Strength and Confidence

Winter, 2017–2018 / No. 40
Illustration by Matthew Daley
Matthew Daley

There was a hubbub like you wouldn’t believe. First all those people pressed against the door, and then when the door was opened, they poured right into the room like water gushing through a doomed ship’s hull. They poured into the room and ran all over the place, looking for the piece of paper. “Where is it?” they shouted, though not in unison. As one person was saying “where” another who had already said “where” was saying “is” and another person who was faster than anyone else was already saying “it?” They bounced off the walls, looking for the paper. “Where is it?” Then they saw the girl actually had it, she was bent over it and writing something on it. She was probably writing her name. They filled up all the space around her, and their hands reached out, tentatively, drew back, reached out. They wanted the pen. She was writing so slowly. How long was her name? Most people had two or three names, but maybe she had four or five. People from foreign places often had as many as seven names, and each of the seven names could be very long, maybe three or four syllables. Her hand froze over the piece of paper and she looked up. She saw that everyone was practically pressed right up against her, though they weren’t actually touching her, and they were breathing all over her. Hands reached out and drew back, reached out and drew back. The pen was elusive. Everyone was silent. “I haven’t finished writing my name,” she said, her voice a little shaky. Then she climbed up onto the table and peered over their heads toward the back of the room. Back there it was like a scene from a Busby Berkeley movie, but without all the girls and guys moving in unison and with no singing at all. In fact, it was just a little stage and it was empty. It was like a Busby Berkeley movie, in that it was like a scene from a Busby Berkeley movie, in which a radio play was being broadcast, live, and everyone was crowded around the mic, including the main characters and the guy who shook a sheet of metal to make it sound like thunder. Except there were no people and no sheets of metal. There was just a mic. The people who were crowded around the girl pressed in closer. “I am still writing my name,” she said evenly. Just seeing the mic had given her strength and confidence. She climbed off the table and picked up the pen again and wrote the rest of her name, very carefully. Just her first name, because they only ever introduced people by their first names. Even if you had never been there before, it was like you were their friend. The protocol was just first name. “Next up is Bob. Thank you, Bob. Next up is Pamina. Thank you, Pamina. Next up is Farouz. Thank you, Farouz. You were good in the way you said how bad pollution is.” Everybody clapped their hands, because since you were finished, their turn was even sooner. The girl held out the pen when she had finished writing her first name and a hand took it from her and a body pushed up to the table until another name was going down on that sheet of paper. The girl sliced through the cluster of people, and when she was free, she sat right in the back of the room, which was the front, because it was in front of the mic. She had a poem in her pocket. It was her first poem. Her friends had said it was good. More important, her teacher had said that she was an asset to the class in regards to her poem. No one could believe she had never written a poem before. That’s how good this poem was. In her head, she practised what she would say when she got to the mic. She would say, “God guided my hand.” She would say, “Although this poem is sad, it will offer hope if you let it into your heart.” After she read it, including the part about the boy’s belly being slit with a razor, the people would clap their hands. Then she would take out a razor for real and slice everyone in the audience’s belly. There would be such a major hubbub. I’m just kidding. She wouldn’t read that because she didn’t write it and her poem doesn’t exist and she doesn’t exist. I have made her up for this, the first thing I have ever read in front of an audience. I am a person who wrote this, what you are reading now, in the book you are holding that contains also everything I wrote after this. The book is called Strength and Confidence. It came out six years from now. I get my ideas from everyday things, nothing special.