Talent Show

“On 20th January, we will have our talent show,” Ms. Penny announced in class that day. “One of you from this class will be selected to compete with the rest of the school.”

“Are we allowed to dance?” asked Sara, jumping up from her chair.

“Can I bring my flute?” asked Pranav.

“Can I make a video of my talent and bring it and show you?” asked Peter.

“What if one doesn’t have a talent?” asked Allen.

“Everybody has some talent,” said Ms. Penny encouragingly. “And no, Peter. Photographs and videos are not allowed. You have to present whatever you are doing in front of the whole class. You can dance, sing, play an instrument, act, mime, draw or do anything else you want.”

During the morning break, Allen got to some serious thinking. He had never won a talent show. He knew who would win, though. Sheila. She has won every time in the past three years. He will have to do something heroic to break that record.

Allen’s friend William poked him from behind. “Any bet on who will win this time?”

“Sheila, of course,” said Naveen, appearing on his other side. “She can dance, sing, and mime.”

“Can she do all three together?” Allen asked, crinkling his keen, hazel eyes.

”Why don’t you see for yourself? She is giving a live performance at the back of the class.”

Allen turned to where a group of girls was gathered together. A mournful song could be heard from their midst.

“Whatever,” said Allen. But he got up from his seat and walked languidly to the group. Sheila was, of course, the one singing the melancholy Hindi song, but she was also twirling around with her arms shooting out at various angles.

“Should we ask her whether she can mime when she do that?”Naveen whispered.

“I’d rather not,” said Allen. “I have to practice my own skills for the talent show.”

“What skills are those?” asked Naveen and William together.

“You will see.”

That evening, as soon as he reached home, Allen ran to his father’s study, grabbed a couple of blank papers, and went to his room. He had decided what he was going to do. He will sketch a portrait in 30 minutes. After all, he had learned sketching during his online art lessons, and his teacher always commended that he was doing a great job. So, Allen sat in front of the mirror and started a self-portrait.

It was all very good following his art teacher’s step-by-step instructions during the lessons, but doing it by oneself was a different matter altogether. The portrait did not look anything like him. Why was his nose hanging under one of his eyes? It should be in the middle of his face. And why was one of his ears smaller than the other? He looked again in the mirror. Both ears were of the same size and shape, though not so in his sketch. He crumpled the paper and threw it under his bed.

Allen took in a deep breath and sang, “Let it go …” However, his voice came out in a squeak. After all, it was a girls’ song. It was not for him. The only other song he knew was ‘Baby shark do do do do,’ which he was sure wouldn’t make a cut in a talent show.

Still in front of the mirror, Allen visualized himself dancing like Sheila. He even tried flailing his arms around.

“Pathetic,” he mumbled to himself.

There was only one thing to do. Gracefully bow out of the competition. After all, no one other than Naveen and William knew that he had plans to compete. No one would be expecting him to do anything. It was a relief not to have the burden of expectation.

The following day, as Allen biked to school, he was able to appreciate the golden rays of the sun and the sweet chirps of the birds fluttering over his head. He took in deep breaths of the fresh morning air and felt thankful for the new day. Even his classroom looked bright and inviting.

“What are you doing for the talent show?” Sheila asked him cheerfully as he set his bag down on his table.

“Why would I do anything?”

“Naveen said that you are going to surprise us with some hidden talent. Will you give us a sneak peek today?”

Allen wished that he could swear at school. Instead, he ground his teeth as his eyes darted around the class for Naveen. There he was at his table, with William, Peter, and Ann. Disregarding Sheila, Allen zoomed toward them.

“Is there anyone in the class who doesn’t know that I am competing in the talent show?” He growled.

“Ms. Penny doesn’t know yet,” said Naveen, grinning.

“Oh! She knows.” William backed away from Allen. “I told her yesterday evening. We go home in the same bus, you know?”

For the rest of the day, Allen dreaded the moment when Ms. Penny would ask him what he was presenting for the talent show. While the whole class struggled with long division, Allen scraped his brain for any remnant of talent he might have.

However, almost two weeks passed before the topic came up again—during which Allen tried to learn a card trick, which flopped because his friends were able to spot precisely how he did it. Then there was the class field trip to the botanical garden. Allen and his friends had forgotten entirely about the talent show when Ms. Penny brought it up again.

“Only Sheila and Allen have given their names for our talent show,” she said while they were doing a poster about the influences of social media. “Aren’t the rest of you doing anything? We need to know the number of performances to allot the time. So you must register your names with me by the end of the day… and also what you are presenting.”

“I will be performing to a Bollywood song,” Sheila chirruped.

“And you, Allen?”

“I will be playing the flute,” Pranav called out.

“I … I haven’t decided yet,” said Allen, not meeting Ms. Penny’s eyes.

“Allen has a lot of talents,” William offered.

“Hmm… it will be difficult to choose one then,” said Ms. Penny, thoughtfully. “And here I was hoping that Allen could help us by taking photos of the show. What do you say, Allen?”

Allen blinked at his teacher. “What?”

“I saw the photographs you had taken for last year’s school magazine, and they were brilliant. Although photography is not allowed as a competing item, I thought you could help me by taking some pictures of the day.”

“I can do that,” said Allen, sitting up straighter in his chair.

“Thank you!”

Allen saw William, Naveen, Peter, and Greg looking at him admiringly. He gave all his attention to the poster he was creating, which got him a nice compliment from Ms. Penny. And by the end of the day, Allen had decided that Sheila was indeed a talented dancer. He must take her photos from the best angles. Life was good again.

***

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