I got the call two months before the actual date. As the voice rippled over the telephone, I wasn’t sure if what I felt was excitement or apprehension, but in the mix of the two, I agreed to it. One night, 45 minutes. The woman told me the people had been ready for this for a long time, but to what extent I could trust her saccharine voice, dripping with the syrup of persuasion, I wasn’t sure. I didn’t consciously count down the days, thought my time seemed to slip through my fingers, plastering the image of a threatening hourglass on the walls of my mind.
And then the day came. Smooth roads and even smoother leather seats: only luxury for what was to be the hugest milestone of my career or an internationally ridiculed catastrophe. Behind a curtain, waiting, a few hours later. I lost myself in the thoughts of my life’s journey; hours of frustration and despair in my youth, the arrogance of my teens – decelerating as I hit 21 – to now, still running the race down the tracks that defined my life.
Everything built up to this, this day. My body seemed to rock back and forth from the curtains and the huge, huge and black boulders in their perfect cubism. In these moments, it was as if I was an ice-cube, aimlessly spinning in a carbonated drink; unsettled. Fizz. All I felt inside was an amplified anticipation, building up as my eyes stayed fixated on the clock, passing through all the phases of nervousness, anxiety and anguish. It ticked and it tocked, the hands reaching out to me in my helplessness. I closed my eyes and let myself momentarily fall into the clutches of the clock hands.
After being woken with a jolt, I found myself being ‘assisted’ out of the sickly side room and back to the all-concealing curtain. How badly I wanted to see the terrors that lay behind it!
“I’m not ready!” I cried, to no avail. Smiles all around, shining faces glazed with honey – none of which showed even a glimpse of empathy. 20 minutes, 20 minutes, 20 minutes. For years, I had been preparing for this night, and now here it was: squaring me up, eyes locked on mine as it cracked its knuckles for me to see.
I blinked and found myself in front of the curtain. Behind me was safety, ahead of me lay the incomprehensible blanket of darkness, overflowing with invisible scrutiny and enveloping anything human. I was not yet visible to them either, and I let the last few moments of my security fall set upon my tongue. Were they the last I would taste? The world for people of my profession was sharp and jagged, cut and crowded, with flashing lights carried by people scarred by the scorn of furrowed brows and narrowed eyes. Criticism was lactic acid: more often than not my vigorous work was repaid with a sting and paying off redtop propaganda debts. I caught sight of the white of eyes within the darkness.
I suddenly felt an overwhelming connection to all those before me who had plunged themselves into this same indefinite shadow: the step so many fear to take or are held back from. As my fear for the future elevated, I realised that I made this decision for a reason, a reason why I agreed. The lights came on; it was like being suspended in a snapshot of lightning. Totally vulnerable in my visibility, I longed to return to my days in that all-consuming black ocean that now lapped at my feet, expectantly. My mouth opened and the rest was instinctive.
The vision of all my predecessors was like a projection above the ocean ahead of me: untouched by the rising and falling waves of hands or the roaring between the music. I felt conscious but at the same time, like an observer of my own movements.
By the end of the 45 minutes, I had been freed from any chains of fear. It was high tide, and though the sounds had been brought down to a hum, the usually contorted faces with sharpened tongues were instead, lit up with ecstasy. I bid them goodnight and stepped down from the largest concert stage in the world with a grin. Done.