When Toby got home after school, he thought about Nelly. If only he could turn off the feelings he had for her, then he would not need to avoid her during the remaining periods of the day.

After getting home, he began his preparations for the following day’s talent search competition. Doris was snoring on the couch with an empty bottle of Black Label beside her face. Toby waved off the flies that were buzzing over her, and then fetched a blanket from her bedroom to cover her with. If he had was strong enough, he would have picked her up and taken her to her bed.

He knew that the lyrics he needed to write needed to impress the judges, or else the only time he would ever kiss that R100 000.00 prize cheque was when he kissed it goodbye.


The following morning, when Toby’s alarm woke him up, he checked his WhatsApp, but there was no response from Sello. They were supposed to go to the community hall together, but he knew he would meet him there, so that thought calmed him. It also made him feel nervous. He wondered how he was supposed to act around him now.

Doris was still snoring on the couch. After a while, Toby got off his bed, completed all his morning activities, and then headed out to the community hall. When he got there, he did not expect there to be such a big audience, but the outside guards let him in to the backstage after they verified and identified his registered name.

“Oh, it’s you, the rap kid,” one of the guards said after flipping a sheet of paper. “Follow me.”

The guard lead Toby to a big white room that had all the 100 contestants. Toby got inside the room, but there was no sign of Sello. Some of the contestants he saw were magicians. There was also a soccer player with two balls, a squad of dancers dressed in black, some people who appeared normal, maybe they were vocalists or singers; a kid in a BMX bike, and a girl who was dressed in long white cotton tracksuits with a pink short fluffy dress around her waist. She was a ballerina dancer.

When the competition began, contestants got called to the stage one by one. The sounds of the audience reacting to their performances made Toby’s hands shake, and he could not stop rubbing the back of his neck.

“Are you okay?” an old man with white hair asks.

“Yeah … I mean no … I’m just … a little nervous, that’s all,” Toby responded. He then wondered what the old man’s talent might be. He was not carrying any musical instrument, so he figured that he might be a comedian. Toby felt sorry for him because he knew that old people’s humour does not land sometimes.

During the competition, some contestants came back with teary eyes, and others come back with smiley faces. The ballerina girl returned, and she was crying. “Did she really think she was going to entertain a crowd of township residents by doing a ballerina dance on stage?” Toby thought.

After a while, a name got announced from outside the big white room, and a stand-in guy on the door that lead to stage turned to the people in the room. “Toby Moroka, you are up next! Who’s Tony Moroka?” he said, clapping his hand.

“That’s me,” Toby responded, and then got up.

The stand-in guy opened the door for him. “Good luck, buddy,” he said, tapping him on the shoulder.

Toby felt like his heart was about to explode from his chest. He walked to the stage and the audience’s distorting sounds quieten down. He then stood there with a mic, and all eyes are on him.

His sharp breathing trapped his voice from coming out. All those staring faces made him wish he could just melt away from the stage, but that only happened in his head. He then raised the mic to his lips, and his mind began searching for the lyrics he had prepared. He opened his mouth and then, from all the faces looking at him, his eyes caught someone. Those big glasses. It was Nelly Mapula, and she was on the front row section.

Nelly was hitting him with that same smile that had turned her into his crush; the same one he had fallen for. She mouthed “you got this”, and then raises her thumbs to him. Toby then saw a dark hand on Nelly’s shoulder and traced it to its owner’s face, which was Thabo. Six seconds had gone past, and the crowd was starting to boo. Toby was still frozen, so the booing got louder, and paper cups were being thrown at him.

After a while, Toby took one last look at Nelly, let go of the mic, and he ran off the stage. He then charged inside the backstage door, and eventually ran out from the whole venue. He did not know where he was going, but he kept running.


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