Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Outstanding (04/21/11)
TITLE: Unskilled Patriotism
By Marlene Bonney
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Tukima, feeling unworthy to approach the row of empty seats directly facing the makeshift stage, had chosen to sit in the back of the sweaty gymnasium, his hastily-removed hat now gripped on his lap between two work-grimed hands. His best clothes, although rumpled and carefully darned, were clean and attempted gentility. He began to relax, though, when he saw how varied the dress was of the others in the room, ranging from designer to “come-as-you-are” clothing. He smiled to himself at American’s obvious love affair with jeans, wondering for the umpteenth time how anyone could be comfortable in such stiff and tight garb.
The lights dimmed as the choir director raised his arms to the tiered sopranos, altos, basses and tenors before him, leading his students in a modern version of their country’s national anthem. Many in the audience snickered or raised their eyebrows at the blaringly off-key rendition, but Tukima tapped his foot appreciatively to the catchy beat. Someday his son would be up there, performing along with them, God willing. He almost had enough money saved to send for ten-year-old Rapha. Hope blazed from his eyes as he silently mouthed the words of this great country’s patriotic song.
The play-acting followed with the usual awkward moments of between acts scenery changes and invisible audible promptings from the curtain sidelines to stuttering actors and malfunctioning props. Not a smooth performance by any standard, but the enactment of Abraham Lincoln’s life touched Tukima’s heart deeply. Here was a man he could identify with, a humble—even, homely—man who had great integrity and earthy wisdom. A man who grieved over his dying little boy even as he took on the burdens of a struggling nation gripped by factions fighting for freedoms both sides held dear. He ignored the loud sneeze from the death scene corpse and the failure of the flagpole to stand straight in the center of the stage, along with Abe’s sliding moustache and the antiquated microphone system screeches. The facts were still there, underneath the mistakes and blunders, the story ringing as true as the history books proclaimed.
As the final curtain rose and the amateur actors bowed, spasmodic halfhearted claps hung in the air like an impending thunderstorm. But Tukima, with tears streaming unashamedly down his face stood to his feet and saluted that center-staged red, white and blue flag with his left hand while clutching at his heart with his other. To him, it was the most outstanding performance he had yet witnessed, and he had seen his share in the Old Country, the country of his birth—resplendent, opulent and perfectly coordinated and enacted plays, operas, and concerts—but none equaled the heart and soul of liberty and freedom expressed in this night’s production before him.
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