By the second song, the crowd was clapping in tune with the beat. At the fourth and final song, everyone was on their feet and head banging. The band was that good; the singer’s voice was that powerful. Aria swayed the audience with the melodies that soared out of her throat and drilled into the audience’s ears and minds. On stage, it was as though she was a rock goddess, the way she moved and sang while the other band members made their own metal-worthy moves.
Well, almost everyone was on their feet and head banging. Daron was still on his seat, though his own head was keeping to the beat. Though he was still awed by the power of her voice, he could not believe that she’d be able to get this kind of reaction from the crowd. Perhaps he was so set on watching her closely that he didn’t seem as enthralled as the rest. Even Vermo was swaying his head to and fro to the heavy beat.
Even before the last notes of the song faded, everyone was stomping their feet and cheering. Those outside the bar looked on curiously as to why there was such a ruckus; the vibrations from the crowd’s response were felt even onto one lane of the concrete road.
The crowd was just as in the same uproar when the session finally ended and clamoured for more. Mark grinned at them. “We need beer too!” he exclaimed, to which the audience laughed. “And give our lovely vocalist here your love. She needs her rest!” Another riotous round of applause shook the building as Aria took another curtsy. Again, Daron noticed the nearly mechanical movements she did. Her curtsy looked exactly the same when she was first introduced. He knew he was right; he felt it in his gut. It was the absolute same movement.
After a final “thank you!” cried out to the crowd, The Nobodies retreated to the stage. When Aria started to move, one of the men went beside her and covered her head with a jacket. It was like they were avoiding any paparazzi-like pursuit from the crowd. When they went to the back of the stage, it confirmed Daron’s suspicions. He stood up.
“Yosi lang ako,” he told his friend, who was back on his seat, panting and drinking a large bottle of beer to refresh himself. Vermo could only nod and take another gulp as Daron went out.
He had been to this establishment several times already to know where bands would go out from the back of the building. He made a beeline there, turning around two corners of the building till he reached the back, where there was a separate driveway for vehicles to unload and load people and equipment when necessary. There was also a small parking area covered in stunted grass and gravel. It was there that he saw the four men standing around. Where was Aria, though? As he neared them, he noticed a long leg sticking out from where the four men crowded.
“Excuse me,” he called out. As one, the men turned to regard him quietly. The movement was so synchronized that he was slightly taken aback and almost stopped in coming near them. He shook his head slightly and pressed on, though. “Hi, I can’t help but admire your singer. She’s really great. I wondered if I’d get her autograph?”
The man named Mark looked at him for a few more silent moments, then smiled. It did not reach his cheeks. “I’m sorry,” he told Daron, “but I’m afraid that’s difficult. Aria’s sleeping now.” As though from a silent signal, the others stepped back to show Aria.
Aria was with a woman Daron hadn’t seen before from the bar. This woman was fair-skinned and had brown hair slicked back in a ponytail. Aria truly was sleeping, and her head was leaning against this woman’s shoulder. The woman meanwhile was stroking Aria’s head absently, as though the motion kept Aria quiet. However, Daron’s attention was more on Aria. She leaned against the woman, but her arms and legs were splayed out from her, like she just dropped to the chair without any ceremony. There looked to be even no conscious effort for her to sit properly on the chair, with the way her legs were open.
He pushed further. “She got tired, huh?” Daron said. He gave a smile of his own. “She might remember me. I’m a friend, Daron.”
The announcement caused a reaction among the men. Something seemed to shudder among them, like a wave of alarm. One of them actually moved to almost block Daron’s view of Aria. A glance from Mark stilled the movement. Mark looked at him again. “Are you really?” he asked, his voice now in a whisper. The smile was still there, and Daron was beginning to get irritated from it. The man seemed to think that his being friends with Aria was a joke. He wanted to talk to Aria. NOW.
“Let’s see if you are her friend,” Mark said in his low voice. The others stepped back again. The woman who held Aria did not move from where she sat, but continued her gentle smoothing of Aria’s head. Her gaze was calmly directed at Daron, her face expressionless. “Aria,” Mark said softly, “you have a visitor. Wake up, sweet.”
At first, Aria did not stir. Moments later, her eyes slowly opened and blinked several times. Daron noticed the strange movements again as she sat up, her limbs still akimbo. She looked at him, and Daron’s eyes widened in shock when she opened her lips and greeted him.
“Hello…Daron,” she said, her voice containing nothing of the emotion she initially displayed when she sang. It was monotone, dry, and utterly disturbing. There was no recognition in those eyes. In fact, there was nothing at all. Her eyes were glass as she looked at him. Her head tilted in an odd angle as she continued to look at him blankly. “How are you? It has been awhile.”
“That’s not Aria,” Daron blurted out in anger. He turned to Mark and glared. “Where is she? I want to speak with Aria!”
Now, Mark’s smile was derisive, leering. “You cannot accept what is just right in front of you?” he asked. “That’s your problem. Aria is right here. If you don’t want to believe that, then it is of no concern of ours.” He nodded to the others and they sauntered off. The woman continued to hold Aria and look at Daron. “This has been a tiring night for all of us, Daron. Why don’t you just go home, go to sleep, and forget all about this?”
“Like fucking hell I am,” Daron snarled. He took a step closer to Mark. “What happened to Aria? She suddenly went missing for nearly six months. Then I find her here, but that woman’s not her.”
“Whatever is the matter with you?” Mark chuckled. “She went with us for singing training, of course. Why would she bother telling you that?” At the driveway, a van pulled up near them. Mark went to Aria to take her hand, and she obediently stood up. The woman stood as well and walked towards the van with its open door.
“Your concern is appreciated,” Mark said with that same insipid smile, “but there is no need. Good night to you.” Daron could only watch incredulously as Aria-if this was Aria-was led inside the van. As she climbed in, a car from another direction passed by.
The car’s headlights shined into the van. There, in the back of the van, was a figure. There was an odd contraption attached to the head, similar to headphones. When the car’s headlights swept in, Daron saw a pair of dark-rimmed glasses.
He saw a familiar pair of eyes.
“Aria!” he roared. The figure with the strange headphones turned to him in alarm. The eyes welled up in sudden tears. The lips opened to say something, but no words came out. Daron began to rush the van. “Aria!”
Mark was holding the door when Daron ran towards the vehicle. He only looked at Daron, his smile now turning into a smirk. Did Daron just see a streak of silver flash over the man’s eyes? Did he just notice the man’s eyes go all black afterwards before returning to normal? The van’s door slammed shut and it quickly drove away with a squeal of tires.
“No! Aria!” he shouted. He could only slap against the rear of the van as it sped off. The one at the back was Aria, the real one! He couldn’t keep up, but he saw Aria turn to him and shake her head, tears now running down her face. It was the last thing he saw before the van disappeared into the night.
He was trembling with rage. What the fuck was happening? Who was this Mark and the others? Why was the Aria who sang in the bar a fake? Why was the real Aria crying? He’d seen her now, and he couldn’t let this go.
He’d find a way to get Aria, the real one, back.