From nowhere there appears a young white man of about thirty whose angularity of face and body has a forceful irreducibility, a toughness of will and a perceptive directness that cause me to feel two reactions at once: envy of what can only be called his all-around coolness; and a faint pang of inexplicable sorrow. But now he smiles and in a laid-back Scots accent says, “Hey, how’s it going?” and shakes my hand.
My room has a window just beneath the eaves, overlooking a pleasant square of trees and grass on the inland side of the Metropolitan. As I freshen up, I wonder who else has been allotted this room over the years. Who else has paced up and down here, or sprawled on the bed, before being shepherded down to perform in one of the studios? I check my clothes, freshen up my make-up in the mirror, set my phone to silent and leave it on the table. Ten to seven. I pour myself a coffee from the pot on the table, sit in the armchair by the window and consume a chocolate bar from a handy plate of snacks.
Calm and focus … calm and focus.
A knock at my door, then another at Alaia’s. We emerge from our doors at the same moment and join Evelyn in the corridor. Alaia has changed into a smooth and elegant black silk dress, at which I smile approvingly. “OK, so they won’t see it,” she says, “but they’ll hear it.”
“Sure is one hell of a noisy dress,” chirps Evelyn as we bustle along the corridor.
“I didn’t mean it in that sense,” returns Alaia crisply.
We are led back down to the main hallway, then down a long, dim corridor, till we reach a door beneath a green light. Inside it is a low-lit and low-ceilinged room full of impressive-looking audio-visual equipment. “Hey,” says Rik. The door clicks shut behind us, and another light above it on this side changes from green to red. “So here we are. Everything’s set up, ready to mesh with your inputs: lights, cameras, sound, stadium audience, big screen.”
“Where’s the rest of the broadcast crew?” I ask.
“Oops,” says Alaia.
“No worries! It’s just us four here, but I’m looking at the rest of the team in New York, through the monitor here.” He does a thumbs-up sign at a monitor whose back is facing us, then grins. “He just gave me the finger. The cheek of it, you can’t get the staff these days. Anyway, we’re all set, they might as well be in the same room with us. Do we have any mobile phones here?” We shake our heads. “Are we absolutely sure?” We nod. “Good. Alaia, if you could take a seat in the sound booth,” and he points through the door of what looks like a built-in wardrobe, where a tiny but comfortable cupboard space contains the same set-up we’ve rehearsed with: a microphone at which she can stand or sit, facing a monitor that displays where I shall be. “Bit of a noisy dress,” comments Rik, as Alaia shuts herself inside and Evelyn clears her throat. “You won’t be thrashing around too much in there, I hope? Because I tell you, these mics—”
“That’s it, then,” he pronounces quietly. “Jaymi, if you’d like to give it those last looks.” As I blot and lightly powder, I notice he is speaking in a slower, softer voice than before, with a simple, serious calm. He would have the right stuff as an astronaut, I think. I could also imagine him walking over with authoritative calm to take the gun out of a gunman’s hand. “We have ten minutes left,” he says. “Any burning questions from either of you, please ask. If not, may I suggest you both just remain still in your own spaces and don’t move. Rest … and focus. When the time comes, I shall say a countdown from ten to one, indicating seconds remaining till we’re live on air. ‘One’ will be the last thing you hear from me. Then a second later you’ll hear and feel the space of the stadium. Then off you go—it’s all yours.” He pauses. “Are you both set?”
And no further word is said.
Within a few seconds after this cessation of all verbiage, I become aware of every tiny sound and movement around me in the studio. Evelyn moves, somewhere not far behind me. I let my eyelids gently sink, and start to still my mind.
Hundreds of millions of eyes, around the earth, are about to focus only on my face and Alaia’s sound—none of them, except for a handful who work in the General Network, knowing quite what to expect of us.
The biggest thing I’ve ever done.
Probably the biggest thing I’ll ever do.
And soon I grow as focused, as calm and as alone as I have ever been.
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