There was a poem we used to narrate in competitions while in Primary school. The first time I stepped onto a stage and introduced myself it was to narrate this poem. I was eleven years old and it was one o’clock. One hour after a bottle of Fanta Orange, a boiled egg and three slices of dry white United bread.
Our teacher Mr. Ayuka was there as I ate behind the Social Hall telling me to be audible, to project my voice and remember my facial expressions. The words had to live once they were out of my mouth. He stuck the name card using an office pin on my uniform and told me to rush to the stage.
It was the first time I was doing a solo verse.
I had been part of the choral verse for two years now finding comfort in the voices of the other girls behind me, but this time I had to project one voice across a hall with three judges waiting for me to slip up. The voice had to be mine, but not the poem. I wanted the poem to be mine, it had to have something about the rain, soft drops of rain, deep brown puddles and wading through mud. So, I walked on the stage and when the judges told me to start, I did:
The wind howls and the trees sway,
The loose housetop sheets clatter and clang,
The open window shuts with a bang,
And the sky makes night of day.
– “A Sudden Storm,” by Pius Oleghe
And right when I was about to start the second stanza, I burped!
Mr. Ayuka looked at me and walked out of the hall. The judges listened even as I continued, but I never could finish, because the burp and the humiliation of it had taken up two minutes of my time. The second judge rang her bell and I walked out of the stage.
As fate would have it, I was awarded thirteenth place out of twenty six participants. Mr. Ayuka looked at me and then looked away. The other girls laughed about my burp but no one talked to me or asked me what I thought. One girl told me not to drink Fanta ever again because I could clearly not handle the gas it gave me and they all laughed.
I went to Mr. Ayuka to apologize but he held his hand up to make me stop. He looked at me and said, “It was the first time and you did well. You could have won, but remember when you slip in front of an audience, you have to keep going. You wasted two minutes, but if you could have continued, maybe you could have got the fifth place.”
I turned and walked back to the other girls to prepare for our choral verse presentation. When they asked about our conversation with Mr. Ayuka, all I could do was shrug my shoulders and so they called me ‘Fanta Mayai’ for the next one year. I also won most school debates, a public speech contest and four solo presentations in that one year.