Twenty-five minutes past nine.

Rozena Claasens tried not to keep looking at the clock above the classroom door. How could five minutes take so long? It seemed like the hands would never crawl all the way to half-past nine, when the bell would ring and the class would finally be over, and then …

She swallowed, her mouth dry. “Breathe.” That’s what her mother had told her that morning when she left for school. “If you feel scared today, remember to breathe.”

Rozena closed her eyes and tried to take a deep, slow breath.

“… if you would be so kind, Rozena?”

Rozena’s eyes flew open. Mrs Davids, her teacher, was standing right at her desk. She must have asked a question, but Rozena had not heard a word of it.

“Well, Miss Claasens?” Mrs Davids looked down at her, eyebrows raised.

Rozena felt her face grow hot with embarrassment. Her classmates moved in their chairs and somebody giggled. “Uh,” she said, and blinked in confusion. “I’m sorry, Ma’am …”

But to her relief, Mrs Davids smiled. “A little distracted this morning, Rozena? When is the interview happening?”

“Just now, Ma’am,” said Rozena. “Twenty to ten.”

“Are you nervous?”

Rozena nodded, not trusting herself to speak. She knew that her voice would shake.

“Is this for the Rising Star competition?” asked a girl from the back of the class. “Is it today?”

“That’s right, Monique,” answered Mrs Davids. “We should all be proud of Rozena. She’s been chosen as one of the semi-finalists in the Rising Star competition. She’s being interviewed today, to see if she’ll go through to the final round. Rising Star are looking for talented young people in schools from all over South Africa. Today, Rozena will be showing the judges her competition project.”

Mrs Davids paused to frown at one of the boys at the back of the room. “Trevor Africa! How many times do I have to tell you to sit up properly? And put on your tie.”

She glared at a tall boy who slouched in his desk at the back of the class. Rozena was not surprised at the interruption. Trevor had a bad reputation. Not many teachers were bold enough to try to discipline him. He was older than many of his classmates and the rumours said that he hung out with gangsters, and had even been in trouble with the police more than once.

But Mrs Davids had soon turned her attention from Trevor and was asking Rozena another question. “What will happen next, Miss Claasens? If this interview is successful?”

“If I do well today, Ma’am,” Rozena explained, “the Rising Star people will fly me to Joburg. The final round of the competition is happening there. That’s where they choose the new Star Kid, the winner of the competition.”

Mrs Davids opened her mouth for another question but the bell rang and her words were drowned out by the noise of everyone getting up out of their seats. Rozena picked up her bag too, her heart pounding. It was nearly time for the interview.

“Well, good luck to you,” said Mrs Davids. “I’m sure you’ll do fine, Rozena!”

Rozena’s best friend, Emma, was waiting just outside the classroom door. “It’s time, it’s time!” Emma was breathless with excitement. “Come on! Hurry up. Wait. Your hair.” Her fingers went to Rozena’s head, plucking and smoothing.

“Emma!” Rozena tried to duck away, but Emma wouldn’t let her. “I don’t have time!”

“You can’t go looking like this. There.” Emma stood back, studying her friend critically. “Now you’re ready.”

Emma and Rozena walked quickly down the corridor towards the school hall, where the Rising Star interviews were happening. Emma was bubbling over with excitement, but by now Rozena was so nervous she could hardly hear what her friend was saying.

Everyone seemed to know what was going on. Boys and girls stared at Rozena as she passed. Even some of the older, popular kids were paying attention.

“Did you see that?” gasped Emma as they drew near the door to the hall. “Devon smiled at you! Devon Smit!” She looked back at the handsome Grade 12 boy. “He smiled, Roz!”

But all Rozena’s attention was on what she could now see inside the school hall. There were people standing around with clip-boards, adults she’d never seen before. There were lights on stands and two movie cameras. Could they be television cameras? The lights and cameras were all pointing at a single chair.

Rozena came to a stop, feeling sick to her stomach.

That must be the chair she’d be sitting in, just a few minutes from now, doing the competition interview.

“Breathe”.

She took a deep breath, and stepped through the door.

“Welcome! You must be Rozena.”

A woman with glossy blond hair and lots of make-up smiled at Rozena and took her hand. “Hello. I’m Melinda Gosling. I’m one of the representatives of the Rising Star competition.” Melinda’s hand was warm and her eyes were friendly. Rozena felt herself relax a little bit.

“Good luck!” Rozena turned to see Emma waving frantically at the door. “You can do it!” But a man closed the door on Emma before Rozena could answer her friend.

Tell us: Do you find presenting your work or ideas exciting, or nerve-wracking?

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