Nasser sat in the large ornate chair. The heat from the spotlights was not the only thing that was making him sweat. He desperately wanted to dab at his brow, but refused to let the anxiety show.
Why were the judges taking so long? In fact, how long had it been since he had finished reciting the poem?
It’s only been two seconds, the other voice in his head said. You’re worrying needlessly like you always do.
‘And you’re trying to keep me calm,’ the poet thought in reply. ‘You know I can’t be as relaxed as you. One of us has to think about the implications.’
Keeping you sane seems to be my main job at the moment.
‘Sane, now there’s a joke of a word as far as I’m concerned.’ Nasser almost shook his head, but managed to hold back the reflex.
You’re performance was perfect, just as we had practiced. You were far and away the best one this week.
‘But what if they spotted that it wasn’t my work?’
A sigh echoed between the poet’s ears. Do we have to go over this again? It was your work. You haven’t stolen anything from anyone.
They had run through the argument numerous times in the past week, but that did not stop Nasser from starting it up again.
‘It’s not my work, it’s yours. They’ll spot it. They’re sure to.’ He shifted on the chair and licked his lips. ‘These are not the average crowd you get around a campfire. They are classically trained. To them the differences will be obvious.’
We agreed when we got into this that I would help you if need be. The voice had taken on a terse tone. It’s the semi-finals. You know you would have been knocked out if I hadn’t helped.
‘We don’t know that for sure. I had some good ideas.’
Your composition was all over the place. Nerves were starting to get to you.
‘I was scared they would find out about you. That I’d be kicked off the show, or worse, locked up.’
How could anyone possibly know unless you told them? You’re being stupid.
‘Really? Am I being silly when they are still scribbling away on their pads? They haven’t said anything yet and that’s because they suspect something.’
You’re losing your grip on reality. It’s been twenty eight seconds. Any moment now they will give their verdict and you will be through to the next round. No public vote; nothing to worry about.
Nasser gripped his hands together to stop them shaking. He wanted to get out of the chair; away from the judges, the audience and the TV cameras.
‘When I get out of here I’m going to cut you out of my head. This needs to end.’
You do that and you’ll be spending weeks in hospital. There will be no final for you. Is that what you really want?
‘No, but I can’t take the pressure anymore. It was a bad idea from the start.’
It was a perfectly good idea. At the time I thought it was the right thing to do and my opinion hasn’t changed…
“Nasser Al Moraqi, the judges are ready to tell you what they think of your recital.” The voice of the show’s host cut short any further conversation. “Are you ready to hear their verdict?”
The poet found his mouth too dry to answer. Instead he gave a quick nod. Inside his head the voice of the implanted AI was silent.
19 March 2010
The fourth season of Million’s Poet reached its climax this week. The program, broadcast across the Middle East, pits forty eight Arab speaking poets against each other as they attempt to impress a panel of judges, a studio audience and the voting public with the aim of reaching the final and a chance to win 5 million AED ($1,362,000).
My other flash fiction stories.
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