Singing Alone - E. D. James

Sai couldn’t tell if she had connected with the girl. The questions ran out and then they sat in silence for a moment. The gentle murmurs of the house seemed to become louder to fill the space between them. Finally the girl looked up, “Would you like to come to a performance at my school next week?”

Sai hardly knew what to say. Confronted with the notion of appearing in public, of people potentially knowing that Sai was the one who had abandoned the day old child, Sai felt vulnerable. But then her heart began to grasp onto the vision of seeing her daughter on stage and getting a chance to see a bit of her life overcame her fears, “I would love that.”

Every morning for the next week Sai woke thinking she would call and tell the girls parents that she couldn’t come to the performance. Each day as she headed down to the streetcar stop she would plan the day and schedule a time to make the call. But then, when the lighted windows of the streetcar would come into view down the tracks, Sai would think back to her days of scanning the faces and how desperately she had wanted to find this girl. Now she knew the girl. Now she even had a chance to be a part of her life. The day would pass and Sai wouldn’t make the call.

The scene outside the high school auditorium was bright and loud with the energy of teenagers and parents. Sai walked up towards the crowd feeling anonymous and exposed at the same time. She could see the girls parents standing with a group of other parents chatting and laughing. At the last minute, Sai felt overwhelmed and veered off down a long dark hallway. She found a spot where she could stand and just see the edge of the crowd. She felt safer at the edge of the light. As the crowd began to filter into the auditorium Sai moved closer and followed the last people into the auditorium.

By the time she got through the doors all of the seats had been taken. Sai stood with the other late comers at the back. Fortunately the people around her were occupied with their friends and family so they seemed to pay no attention to Sai standing quietly alone trying to fade into the paneling. She relaxed only when the lights went down.

The faces and the energy of the teens on the stage took her breath away. Chinese high schools had none of the happy intensity that these children exuded. College had been all work for Sai as she struggled to learn English and excel in her classes at the same time. She thought about how different the girls life was turning out.

The house lights dimmed and the stage lights came up on a red velvet curtain. A female voice came over the speakers as the curtains began to slowly open. Sai felt herself drawn in by the voice. She could feel the emotion in the moment. As the stage was revealed Sai saw the girl standing at the center of the stage surrounded by the rest of the chorus but singing alone. Almost in spite of herself, Sai felt her eyes well up and a lump catch in her throat.