“15 minutes!” I shouted to everyone backstage, holding open all five fingers on my left hand and opening and closing the ones on my right. “Fifteen minutes till showtime!” The cast looked up at me and then redoubled whatever they were doing. Final swipes of make-up. Last minute check of the battery on the wireless microphones. There’s not an empty seat in the house. The orchestra is warmed up and looking at the stage anxiously. The night is looking beautiful. I’m the director and I’m starting to feel pretty good about this play.
And I feel a tug at my arm, courtesy of Evan. At ten years old he’s the youngest cast member by a solid decade. I know very little about him other then he’s proved more dependable than a child ought to be and his parents are in the middle of a nasty split.
“Can I borrow one?” he asks.
“One what?” I say.
“One of your fifteen minutes?”
Mighty poetic for a ten-year-old, but it’s what he said, so I nodded.
“Well, I’ve been watching a lot of YouTube videos lately, watching songs in different languages. Mostly Latin, Italian, and Japanese.”
I don’t know what I expected him to say, but this was not it.
“And,” he said, sensing my stress level rising and hurrying up to accommodate it. “I’ve memorized the Latin one.”
I looked at him blankly.
“So, can I sing it for you?”
I looked around. I was supposed to be onstage, making announcements. “How long is it?” I asked. He looked at me strangely.
“One minute. That’s why I asked to borrow just one.”
“Oh,” I said. “Well…” those eyes. “Yes, of course. Sing it for me.”
And he launched into a Latin song with the confidence of a bird leaping off a balcony. For about the ten seconds I looked at my watch, and then I realized that something very important was happening.
I put my eyes on Evan’s and just listened. I can not remember anything about how it sounded, but I cannot forget how he looked. I wondered how many people he’d asked to listen to this song before. I wondered if his childhood would be hard or easy, and figured it would be hard. What chance does a child who memorizes Latin for fun have in junior high?
One minute later, he closed his mouth and looked at me with a close-lipped smile. And I put him on my shoulders and ran around with him backstage while he laughed and laughed, but I felt sad for some reason. The show started about five minutes late.
The next day, I recounted this experience to a friend over pizza and beer. As I finished up, a young punk walked by us with an orange Mohawk and chains hanging from every limb. He tripped over my chair and turned back to gnash his teeth at me.
“What’s his deal?” I asked.
My friend watched him walk away. “It could be,” he said, “that nobody ever listened to his Latin song.”