This originally appeared on Medium via the Fiction Hub publication, and you can read the original version here.
Backstage, you think everything is calm. That’s the way they make it look on TV. Contestants and their families just relaxing, chatting and joking. That’s what you see. The reality is stress. The reality is a small army of black shirted staff power-walking through, shouting instructions or talking in code into walkie-talkies.
It was where everybody wanted to be. Well, no, everybody wanted to be out there, on stage, in front of the judges and the audience. But backstage, with its mix of nerves and adrenaline, comes a close second.
They call my name, and I’m up. I know how this will look on TV, first they will show the video recorded earlier in the day where I talk about myself, my family, why I’m here, where I’ve come from — it’s the same stuff that everyone says, you know the drill.
Out on stage, I can see the judges. It looks like they’re miles away, though I know it’s closer than that. The main one — the famous one — is there, I can see the hunger in his eyes from my lonely position on the stage. The other three look almost desperate, vying for attention like court jesters. These are the people that know what the world wants, what the world needs.
I do what I do, and I do it well. I close my eyes and tune everything and everyone out. My ears ring and the noise envelops my head. When I open my eyes I see the judges standing and applauding; the audience too. Above the din, I hear one of them say:
“You’re the one.”
Now it’s my first public appearance. Weeks after my debut at the talent show. Earlier I peaked out at the audience. People are out in force. I had been told to expect it, but still — all through my life, I have never thought that many people would want to see me.
For weeks now I’ve been told how important, how vital, this is. It’s why everyone is here. My manager — one of the judges — really believes in me, keeps telling me how brilliant I am, how wonderful I am, how important this performance is and how it will be life changing for everyone — the audience out there, the people watching on TV, even those who aren’t paying attention. Their lives will be changed, my manager says, even if they don’t immediately realise it.
Tentatively, I step out on stage. The audience, stood in the open air in the city square, whoop and holler with enthusiasm in spite of the driving rain. I look around, taking in the hordes of cheering people. In their eyes I see the same hunger that I saw in the eyes of the famous judge. But then I notice there’s no microphone stand. No microphone. At the centre of the stage is a wooden pyre, in the middle of it a large wooden post. I guess you would call it a stake. An imposing man clad all in black approaches me from the back,and leads me to the pyre.
The words of my manager echo in my ears as I’m tied to the post, and as they light the pyre: what happens on that stage tonight will change the lives of everyone.