Our high school sat on top of the hill and was one of the best in a small city in Japan at the time I was attending in the 80’s. In October, over a two-day period, they had an annual cultural festival that was open to the public. Each class came up with a program. Some had exhibitions for science or history research. There was an art show. Students performed in a play and a concert at the auditorium.
My class decided on a game show, and they elected me to be the director. We chose the panelists from students and made a quiz on the subjects that we studied at school. One of the cool boys was eager to emcee.
On the first day, though, very few audiences showed up, and the panelists were apathetic. Only a scattering of applause and laughs wandered around the classroom. It was so pathetic that the emcee boy announced he wouldn’t do it ever again. We still had one more day of the festival. The entire class looked at me, and, after an awkward silence, I heard me blurting, “I’ll do it.”
On the second and final day of the festival, I put a pastel-colored bow tie on the white uniform shirt with my jiggly hands. My stomach coiled like a chaotic sushi roll, and my legs became tofu. Thump, thump, thump, a taiko drum echoed in my heart. The resonant Zen voice of “I can’t do this!” repeated in my head. A whiff of diffidence wafted from my soupy palms. My ego might be the size of a giant mochi. My confidence, however, a red bean. The show not only had to go on but also had to be the redemption. The whole class was counting on me.
I took a deep breath and went out onto the stage.
I bowed to the audience and heard a few people applaud. Behind the crowd, the boy, whom I replaced, watched me.
I can’t be good, can I?
Boys walked three steps in front of girls. My little brother got to go to college, not me. Boy bosses had girl secretaries. He could lose face if I did better than him.
I stood there in silence when, from the left side of the audience, somebody heckled.
Without thinking, I retorted. It was survival.
A giggle dangled in the room.
We want the show to be a success. We worked hard; all of us.
Somebody on the right said something. I sassed and got a big laugh.
I looked at the panelists, audience, the boy, and the classmates and felt the bow tie.
I’m just a clown, wearing a ridiculous bow tie.
As I introduced myself, a round of applause broke. I started picking on the audience and panelists. I mimicked the teachers. I dramatized the dull history clues.
The audience howled with laughter. The panelists scrambled to get the right answers. Passersby stopped to see what was going on. Outside our classroom, students, teachers, and parents packed the hallway. The boy, who had handed me the bow tie, clapped his hands and laughed with the rest of the class.
We’d celebrate singing karaoke after the show. And, yes, I kept my bow tie.