The ceremony for the Kinsley Award in Literature is being held today at the Asimov Concert Hall. The award is given to, in the words of Feodor Asimov, “the most essential creators of literature of our time.” The Russian Academy has yet to announce me to the public as the granted party for this year’s award, and as I look around from behind the curtain, through all the black and white suits and colored gowns, the expressions of the crowd surrender to the importance of the event. The hidden quirks of their faces intensify, contort and grow more anxious as the seconds pass.
The symphonic orchestra warms up and waits in place. Soft sounds from violin strings and wind instruments echo behind the low rumbling noise of the audience. There must be at least five thousand people here. Some stand and pace the floor, or introduce themselves and make small talk with the ones around them. Others sit and shake their feet, bite their nails and lips or hold on tight to the armchair or the hand of the woman beside them. I have never experienced an event so equally magnificent and ridden with unease.
The chaos of backstage starts to settle and I know it won’t be long until the ceremony begins. I walk down the stairs near the side of the stage and make my one and only round across the hall. I catch eyes with a man in the front row. His wrinkled face scowls, scoffs and looks back toward his group. He grabs the shoulder of a younger man beside him, well dressed and confident in posture, who stares over with a look that seems to know me.
His focus drifts toward the stage where I stood moments before and his eyes well with disappointment. Part of me wants to thank them for giving me some insight into the type of reactions I should expect from more than half the room when my name is announced. But for now, while I still have my anonymity, the others pay no attention. They are all too high on the air of anticipation that permeates the room.
“Xavier?” says a voice from behind.
I feel a tap on my arm. I turn around to see Eric Asimov staring back at me. His black, marble eyes shoot open and he grabs at his arm. He sticks it straight out and his hand shakes as though a fire waits in mine. “It’s hard to believe you even exist.” he says.
The last time we spoke in person was a year ago at the Flanc Galleria for the opening of his client’s art show. He was twenty pounds lighter. I recall the slight cracking noises of his bones and the painful groans he’d let out when he’d move. He walked over to me half-conscious, unaware of the small furs that grew on the most unnatural places of his skin, and introduced himself. Maybe it was the diverse glow of color from the paintings or the summer light streaming through the glass, but compared to the beauty of the room, he looked like a corpse – with barely enough blood and breath to keep him balanced.
His teeth are a few cigarette shades darker and he still has the same wormy posture, but he is healthier now. His progress isn’t so apparent to others but he has managed to keep my attention just enough for me to take notice of it. He doesn’t demand much beside a few e-mails and phone calls and he keeps trivial conversation to himself.
“It’s great to see you’re doing well.” I say.
“Much better.” his head springs into a rapid nod and his eyes jump across the room. “I’d like to talk more personally but… what are you doing on the ground floor?”
“The ceremony starts in fifteen minutes. You had enough time to shake one hand and you chose to shake mine. We need to get back up there.”
The lights start to dim and the audience settles into their seats. The bright copper lights fade to black and a spotlight shines on the orchestra just as we arrive backstage. Everything falls silent.
“And now here comes Viktor Burkov to conduct Symphony number nine by Andrei Senkin.”
The audience erupts into applause. I can feel the vibrations of the entire hall beneath my feet. It lasts for a few moments, dies out as soon as the orchestra plays its first note, and builds up again with the echo of music until the very end of the symphony.
“The lights are building. It’s time.” says Eric. We rush behind the curtain where we are unable to be seen. A tall, old man approaches the podium. His voice is worn, crass and unsure of itself as he stutters over his words. My mind dulls, dissociating from the happenings around me, and I become less and less interested until all sound eventually fades.
I look between the small opening where the curtain meets the wall and peer out. They all look the same under this light; a sea of people all dressed in proper clothes, wearing the same vacant expressions while they take in the important words of an old man. None of it seems real. What once was a room filled with anxiety and diverse expressions of panic and repression has now merged into a unit at the mercy of a single man behind a podium in the middle of a stage. It is all too objective of a position from where I stand to see them as anything other than stripped of their individuality.
Suddenly, their faces revert back to how they appeared earlier while I was on the ground floor, and for a moment, they take on the same expression of the young man in the front row; except this time, it is covered with a smile as soon as it fades.
Everyone stands. They clap and the vibrations start up again, but it is Eric’s push that sends my attention rushing back to the noise around me.
“Go," he says. "He called your name."