As I walked into the mall where my school was located I noticed immediately that a massive stage had been set up in the middle of the lobby. This wasn’t that unusual of an occurrence so I made my way up to the fourth floor and checked in. My boss, a plump overly generous Chinese man finds me in the break room.
“Hey. There is a talent show today. In the lobby. You are a judge. Okay?”
“Good. You going now?”
I put my phone away and take the elevator back down the lobby. Three of the Chinese teachers are sitting at a small table facing the stage and a whole mess of people have begun flooding into the stands. I wait. Once everyone has finished window shopping the Gucci store and using the bathroom, all seats have been filled. One of the Chinese teachers gives me a stack of little slips.
“1 or 10” she says to me, and turns away.
“1 through 10?” I ask.
She doesn’t respond. There is applause as a young boy steps onto the stage. He introduces himself in Chinese and then in English and begins singing. He sings half of the American National Anthem. Everyone cheers. When he finishes he looks at us expectantly. The Chinese teacher to my right hands me a microphone.
“Ask him a question.” She snaps.
“Uh. What is your favorite sport?” I say weakly.
“Soccer” the boy responds. The Chinese woman to my left nudges me.
“No ask him why he wants to learn English.”
“Okay” I look back up at the boy and ask “Why do you want to learn English?”
He thinks for a moment and says “To talk to friends on League of Legends.”
A few parents laugh. I thank him and he gets off the stage. I give him a 7. The Chinese teacher takes my slip and places it in a special space in her purse.
The next twenty or so contestants are the same. They get up on stage, introduce themselves, do something boring, answer my question, then leave. Somewhere in the midst of this calm sea of boredom a young girl gets up on the stage. Everything proceeds per usual. She introduces herself, smiles at the right time, her English is impeccable. Then it moves on to her talent. She lifts the violin case she’d placed beside her, pulls it out and begins to play. She stops on a drawn out note. She places the violin in its case and does a slow back bend into a flip. She begins floating around the stage to music that rose from nowhere. She twirls and faces us. She smiles.
It looks as though someone slapped a sticker where her mouth should have been; so perfect, clean and white.
Her eyes are dead.
She falls to the ground and moves into a faster paced dance. Every move perfectly executed. Then, she pulled herself back to center stage and began singing. The music fades out and then in to a slow melody. She sings in English. One of those old songs I always remind myself to look up but, never do. If I close my eyes I might have been listening to the radio. It doesn’t go on long. When she finishes she bows with calculated grace. She picks up her violin and steps off the stage. People clap, politely. I give her full marks. Into the purse they go.
The first kid won. I later learned that his father had paid for the grand prize: a trip to America. He comes up on stage and bows obnoxiously.
In the bustling crowd I see the little ballerina being led away by a mother who won’t look at her. The weight of the violin tugs at her arm. Her dead eyes are crying.
***RUSSIAN TRANSLATION IN COMMENTS BELOW***