“You’re just not…”
“You just don’t move like…”
“We are looking for something a bit...”
“Next!” Says the small brained, beautiful one they all aspire to be.
I leave the stage. Breadstick meets me in the wings. Breadstick is the opposite of me, thin with no breasts and hair as straight and yellow as raw spaghetti. She would never do something as stupid as an audition for the fake tan gang’s dance act.
“You were excellent.’’ She says.
I stomp into the schoolyard, my nose held high, chest puffed, hair swinging. I let my fury be known without words. But I cannot contain my words. The heat of the sun has boiled my restraint.
“I have too much rhythm. That is it Breadstick. I have too much rhythm to dance with those girls and I do not need fake tan. I am a dancer. An immense dancer. They are not dancers.”
I address these words to Breadstick, but I am not quiet. My words are an announcement which reaches every pupil within a hundred meter radius. Including Haz. Or as I call him, That White Prick.
“They said no, didn’t they?” He says. “You can’t dance.” His troupe of troglodytes gather.
“I can dance.” I say and give him my haughtiest of looks.
“Oti, don’t bother with them.” Says Breadstick.
“You can’t dance for shit.” Says That White Prick.
“I can dance.”
“You can’t dance for shit and you’re too fucking fat. You...” That White Prick points in my face. “...are a reject.”
“I can dance. I am amazing.”
“You’re shit.” He says and his friends snigger.
“Oti, forget it.” Says Breadstick.
“Music.” I say.
“Oti!” Says Breadstick. A crowd has assembled..
“MUSIC!” I demand.
A year seven fishes a speaker from a bag, bluetooths it to a phone and starts the beats. Big beats. I sway. Raise my face to the sun, let my closed eyelids redden with English summer heat, and move. One big step, a slide, a shimmy. I am off! No skinny fake tan dancing. My body becomes the waveform of a physics teacher’s wet dream. My titties shake, my booty gyrates. I give them the full Oti. Every drop of my milkshake. There is a ring of faces around me now. They clap. Then a voice, just one, chants “Oti”. For a split second, nothing. The crowd considers if it should give approval. But I have them.
“Oti, Oti, Oti!”
“Enough!” I say and hold one hand up. “Oti can dance. Oti will enter the talent show. And Oti will win.” I puff my chest with pride. This is my moment.
“She’s a freak!” Shouts That White Prick. “Look, she has no shadow.”
Every eye in the schoolyard, including mine, examines the surrounding ground. He is right. There is no shadow.
All afternoon I am plagued by kids looking for my shadow, but it is not there. Even skinny Breadstick has a shadow. How can I dance at the talent show without a shadow? That night I go to my mother.
“Mother, why do I not have a shadow?” She circumnavigates me, confirming to herself that I cast no shadow. Then, she pinches me, as if checking I am real.
“Ouch.” I say.
“Oti Opoku, where is your shadow? You are a big, fat, sinful lump. You should have a shadow. Maybe when you have been to church your shadow will return.”
That is all the help my mother gives me. The next morning, in registration, I take Miss Percy to one side.
“Miss Percy, why do I not have a shadow?” She lowers her glasses, examines me, and, placing her hand in the light from the window, examines that too.
“Oti” she says, “where is your shadow? You are a girl, all girls cast a shadow. Look at the shape my hand casts on the wall. Maybe when you have your period, your shadow will come back.”.
After school, I go to see Uncle Ronnie at his office. He is busy in his suit, but finds some time for me between calls on his phone and taps on his keyboard. I ask the question.
“Uncle Ronnie, why do I not have a shadow?” He adjusts his anglepoise light, blinds me, and replies.
“Oti, where is your shadow? You are black. Being black means you cast a shadow. That is a fact. Go home and read, a better educated brain will cast a shadow.”
I go to church for the next two Sunday, even though I hate it. No shadow appears. I read three books. No shadow appears. On the Tuesday of the third week, exactly one week before the talent show, my period comes. Allowing three days to pass, I conclude that my period will not bring back my shadow. For the next four days, I worry. When I step on that stage to dance, the lights will shine, but I will cast no shadow.
“Breadstick.” I say. “What am I going to do?”
“Forget about the shadow. Let your dancing do the talking. I will see you tonight at the stage door to wish you luck, but now I have to go to the library.” She says and gives me a boney hug.
At the stage door, I am a blubber of quivers. Cakings of makeup does not hide the sneers from the fake tan gang. They go to the stage before me. We are the penultimate and the ultimate acts. Even as they set foot on stage, the audience fill the hall with cacophonous applause. Their instagrammic beauty eclipses and substitutes any talent they may have. I shrink. Why did I do this? What kind of idiot would declare in the blistering sun of the schoolyard that they would win this talent show? Who am I to follow them? I have not danced since I lost my shadow. Breadstick appears just as I am about to lose my shit.
“Listen to that.” I say. “How can I follow that? What will they say about my shadow?”
She comes close to me. I feel the heat of her breath on my ear.
Her whisper cuts through all the noise.
“I know why you lost your shadow.”
“I know why you lost your shadow.”
“How can you know that? Breadstick, do not do this to me right now.”
“You danced in the sun and you were as hot as its fire.” She says. “You danced like a flame, you shone like a beacon. Oti, sources of light do not cast a shadow and you became a source of light.”
“Oti!” Shouts Marcus White, the pop-eyed stage hand, as he stares at my tits. “Oti you are on.”
Breadstick pushes me from the wings. I walk to the stage, passing the fake tan gang as they leave. They are balls of chattery teenage energy flush with impending victory. The crowd roared like lions for them, but they are silent now. Predators waiting for their victim. The bare boards of the stage dare me to step forward, but I cannot.
“You are a flame. Dance!”
Breadstick whispers as she shoves me forwards. I stumble onto the stage, there is only one thought in my mighty brain.
Sources of light do not cast a shadow.
I am a source of light.
I give them the full Oti.
All of my milkshake.
The post show wait is intolerable. The wings are crammed with talent show competitors, all twitching with nerves. The Head Mistress, Mrs Ridley, spouts some unutterable nonsense about God, talent, hard work, and raffle tickets. Fidgety parents and silent children tolerate this until the judges hand Mrs Ridley a slip of white paper. She ceases the drivel and announces.
“The winner of tonight’s talent contest is the outstanding...Oti Opoku!”
I do not need a shove from the diminutive Breadstick. No, I stride onto the stage. The crowd erupts. I bow.
The stage lights power on behind me. My music begins. I dance triumphant. All before me is darkness.
The world is in my shadow.