Bright Star

I’ve rehearsed for this moment in my bedroom. Away from everyone else. I’ve even got a speech ready. But suddenly I can’t talk. It’s been a long time since I felt half-frozen like this. Maybe that’s because it’s been equally long since I’ve had to use my own voice. I know myself well enough to realise that if I do start speaking now I’m going to come across like I’m drunk or something. That would be the worst thing. People need to be sure that I’m making a deliberate move. I’m desperate for them to understand how much I mean this. I’ve already made things weird by climbing on stage like some kind of lunatic, and now it’s time to make sense of this moment. It’s time for my music to do the talking.

One of the stage crew is scrabbling around my feet, making sure my guitar is plugged in and whatever else. I ignore him.

“Here’s a new one,” I say at last and the crowd wail.

I look down at my guitar in exactly the way I promised myself I wouldn’t do. I need to maintain eye contact with the audience, I can’t close myself off from them. If I do that, I know it will be Khan’s first complaint. I have to show him that I can offer this new version of myself without compromising my role as a performer.

Just let me get through this first verse, then I’ll look up.

I stroke the guitar. The sound of it makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. I hope it’s having that effect on everyone. The yelling is dying down but still I don’t look up. I need to concentrate. I think my fans will understand that.

“I’ve been on the floor,” I sing, “but I can’t lie down anymore.”

I’m shaking. There are thousands of eyes on me which for a second feels as creepy as it sounds, but I’m being stupid. I need to remember that there are people sitting in the back rows of the arena who will barely be able to see me – I need to make myself and my song as big as possible for them.

“If I’m your example, I’m sorry.”

I breathe in.

“If I’m your example, I worry.”

I breathe out.

“I grew up in a hurry.”

“I breathe in.

“But I didn’t grow at all.”

I breathe out.

“And that’s not cool.”

I feel everyone with me. The silence speaks for itself. I am coming out of my cocoon and I may not be a butterfly, but I’m something. Everyone can see me. I can feel my heart twitching.

The chorus is coming.

Time to look up.

I can’t look up.

I know this song so well, I could play it in the dark, but I keep my eyes fixed on the fretboard.

“They told you I was sugar free, because my songs came without those stickers saying parental advisory.”

I’m louder now. The songs becomes bigger. Whether I want to be a pop star or not, I’ve learnt a thing or two about writing music that people will respond to.

“They told you that I was real, when the fact that I was make-believe was most of my appeal.”

Now the hook. Wait till all the people who say I can’t sing hear this. I’m already up so high, but I know my voice can hit another level. I close my eyes and let go of everything.

“It’s me,” I sing.

There’s no Auto-Tune.

“Nice to meet you.”

There’s no harmony.

“I’m not binary.”

There’s no one singing along.

“And I’m not see-through.”

I sink further into the music. I don’t care about Khan or Lara. I’m free. I soar through the rest of the song and then it’s over. I open my eyes.

Immediately, it’s obvious something’s wrong. It’s the lack of noise. Or maybe it’s the awkwardness of it.

One song into a set, the crowd are always at their most gleeful.

But not tonight.

I wait a second.

Maybe they’re not sure that the song is over.

Everything’s still weird.

Then another second.

Still weird.

Start N-N-N-N-Nineteen from chapter 1.