The small crowd bustles below a crooked banner, missing letters so instead it reads “H*P** BI**H***” like some ancient invocation.
The young man steps up to the microphone. It’s too tall for him to reach without a milk crate to stand on, but he doesn’t have a milk crate so instead he wrestles it down. He’s not so young as he looks, but he wears most of his scars on the inside, so you can’t really tell.
“Is this thing on?” he says into the microphone.
“What’s he saying?” says somebody at the back of the room.
Off to the side somebody jostles with the cabling, plugs something in and give the thumbs-up.
“IS THIS THING—OKAY, GOOD,” says the man with the microphone. “FIRSTLY, I’D LIKE TO THANK YOU ALL FOR BEING HERE TODAY. IT MEANS A LOT.”
The crowd claps, politely.
“IN MY TWENTY-FIVE YEARS I’VE LEARNED A THING OR TWO, AND I’D LIKE TO TAKE A MOMENT TO SHARE WITH YOU SOME OF THOSE THINGS.”
Silence. Somebody coughs. The speakers connected to the microphone buzz. Beyond the room, in the distance, something else is buzzing too. But that’s still too far away for anyone except the dogs to hear.
A piece of paper comes into the man’s hands as if by magic, but it’s not really magic unless you count having pockets as magic. “OKAY,” he says and looks out, however briefly, into the crowd. He checks his sheet of paper again. He says “OKAY” again. Somebody is tapping their foot.
“Do we get a feed after this?” somebody asks. A cough. A cleared throat. A sneeze buried in a tissue.
The buzzing is louder now and it’s not so much buzzing as a THWAP THWAP THWAP which—as everybody knows—is the sound that a helicopter makes.
“THE FIRST THING I’VE LEARNED,” says the man with the microphone. A door to the left of stage opens and somebody steps in to interrupt.
“They’re on their way,” they tell the man with the microphone and the THWAP THWAP THWAP is even louder now, as though the helicopter is hovering directly overhead.
“TERRIBLY SORRY,” says the man with the microphone. Then, again, without it: “Terribly sorry,” and as quickly as that he is ushered out the side door.
The stage is empty.