“This is amazing.” Mike breathed, taking in a deep breath.
“What do you mean, what’s so amazing? What are you seeing?” Frank asked wondering what was up with his friend. It all looked normal to him. A large room with a bunch of rectangular tables and chairs. Women from the community working at setting the many tables. People milling about. What else would you expect at an art awards banquet in a small town like Poplarwood. He had one thing in mind and that was the food that was to come.
Meanwhile, Mike was overwhelmed with it all. The huge size of the room. The sound in the room was new to him, the murmuring of voices soft but steady . The people mingling, grouped up along the display tables of art. And the lights. all kinds of lights which made the room glow like a pond of still water in the moonlight. There were dim lights on the ceiling, candles flickering on the tables, tiny white lights strung out along the walls and down the whole length
of the display table of art along the side of the room. Pictures of all sizes, splashes of color, framed all along the side of the room. “Look at that art there along the wall,” he said, pointing. “That’s a lot of art. I wonder where mine is?”
“Must be there somewhere, let’s have a look.” Frank moved towards the display with Mike following. They melted into the crowd of folk along the row of pictures, all craning to get a look, talking, pointing and excited. Frank elbowed his way through till they got to the table and they began working their way down keeping an eye out for Mikes work.
But Mike could not keep up with Frank. He had to stop and really look at the artwork. He had never ever been to an art show or even an art gallery of any kind before. He was mesmerized by the sheer volume of art hanging on the wall or standing on the table before him. He wanted to stop at each one and examine it closely. He wanted to get into how it had been done. What medium was it? What kind of brush, tool or technique did they use to get that effect? The choices and variety of color were mesmerizing. For Mike the room disappeared as he focused in on each piece before him. Even if people jostled him, he did not notice, he was so engrossed with each piece he encountered.
Suddenly he was surprised to feel a thump and sharp pain on his shoulder, he was annoyed with the interruption and turned reluctantly, noticing that Frank had punched him. “Hey!” he teased, “did you forget that we are here to eat? Come-on we are gonna start.”
Mike realized, to his embarrassment, that basically everyone had already gone to their tables and he’d been one of the few still gawking at the pictures. “OK, OK I am coming,” he said reluctantly still looking at the picture he’d been admiring as he walked away sideways.
Frank was always the practical one. Sometimes he wondered how he would ever get along without good ole Frank reminding him about things. How Frank, for example knew where their table was he had no idea.
The first thing on the program was the meal. Frank enjoyed that, and dug into the food with a lot of energy. Then there were speeches by important people and artists, the audience applauding following each one. It was during this time that Mike noticed something strange about his and Frank’s parents. They seemed almost embarrassed about everything that was happening in the room. They did not applauded with the others. Not really. Why, Mike wondered was that? They did not seem happy like the rest of the people sitting around them. There was a lot of conversation and laughter at the tables near them while theirs was quiet. No
one said much at their table, no one told any jokes. They sure could have used some of Franks knock knock jokes thought Mike.
Then they began announcing the awards beginning with the lower grades, Mike and Frank waiting with great anticipation for Mike’s grade category to be announced. He began to perspire. His parent’s behavior began to be a concern for Mike. They behaved so differently from everyone else in the room. Were they embarrassed
about something? Ashamed? What? Did they not want him to win? Why then had they come? But they had come. It was all very confusing and he was sure others were noticing.
Then, came his category. Third place was announced, a huge applause and the winner made her way up to the front to receive the prize. There was a pause.
“And second place goes to Mike…” applause broke out in the room like for the others, but no one moved. Mike had begun to stand, but sat back down. His table was almost immobile. He noticed his mother’s eyes were wet but she seemed unsure, kind of cowering, seemingly embarrassed at the attention. Mike, looked at the tables
next to them and people were smiling, nodding, motioning for him to go. He scanned his table again and saw a thumbs up from Frank. His Father also finally made a subtle motioned with his head for him to go. The instant he rose the applause increased and even included some yells as he began the long journey to the stage.
This was a strange new world for Mike. He did not know that it was OK to rejoice in an accomplishment such as this. In his world accomplishments were not celebrated with outward emotions like cheering and applause. Especially from strangers such as this. Despite his inner conflictions, he could not help but respond to the
warmth he felt as he went along. A hint of a smile began to appear on his face in response to the overwhelming encouragement he was feeling from everyone in the room. Even if they were strangers. He had been announced as a winner and he began to smile. It did feel good.
As he walked up the stage steps he saw his drawing prominently displayed on an easel at the front of the stage. But It was as his teacher was giving him his rolled up award that he saw something that brought his world to a standstill. The winning art pieces were being brought up onto the stage from the display table, lined up in
a row waiting to be shown as each winner was announced. He recognized the next picture that would win first place. He broke into a sweat.
It was his lost nude drawing! He did a double-take, it could not be true. He ignored his teacher, fixated on the drawing, something like huge fear gripping his insides, turning his stomach into a knot. There it was framed and looking so... so.... amazing. And it's a nude! Now everyone would see it! His mother would see it. What if she recognised herself in the picture? How did it get here? He was so confused. What should he do? But it's a nude! His father would kill him if he found out he'd drawn his own mother. He felt like running. ‘Think…think…’ he told himself, but every option seemed wrong, crazy even…his mind became overwhelmed and would not work. He wished for a hole he could jump into. He stood dumbfounded with the scroll she had given him, stuck to his sweating hand, his mouth open, staring, immobilized.
His teacher was whispering into his ear trying to tell him to go back to his table. No response. The crowd began to respond in laughter as they assumed he was stunned by his winning second place. She noticing the giggles, and responded by playing it up, raising her hands and face in mock frustration. Laughter erupted from the crowd. Finally, she took him by the shoulders, turned him towards the stage stairs and give him a gentle nudge. But he did not seem to get the hint and remained there standing like a statue. Again, playing to the crowd with exaggerated movements she took him by the shoulders and literally walked him to the stage steps. Now he responded and with a sideways glance back at his nude, went down the stairs and back to his table, the wrong way of course. People began pointing and motioning, even nudging him, helping him towards his table. The applauding and laughter followed him all the way back. His parents actually kind of smiling as he slipped, embarrassed into his chair.
Then his partial nude was placed in full view for the audience to see. Mike, waiting to see the response, was truly surprised when he heard not only exclamations of surprise, but a few verbal cheers and a sprinkling of appreciative applause.
But, more than that, he was watching his parents carefully for any signs that they might recognize the picture. So far so good. He was mired in guilt and could not bare looking up at the drawing.
“And, ladies and gentlemen," the MC continued, "first place for this most courageous and unique work of art goes toooo…. Bobby N…Immediately applause burst out in the room, the audience rising from their chairs in appreciation of the winner and the piece they saw before them.
‘Who is this Bobby guy?’ mouthed Mike at Frank in the midst of the din. Frank, just shook his head. They had no idea who he was.
Meanwhile, Mike could not help but notice the audience's excited and loud response to his nude picture. They were now standing as one, clapping and hooting for Bobby as he made his way to the front. When he got there and was given his scroll, the head curator of the event stepped up to the mike to make a comment. When the applause died down she began to explain how this piece of work was the first of it's kind in that the artist used the human form to express the theme of the contest in their work. How excited and pleased the art committee choosing the winners had been, first of all for the courage of the artist to go to the 'nude' in their expression, and secondly for the amazing skill this drawing represented. Skill in the actual drawing of the human figure and also in expressing a full range of emotion in the work.
She ended by congratulating Bobby for his courage and his special giftedness in creating such a great piece of art. She went over and shook his hand congratulating him, saying she was excited now to see what he would be working on next.
The room again erupted in applause and cheers for Bobby as he made his way back to his table.
Mike became aware of something he would never had learned anywhere else. He realized now that he could never claim that picture as his. His community could never stand behind a work of this kind like this community did. This community appreciated every part of this work of art. His family and Franks family were not standing. They were not clapping. They were not cheering. They had made themselves stick out as one's who did not support this expression of art. They were the only table sitting down, in the middle of a crowd on their feet cheering. He felt embarrassed.
Mike suddenly realized that he felt kind of glad for Bobby, whoever he was.
(To be continued)
Photo by: Cliff Derksen