Despite having just washed his hands, thoroughly might I add, they shone with a slick layer of sweat. Wiping them on his pants, just below his pockets, he quickly scanned the area, wondering if the choice of pale blue would betray him and leave wet marks. “Phew,” he took a deep breath and shook his palms. Raising his shoulders up and down as if in a hip hop class, he started to pace in a circle.
‘You can do this. It’s just a few people. They are here to be inspired, not to judge. Just tell the truth. It will all be over soon,’ he tried to reassure himself.
Forcing a deep breath from his chest, a sharply polished figure appeared striding confidently towards him.
“Hey there,” the obligatory shoulder pat, “I’m really looking forward to your speech. How are you feeling?”
“Uh, yeah… a bit nervous. Should be good fun, I guess. Any advice?”
“Oh, you’ll be great.” No eye contact as he was already striding down the hallway to another. “Knock ‘em dead,” he said with a flippant wave over his shoulder.
‘Smug prick!’ he thought to himself. ‘What did he know about delivering a speech to millions of people? People who were anticipating brilliance, inspiration, a hero. He was no hero. He was a fraud. Through a series of coincidences, he had stumbled upon his discovery. Wait? Could he call it a discovery? Maybe it was a happy accident? Is that how most inventions came to be? Is one bestowed the title of ‘inventor’ after the fact? But he hadn’t invented anything; he had discovered it. Or rather, he had followed a series of steps that allowed the discovery to be made. Could he really take credit for that?
A wave of laughter drifted passed him. Who was on stage now? Was it a comedian? Someone famous? A TED-talker?
His stomach flipped over and he realized he did not want the answer. All of this – the photographs, the interviews, the accolades – it was all a form of slow torture. He could not shake the feeling of fraudulence and the more he resisted the spotlight, the more his agent (formerly his tennis partner and good buddy) pushed him towards the public.
Another wave of laughter. He rolled his eyes. Could he just leave? He quickly scanned the area. It was dark behind the curtain with a few dim lights other than the blaring red exit sign taunting him from above the door. Staring longingly at it, the thought occurred to him that it would most likely set off an alarm if opened, revealing his pure cowardice. While weighing the pros and cons of coward versus fraud, a slim, head-set donning woman brushed passed him whispering, “ten minutes ‘til you’re on.”
Honesty – just be honest. The story is ridiculous, absurd, strange – but it’s the truth and you cannot be held accountable for the mistaken adoration. You did, in fact, enable the scientists to make this discovery. Your actions – foolish as they may have been – led to a possible historic moment. Had you not been there at that time, desperate for a food source, foolish enough to have lost all form of communication, or naive enough to be ignorant of the possible dangers then none of this would exist today. The helicopter airlift was really the icing on the embarrassment cake.
He took another deep breath. Yes, he thought, honesty was the only way to get through this day. He was determined to tell his story – his whole story- in one go without interruption from the audience. No one asking seemingly innocent questions about why he had not thought of more sane or logical options. No one bursting into laughter at the absurdity of his predicament. No! He would tell his story here, tonight, on this stage and be set free. The truth would reveal all and it would be the last time he’d ever be asked or questioned as a heroic figure. If anything, he would be a comedy of errors and then swiftly forgotten. He just had to get through this evening in one piece.
The head-set woman appeared from behind him, lightly grazing her non-clipboard hand on the small of his back.
‘Please don’t feel the wetness through my shirt,’ he pleaded silently.
“Are you ready for this?” she asked encouragingly.
“I hope so,” he sighed.
“You’ve got this. Just tell your story. That’s all these people want. They want your story, after all, it’s fascinating!” She began to lightly push him towards the opening by the curtain.
‘Oh dear, here we go. Just tell the story and it will all be over soon.’ He kept repeating over and over again to himself.
The stage lights were blinding and radiated thick heat. He blinked a few times and smiled weakly. Gazing out over the crowd, he could only see darkness; black behind the lights. He nervously sauntered over to the microphone – a lone tree in a vast field. He licked his lips and cleared his throat. A hush filled the room and he knew it was time.
“Good evening, it’s a pleasure to be here. As you may know, my name is Bradley Smeat and I played a pivotal role in the discovery of the new drug that has made revolutionary progress in the fight to end cancer. I myself, was battling mouth cancer and had been for the better part of the past two decades. At that point, the prognosis was not good and I had come to terms with my inevitable end. I had arranged my affairs and had said my farewells and was planning on leaving this planet with my head held high and dignity firmly in place. Always one to prefer controlling my fate, as much as one can, I had headed off into the forests to quietly fade away. It was not my plan to be missing, rescued, or saved. But that, as we all know, was not what fate had in store.”
A small chuckle rose from the far left. That was all he needed. Glancing down at his feet, he knew that it would all be over soon.