Acting as a substitute
Anxious faces peered out fourth storey classroom window. A half of the class were outside the classroom. Some of them were at the balcony; some were waiting at the steps while some went even further to wait at the school-gate. Being the class monitor, I tried to call them back to class. My teacher was at the staff room, walking up and down in front of the telephone. She was waiting for a telephone call from Brenda’s mother.
Brenda, the brain of our class, was hospitalized. She had a sudden attack of asthma during the previous night and was immediately rushed to the hospital. She was to be the last speaker for our class at the finals of the interclass debate to be held that very day. We were confident of her. We were sure that her unbeatable ability to summarize and to rebut would win for our class the prize. This was precisely the reason for everybody’s anxiety, waiting for her with hope.
A little while later, my teacher walked into the class. By the look on her face, we could immediately guess the outcome. She said in a quivering voice, “Brenda won’t be discharged today. So… I’m afraid… I’m afraid that we will have to find a substitute.” There was dead silence in my class. I was standing at the back of the class. Then, painfully, I felt as if sharp pins were piercing my body, pinning me to the wall. Slowly, my eyes met the eyes of forty-two others.
“But… but I… I’m not prepared,” I said stumbling over my words. Suddenly, an idea struck me, “Surely… surely you won’t want m… me to s… stutter like this, do you?” I said, faking the stutter. To my utter dismay, nobody said anything. The forty-two pairs of eyes kept staring at me. My teacher then broke the silence by the sound of her footsteps, walking up to me. She caught hold of my shoulders and said, “Only you can do it. Please don’t let us down.” Realizing the hopelessness of the situation, I nodded quietly. I thought I heard thunder roaring across the sky, but I soon realized that it was a tremendous round of applause by my classmates.
There was not much time left. The three other speakers and I rushed to the library. They quickly briefed me on the motion of the debate which was, “Parents should not over-burden their children with home tuition.” We were supposed to propose the motion. I felt that this was the most difficult task as I relied on a lot on my home tutor. It was certainly difficult to argue for something which we ourselves were against.
At last, the hour arrived. Everybody assembled in the school hall. Backstage I was sitting at the right hand corner of a semi-circle. Directly opposite me was the last speaker from the opponents. I managed to pass a crooked smile to him. My hands shivered as I held on tightly to the cards which contained the points for my arguments.
The curtain parted. Right through the introduction I kept my head down. Not daring to look at the audience. Time seemed to fly, at a tremendous speed. Before I realized it, the debate was open to the floor. I looked up for the first time as I heard a voice from the corner of the hall rebutting a point made by my third speaker. Suddenly, I felt myself on the defensive. I quickly jotted a point on my card. I glanced through the card and realized that I had written quite a lot of points for rebuttal.
The moment arrived. I stood up, my knees knocking vigorously against each other. I forced my voice out. Beginning with the formal greeting, I found my self speaking, pouring out argument after argument. I began to enjoy myself especially when the audience clapped at my good points. I did not even want to stop speaking when my time was over, but I had to. I sat quietly, looking at some of the unsaid arguments on my card. I heard the opponent pouring out his final arguments.
The chairman said excitedly. “The long awaited moment has come. I will now call out the winner of this debate. The best speaker is… Maria of Secondary 4/2.” The other part of the announcement was drowned in the applause. My classmates rushed up the stage, hugging each other. I knew who had won without even listening to the verdict.
I felt elated with pride. My teacher patted me on the back and all the others gathered around me. After the prizes were given away, my classmates again stood up to shout three cheers for 4/2. when every-body else had dispersed from the hall, my teacher unexpectedly shouted, “I knew I had chosen the right substitute.”
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