By Shamma Kabital
The audience thunderously roars, their claps resonating like the thuds and patterings of heavy rain. I am a frail rabbit amidst the storm, shuddering with angst, as a lightning bolt of terror strikes my meagre form. I’m at my first poetry reading. It is my turn to recite, and I am afraid.
You see, I have always been introverted in nature; reserved and quiet, living in my own bubble of fantasies and dreams. Needless to say, I was never a people’s person. Social interaction has never been my strong suit. Naturally, I never really shared my literary works with ones beyond my own little party of friends and family, nor did I ever feel the need to. At least not until that particular morning last week in which I assumed participating in this poetry recital would be a good idea, for some indecipherable reason. How bitterly I regret my decision now!
“Miss Shamma, are you there?” My name is called a second time. I reluctantly force myself to rise and walk towards the stage, precariously ascending the steps. The withered wood creaks beneath my feet, as though it is whining in pain or cringing in second hand embarrassment, like it knows what’s coming. I sync my strides with the pounding of my heart; the longest walk of my life, and finally stand in front of the waiting microphone. My usually sharp mind is clouded with unease. My pupils dilate upon resting on the daunting sight of the audience, their anticipatory gazes piercing my veil of confidence; well, all that is left of it.
My quivering lips manage a soft “hello”, and a rather lame introduction: “My name is Shamma. I am fifteen years old and I’ll be reading out to you a poem of mine.” I sigh heavily and mutter quick prayers beneath my breath, ready to start, until I come to the realization that I’ve forgotten all the words. My hands start to tremble uncontrollably, like an earthquake, and I curse myself for not thinking things through. Droplets of sweat slide down the sides of my face, and I use my sleeves to blot them dry. I haven’t a single notion or clue on what to do next. Acting on impulse, I grab the microphone and to the audience mumble, “I’m sorry, I can’t do this.” before dashing off stage, as tornadoes of self-doubt and belittlement whirl through my complex head.
My mother finds me hiding in the bathroom. Cautiously, she comes forward and tenderly strokes my face without a word, understanding all. She then pulls me into her soft embrace, and I want to stay there forever, safe, secure, and happy in my mama’s arms. She finally lets go, and the trance is broken. Somehow, reality always finds a way to interfere. She grabs my hand, looks into my eyes, and in a whispery, windy voice asks, “Shamma, why are you afraid?” I gulp, pondering a while before shakily replying, “I’m not sure, but I think it has to do with my fear of failure. I fear not meeting others’ expectations, or even worse, not being able to meet my own. I’m afraid of making mistakes, of messing things up, so I try my best to keep avoiding.
You know me, Mama, I’m a runner. I don’t face challenges, I escape them.. and I know you hate that; I hate it too. But I’m not like you, Mama. I’m no leader. I’m no challenge-facer nor risk-taker.” I pause and take a ragged breath, trying to process what I’m saying, before resuming, “I’m a coward, Mama. I’m nothing more than a coward living in a world of my own; a prison-cell of my design. I don’t belong…” My voice breaks down towards the end as a silent tear trails down my shame-reddened cheeks.
A few minutes pass, and Mother remains silent, so unlike her loquacious nature, and I am grateful, for it gives me time to regain my composure. Finally, she begins: “Shamma. Dear Shamma, listen to me and listen carefully. You are unique. You are special. And I know one thing for sure: you are definitely not a coward. You are my daughter and I know you. I know how brave and smart you are. My dear, you’ve got the heart of a lioness, the mind of a philosopher, and the prudence of a queen. So raise your head,” I obey, “because one day, you will find your place in this world and you will do big things, I guarantee that. But first, you must find yourself, and the initial step in doing so is driving away your fears, or even better, facing them head-on. Only then will you discover where your true strengths lie.”
I nod, and with a reassuring smile, she lets go of my hands, turns around, and walks out the threshold. I thoroughly contemplate my mother’s brief snippet of wisdom as my lingering doubt is gradually replaced by waves of unanticipated confidence. Mama is right, I think to myself, I’ll never achieve anything sustainable in life if I let myself be hindered by petty worries and trivial doubts. I mustn’t let fear steer the wheel; I mustn’t let fear be my puppeteer. I realize now that if I let my fears control me, it’s a recipe for lifelong misery. On the spot, I make a spontaneous decision.
I step back onto the stage, mustering every last ounce of confidence within me, and proudly introduce myself to the audience once more. I spot my twinkly-eyed mom in the crowd and mouth a silent “Thank you” paired with an appreciative grin. Feeling apprehension sneakily crawl into my voice, I immediately dismiss it and carry on reciting my poem with a steady tone and utter clarity. I am energized by the crowd’s glorious applause upon my conclusion of the piece. I’ve survived a deadly hurricane. The skies are now clear and the sun is shining. What a triumph! What a victory!