Question: How are you feeling now?
Answer: The petrichor from the unseasonal rain only served to fuel my nausea. I don't feel really well. It's... a strange feeling, as I was healthy in the morning. A few hours later and here I am.
Question: Where are you now?
Answer: It's some kind of a vast field with tents set up over it for a certain event, I believe it's for the National Education Day.
Question: How did you get here?
Answer: If that question is literal, then by the school bus, with two other teachers from my school. If the question was asking how I got into this position... then I don't rightly know.
Question: Why are you asking these questions in your head?
Answer: It distracts me from the nausea, and conversing with myself helps calm me down when I'm launched into this foreign environment with a crowd of foreign people. Students, teachers, from other schools; the committee, the staff of this event; the entertainers, either hired or from another school. Smug faces, confident faces, nervous faces, stranger faces. Faces I won't remember.
Question: Are you prepared?
Answer: I don't know. I'm not sure. I don't even know if I deserve to be here.
Question: Re: How did you get here?
Answer: ...it was a few weeks, or a few days ago... my homeroom teacher asked me to stay longer in class as she needed to talk to me about something. Being the honor student I had to play to retain my scholarship, I acquiesced. Never would I have imagined she would ask if I wanted to join an English speech competition. I may have shown exceptional affinity with the second language among my peers, but I have never done any public speaking well with it, let alone deliver a speech about a topic I know nothing about. I suppose it was a mixture of bravado, impetus, ego, and obsequiousness that prompted me to accept her proposal then and there, discussing it with my parents afterwards as they had to give the okay for me to skip out my scheduled classes to practice for the contest, and even take extra hours after school.
Question: What were those practices like?
Answer: My homeroom teacher researched and printed out the full coverage of the topic we were supposed to deliver a speech about. I was to compress the 3-5 pages she printed into 5 minutes of verbal speech, putting more emphasis on what I felt were the important elements of those paragraphs. I understood she had classes she couldn't miss to lecture, and so I was put under the guidance of another English teacher, Mr. Doe. Mr. Doe was in charge of high school students, so it was our first meeting. Just him and me in the empty classroom. I would do as he guided me to. How to properly press and pause on certain words to create emphasis, how to gesticulate, how to greet the juries, the audience, and others in attendance, how to make eye contact. So on, and so forth. I would also practice delivering my speech in front of my family, on the insistence of my father. None of my family members could understand English that well, so they really only judged on how confident I looked and sounded. I took what I learned from Mr. Doe into practice. As I made eye contact with my father, I saw a warm, genial smile full of pride. In my mother's, of confused amazement, most likely as to how fluent I was in pronouncing the difficult English words she herself couldn't pronounce right. All was well until I stuttered, forgetting what to say. My father told me it was all right, and that it shouldn't discourage me, that I only needed more practice, so that is what I did. Every night when everyone was asleep, I would go down to the empty kitchen, bustling during the day, silent during the night. I heard my own voice echo in the dim lights. I corrected whatever I felt needed correction, ignoring the sweat palpitating from my heated body. I was down with a fever the next few mornings, but neglected to tell anyone and forced myself to school for further practice and regular studies. Mr. Doe stated then that I was repeating the mistakes he had specifically told me not to repeat, but that didn't make me waver. I kept practicing. The following nights, I slept early. During the preliminary rounds, where schools of the sub-district would compete in various competitions in a small village hall, my head wasn't in the right place. Similar to how I am now, to be honest. The English Speech competition was scheduled to be held in the later half of the entire show, so I had time to compose myself, and indulge in the traditional dances and graceful dancers. All of whom are probably around my age. All of whom have most likely practiced more and longer than me. At some point of the show, I just bowed my head, not daring to look up at them. The cheerful music boomed around me, barraging my head. If my mind was a glass, holding liquefied information and words from my script, then it was a glass shaking in a tremor. I could feel heat. I felt sick. When it came time for the English Speech competition, I had to excuse myself to the lavatory. It was fortunate that I drew the last number to perform. The unfamiliar toilet stank and I emptied out my breakfast and lunch in response. Come to think of it... excuse me one moment.
Question: Did you really just throw up while hunched over a tree?
Answer: Shut up, I'm already nauseated and remembering that toilet's scent is too much to stomach.
Question: Humiliating. Pathetic.
Answer: That's not even a question.
Then, question: How do you feel now that your competitors from schools around the province, representatives of their respective sub-districts, know you are as you look, but a child. A kid, not deserving to be in a competition of this caliber?
Answer: shut up...
Question: That is not an answer. Would you like to try answering properly to distract yourself from a second wave of vomit?
Answer: I get it already... When I returned to the sub-district competition, there was a girl on stage, perhaps a year or two years older than I was. She delivered her speech with such energy and emotion, both of which I didn't possess. Both of which I have yet to possess. Her eyes had something akin to anger, though I didn't understand what she was so mad about. Perhaps it was because I didn't hear her speech on the entirety. Perhaps she felt disrespected to have a kid as a competitor. I wouldn't know. Now, I am forced to sit here listening to students that have received more education than me, who have probably trained harder than me prior to this provincial competition. It sickened me. I could not focus on what they were saying. I was number 19, this was still number 3 and my teachers were getting worried of my health. I forced myself to swallow whatever little vomit wanted to breathe the fresh air outside and lied through my teeth, with a weak smile, I said, "I'm fine."
Question: Re: Are you prepared?
Answer: Can you leave me alone now? A moment of silence would be great about now.
"Assalamualaikum warahmatullahi wabarakaatuh," Number 4 greeted, with a confident smile and overflowing enthusiasm. He was a tall boy, two years older than me as he introduced himself as, and I quote, "a student seated in the sixth grade" of some school I didn't know the existence of. Not because it wasn't well-known, but because I was a frog in the well. Such was why I felt sick to my stomach seeing all these new, unknown people doing new, unknown things. I should ask myself more questions, I could feel my stomach being more uncooperative by the minute. I couldn't let my teachers know I was lying.
Just then, a familiar face popped up, like a hero in the cartoons I frequented every Sunday morning. My father approached the venue of the contest with a proud smile on his face, before it transitioned into a sad smile of worry. Ah, how disappointing, I didn't want my father to see me in this weak state. To my surprise, he asked no questions to me or my teachers, but to the committee, whether or not it would be possible for him to bring me out of the venue for a few minutes to a small shop located just across the venue. The committee said yes, but to make sure to return before my number was called, lest I wanted to be disqualified.
There, my father ordered a warm glass of sugared tea. I sipped it slowly with a spoon so as not to scald my tongue.
"Nervous?" He asked, it seemed he didn't know of my humiliating public display earlier.
I nodded, the spoon quivering on my fingertips.
"Why? What's the cause of it?"
I didn't know what to say. It wasn't because I couldn't think of any reason. Rather, it was the opposite. My mind thought up of a million reasons as to why I was nervous, but to make me seem less like a whiny brat in front of my father, I only let a few of them out through my mouth, barely making a coherent sentence:
"They're older... don't know... what should I say?"
He answered with a smile, "You know, I don't expect you to win this competition," that statement struck me like a lighting in the back of my head, "Just go out there and say what you want and what you think about the topic, be yourself, winning or losing is a matter for later," so he told me in our native tongue. I looked at the warm tea, the scent more soothing than nauseating. "So, are you ready? To go back? We can take our time, it's still No. 14."
I had embarrassed myself enough. I nodded.
I listened to all the competitors attentively. They all start with the same greeting, adhering to their religious beliefs. I was in the minority when it came to my beliefs, so I dared not start with that. When my number was called up, I walked up to the juries, with my father and teachers wishing me good luck. I handed my scripts to the juries, and positioned myself in front of the microphone. Deep breaths, eye contact, gestures. I don't have to think a lot about that right now. "Good afternoon, respected juries and the audience in attendance," I bowed a little with my eyes facing those I was addressing, I saw in the corner of my eye a teacher from another school laughing smugly with his student, sharing a high-five upon my greeting. It was as if I had already screwed up from my greeting alone, but I continued without letting it get to me. Be yourself, say what you want. Indeed. To greet with Assalamualaikum would be pretentious of me. I delivered my speech with the words and terminologies I have learned the past few weeks, the microphone's ambiance was more audible here than the hall. Don't mind it. Everyone is listening to you. Let them hear you. The silence is not awkwardness, it is amazement. Keep going. Keep going. Keep going.... Crap... what was I supposed to say here...?
I forgot my line. I paused for a moment after ending the last sentence I could remember from my script. Through the corner of my vision, I could see the banner of this event. This was not in the script, but I could think of no better way to end this speech. "Why?" I repeated, "Because this is the Golden Age of Indonesia," I said as I pointed to the banner.
I thanked everyone in attendance for their time and attention, to a round of applause. Whether they be mere formalities or genuine applause, I'd never know. I would never forget the change in demeanor I happened to glance from the teacher and student that laughed at me, who no longer laughed, but instead eyed me with an aura of seriousness. They looked at me as if I was their equal competitor.
The adrenaline dissipated gradually and I felt my life sucked out from my body after taking a seat beside my teachers. My surroundings darkened as I slipped into unconsciousness.
I was woken up only for the announcement, I had no hopes of winning. After all, I was the only one deviating from what people considered to be polite, formal greeting. I was younger than most... no, in fact, I think I was the youngest contestant in this competition. I just wanted to get this over with and go back home.
The zealous MCs announced the winners one by one, from the third rank, the second rank. Finally, after useless banters, they'll announce the first rank, and I can go back home without a certificate congratulating me for my participation. All's well that ends well.
"...And the first winner goes to..." they did this on purpose to build up the tension, but my heart was beating fast for another reason. I was about to collapse from fatigue.
Then they announced my name, and my teachers cheered with joy, while I was still in a trance of confusion.
I wobbled my way up to the stage, forced a little smile, as much as I could muster, and passed the trophy that felt so heavy in my hands to my teacher when I was allowed to step down. I then collapsed in my father's arms.
I won. I actually won.