The microphone wavered in his trembling hand.
I should put the mic on the stand, he said to himself, so that it doesn’t shake so much.
He fumbled clumsily with the stand, holding the microphone awkwardly between his wrists. The stand did not move in the way he expected, the base was too heavy. As the pole slipped from his moist fingers, he juggled the microphone between both hands before clutching it to his chest, the microphone releasing a deep rasp as it rubbed against his shirt. He laughed self-consciously.
I should tell a joke now, he decided, it will release some of this stress. Quick, think of something funny to say.
“Aahm, butterfingers McGee,” he muttered into the microphone.
He grimaced, that was stupid. I heard someone laugh, though – but were they laughing at me or my joke? Me, must’ve been me. I hope my hair isn’t sticking up. He ran a hand over his head – everything seemed in place.
He slid the microphone into the top of the stand and then repositioned himself in front of it.
“Mohammed and the mountain, y’know?”
There was a twitter of laughter. Was that Islamophobic? No, it’s a common idiom. A common idiom, no worries. Funnier than his previous joke, butterfingers McGee, where does that even come from?
He blinked twice, his eyes were watering too much. People might think I’m crying, maybe I should pretend that I feel a sneeze coming on. He opened his mouth and wrinkled his nose, prompting a tiny tear to pop from his eye. He quickly wiped it off. The lights are too bright he reasoned.
“I have a poem that I wrote to share.”
That came out wrong. It should've been I'd like to share a poem that I wrote. Maybe they’ll think that I wrote the poem to share it? That makes me sound like I write in order to have people hear it, not for the art of it. Argh.
“I wrote this poem, but, uh, I didn’t want to share it.”
Shit. That was stupid, now they’re going to think it’s a bad poem. He adjusted his glasses and crinkled the paper in front of him.
“I, uh, wrote this poem . . . I wrote it from a place deep within.”
Yeah, that was pretty good. A place deep within. The pretty dark-haired girl at the front table with the horn-rimmed glasses and the flowery pantaloons might be impressed.
Don’t look at her, don’t look at her, don’t look at her, he urged himself as he glanced nervously toward her. She was whispering something to her blond friend with the hemp tam on her head. They were giggling.
“Ahm, um, well, here it goes.”
“Yeaaah, go for it bruh!” a voice of encouragement. It was the pale lanky man wearing the African robe.
He flashed the thumbs up in the direction of the voice. Ooooh, that was weak sauce. I shouldn’t have flashed the thumbs up, it’s like the international symbol of lameness. Or not? Hadn’t I seen that one soccer player, what’s-his-name, flash the thumbs up? Are soccer players cool? Yeah, definitely, definitely cool.
He grasped the paper in both hands, reading the words carefully. His voice shook slightly when he got to the line about the paper birds. He coughed, licked his lips. This is a good place to pause.
Don’t pause too long.
The pause was too long, he decided.
The next word out of his mouth emerged with an unfamiliar squeak. Like I’m thirteen again, he thought as the rest of the line spilled from his mouth. Just keep going, just keep going.
His eyes were watering again. He blinked heavily, lost his place momentarily and then promptly interchanged two words. He read the line over, stuttering slightly but righting the word order. His ears were heating up, hopefully they weren’t turning red. The more he thought about it the hotter his ears became, his cheeks warming now.
Maybe they wouldn’t notice his red face in this light. No, the lights were too bright. He rushed the next line. Bad idea, that was a pretty important line. He slowed for the next line again. Bad idea, that was the worst line in the poem.
Don’t think about your red face.
He thought about his red face.
His face was now a deep red colour, he was sure of it.
He finished the final line, pausing dramatically before the last word. He was done, his face was cooling.
“Thank you,” he said.
The applause was scattered at first but then grew in intensity. He heard a wooooh, probably from the lanky man in the dashiki.
He flashed the thumbs up.
Yeah, that was cool.