue eyes resolute, "Not just for one night. I'm just really glad that I've proven it to you that I'm not as useless a son as you thought I was,"
Then, together with his friends, Thomas Gale walked away from his mother and her family, and into a new world were surprises would await him at every corner. He didn't look back. Ever.