Mavis stood near me at the entrance as Tanga, Morero, and Aagar finished on the stage. It was weird seeing it all set up, professional like, when there were no rows of chairs, no audience, only the camera woman, Mrs. Levendal with a clipboard, and two matric students working the lights and sound. When they finished, our applause sounded hollow, echoed, it gave me the chills.
“Don’t you back out now,” hissed Mavis.
I straightened my shoulders as Mrs. Levendal and the group approached.
“Listen,” I said, as they stopped in front of me, “I decided to do something different this year.”
“I see,” Mrs. Levendal said, looking me up and down.
“Problem?” I said, lifting my heavily made up chin. She couldn’t see much under Ma’s wool coat, but it was a classy one, cut for a woman’s figure, and fell just below the knee, leaving my sparkly heels in full view.
She shook her head. “No, no, it’s fine. It’s only,” she looked into my eyes, framed with false eyelashes, “unexpected.”
The beatboxers cracked up, but through their mirth Taga said, “It’s always the quiet ones that surprise you. Who knew Theo could really dance.”
“More flexible than I am,” Mavis said.
Morero swallowed her laughter. “And this, I want to see.”
Mrs. Levendal shifted on her feet, glancing at her clipboard. “Not really supposed to have––”
“We’ll stand two meters apart,” Aagar said.
“Ja,” Mavis said.
“Three meters if you want,” Taga said.
“In the back,” Morero said.
Mrs. Levendal threw up her hands. “Fine, fine, let’s do it. I have two more groups after,” she gestured to me, “whatever this is Theo is doing.”
“Draaaaaag,” Mavis grinned, “and Miss Fassie Fitzgerald can werk it.”
I took to the middle of the stage and stood in darkness. The music began and the spotlight turned on, creating a tunnel of light around me. As I slowly lifted my painted face to the camera, I began lip-syncing to the song I’d selected. It wasn’t jazz, although I’d considered it. Nor was it the latest rage. But “This Is Me” from The Greatest Showman was all kinds of perfect for my first public appearance as Miss Fassie Fitzgerald, Drag Queen extraordinaire.
The music shifted, my coat dropped, revealing my mother’s white vintage Latin dress, and I began to dance for my life. Despite being told to be quiet, my friends began cheering, clapping, and whistling in the background. As I spun, strutted, and arched my back, I felt myself own that stage. When I nailed the death drop, the cheering from the back went crazy.
It hit me that it wasn’t just my friends back there ignoring the ‘rona rules, but possibly most of Group A and for a split second, so fast light couldn’t have caught the emotion, I felt fear.
But then I snapped my head back towards, the camera, reached for ceiling, as my legs stretched, long, lean, and strong, eating up the stage underneath me, and the next spin it felt as if somebody was lifting holding my waist, making sure I had my balance, even as I transitioned into a dip, with my leg extended up towards the heavens.
In that moment I knew my daddy was with me. That he understood that I wasn’t quitting the trumpet, I was just taking a moment to regroup and show another side of me. Because being a trumpet player was me, but so was Miss Fassie Fitzgerald. And with that, I struck the final pose, and the crowd in the back went nuts. It took another half a beat before I realised the loudest person was Mrs. Levendal, smacking her clipboard on her thigh, as she let out a piercing whistle that her facemask didn’t have a hope of holding back.
But the best moment was when I came off stage, replaced my facemask, and Mavis handed me my phone. There was a WhatsApp message from Ma: Saw the whole thing via WhatsApp video. You were sickening. I am totally gagged. Love you, my boy.
Those words meant everything. Because while I knew Ma would still have questions of my new way of self-expression, and worries that the world remains unsafe for people like me, it is a lot easier to be brave with love and support behind you.
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