She always knew she wanted to be rich and famous; she wanted the world to know her name, girls to aspire to be her and boys to want to marry her. She wanted to leave a legacy of strength, ambition, love, change, power and wisdom. She knew it was conceited but she wanted people across the globe to know her name…for her principles, her drive and her humanity. She didn’t want to die without having left a mark in the sands of time. And best of all, she didn’t want the want the fame or money for just herself; she wanted it for everyone she knew.
She was 12 when she realized what she wanted. She took a book and wrote it all down. At 25, she was going to be a millionaire. At 35, she would set up her foundation. At 55, she would have helped at least 50, 000 people in one or the other. When she died at 80, people would troop to her burial and hold vigils in their countries to celebrate the icon that she was. She knew where she was headed and nothing was going to deter her.
She worked hard in school and always came up on top. She was going to be the greatest actor there ever was. She knew it all had to start in high school and she needed to get those grades in good shape for the choice schools she wanted to go to. And she went a little further. She joined every drama team in her small town, ensuring she played every possible role that was open to her. She was preparing for her domination on the world stage. She needed to be ready.
As soon as she was done with her education, she pieced together her show reel, packed a suitcase, counted the money she had hidden in her underwear drawer and left home. She knew her parents would understand. Or not. But she hoped her letter would reassure them that she was doing what was best for her. There was only so much she could do in their small town. And she wasn’t going to waste more time going through the motions.
She jumped on a bus and headed to the big city; a city of lights, camera and action. She knew she was going to be a star! Then she could make money to help people from and in dysfunctional homes.
When she got to the big city, the first thing that hit her wasn’t the beauty of the town or the exotic people. It was the fact that there was so many people who were like her; searching for the spotlight. She wasn’t fazed though. She knew what she was special and people would see her light.
So she worked; hard. Everywhere she heard there was an audition, she went and performed her favorite monologue.
The first time she got a role in film, she was excited. She jumped and danced and laughed. She called home, ecstatic about her role in a crowd scene. It was small; and she knew that. But nothing could contain her excitement. Well…almost nothing.
‘It is just a small role. Why are you so excited? You could be staring in bigger productions here at home.’ Her mother said as soon as she blurted out her ‘good news’. Nothing turned sour quicker. She went through the motions of listening to her mother (and father) and as soon as she could, she hung up. She forced her spirit to seek its light and prepared for the role.
That was the beginning. Every time she walked into an audition, she walked out with a role. They were always small; guaranteeing her 6 seconds of time in the shadow of a star. But she took them all with excitement. She knew that if she kept at it, she would become big and famous and rich.
Soon acting wasn’t enough. Directors were asking that actors sing, dance, play an instrument, juggle, and be proficient with card tricks or whatever tickled their fancy. Not to be left out, she enrolled in all sorts of classes. She took burlesque, magic, singing, martial arts classes and whatever new thing was the rave of the moment. She even took jobs as a gaffer to ensure she was always in the know of film world happenings. She worked hard, slept little, rehearsed a lot, and attended lots of auditions.
While these ensured she always got a role, it didn’t improve her straits. Directors only cast her in small roles with even smaller pay.
Soon, the Ferris wheel began to take its toll. She started to reflect about her life. Why didn’t directors cast her in bigger roles? Was there something she wasn’t doing right? Was she giving off a bad vibe? Was her talent not good enough? Was. She. In. Any. Way. Special?
Reality began to set in. Of course she wasn’t special. If anything, she was…average. There were millions of average people like her and directors saw that every day. She didn’t stand out in a crowd; she fit right in.
She called home, hoping for reassurance from her parents. Her parents were understanding, but they reminded her that she should never have left. She had the world at her feet in their small town, and would have always been a legend. She could always come back home and start again; the town hadn’t forgotten her yet.
She hung up with one resolve; she was never going to call her parents. They didn’t understand that she didn’t want to be queen of a small town. She wanted to be queen of the world! She wanted people from all continents knowing her name. And even if took forever, she was going to achieve that!
Her resolve didn’t force the universe’s hand. Or cause her to get any big roles. And soon her excitement wavered…and like the hamster, she got burned out.
She was 20 when she left home. She was 30 now and hadn’t broken even. She hadn’t made her first million. She was no closer to being a star than when she first saw the stars. Somehow, she had deluded herself into thinking she was good enough to get her own spotlight. She stopped chasing pipe dreams and got herself a real job; a proper job.
Then a young Director called her. He had seen her audition for the last film she was in. He wanted to know if she still acted and would love to be cast in his upcoming movie; a movie already pegged to be a hit.
Her chance had finally come! She was going to be a star! The Director had been voted by Actors’ Digest as the ‘the future of movie directing’. After the hit success of his first movie, he was the person most people wanted to work with. And he chose her!
She wanted the universe to know! She wanted to scream from the top of her lungs! She wanted to call her parents, whom she hadn’t called in years, and share the good news! But she didn’t want to jinx it. So she stayed quiet. Prayed like never before, hope it wasn’t a cruel joke and worked hard at getting her lines.
Shooting time came and she performed; brilliantly. Everyone loved her translation of the role. The Director swore the entire team to secrecy about her, constantly telling her that he wanted her to be his big reveal; Ava Duvernay to his Oprah.
Two years after he first spoke to her, the movie was ready to premiere at Cannes. Everybody was talking about it. People were fighting over themselves to be at the event. Even if the film tanked, or didn’t meet expectations, it was something everyone was going to be talking about for a while.
She called her parents; finally. She had them picked from home in a Rolls Royce, dressed in the finest clothes and beaming with pride. They didn’t know they were finally going to see their daughter on screen. They didn’t even know what to think. But the treatment, the car, the sharp look of their daughter as she welcomed them to yet another flashy car, was enough to make them beam.
As they walked the red carpet, photographers didn’t rush to take shots of her; after all, no one knew her. She smiled. That would end today. Tomorrow, everyone would say her name. Everyone would love her!
They proceeded into the viewing room. She sat with her parents in the second row, right behind the studio executives and power brokers. This was the life!
The lights went out…and the movie started.
Quicksand on a Plateau
One hour forty five minutes later, she sat rooted to her seat, ashen. The last 48 hours began to make sense. The Rolls for her parents, the dress by Deola Sagoe, the refusal by the Director to see her before the premiere and the guilty look when she finally caught his eye.
She had been cut! Every single scene of her had been cut!
‘What a beautiful film. Are you friends with anyone associated with it?’ her mother asked.
She couldn’t speak. She looked at the Director, willing him to turn, to look at her, to say something! She needed an explanation. She needed…ANYTHING! Anything but the taut back bent in shame. Anything but the slight shiver she could see running through him as people congratulated him. ANYTHING!
Two hours later, she still sat there, staring at the blank screen, waiting for an explanation.
‘I am sorry.’
She didn’t need to turn. She knew who was speaking.
‘It wasn’t my call.’
In her head, she scream, ‘you are the bloody fucking director!’ But out loud, she choked.
‘James from Studio 76 didn’t want you in. He said the story could carry itself without you. I am sorry. I swear, I did everything I could. I fought, I threatened to pull the film, I did…I. am. Sorry.’
The CEO of Studio 76 didn’t want her in the film. The biggest film executive in the country had decided that she shouldn’t be in his film. She didn’t cry. She couldn’t. Nothing was more painful than the hurt of watching her hope die.
‘It was just stupi…..’
‘WHY?!’ she jumped up and screamed, voice hoarse from holding all that pain in.
‘He thought you were too old for the role. He wanted a younger person with a different type of body.’
She looked at him, shaking. ‘Why?’
He didn’t need to ask her what she meant.
‘I wanted you to feel like a star, because you are a star! I wanted you to know that you deserved to walk the red carpet and be talked about, I want you to know that you are special and what you have….’
She wasn’t listening any longer. She walked away from him, not thinking, not hearing or seeing anything. She just wanted to be home, in her bed, so she could die.
One month after the film was released, it was still the talk of tinker town. Everyone was enamored of the movie. Critics were impressed with the cinematography, the graduation of the story, the directing and the score. But…many critics unanimously agreed that there was something missing in the story, something that could have made it among the greats, and something that could have given it a bigger umph. No one could pinpoint what it was; no one that is, except everyone who was a part of the film. The cast and crew knew what the umph was; who the umph was. But no one talked about it, ashamed that they had not done more, had not stood up to Studio 76.
And as the film raked in more money globally, they soon forgot about her. She was a fantastic actor. She would get another role and excel at it.
That month, she followed all the stories. She saw and listened to everything about the film. She searched for her name in everything, hoping that someone at least mentioned her. She didn’t want to believe that she had been completely erased from the process. She prayed and hoped and believed that someone, anyone, would mention her in the success of this story.
NO. ONE. DID.
Every time she didn’t find her name, she died a little more.
She didn’t even know that she was pulling out her hair until there was bald splotches on her head. She was barely eating and didn’t take her bath for the entire month. Her room was a mess and stank to high heavens.
She didn’t notice it at all. And even if she did, she didn’t care. She was fixated with finding a mention of her name in relation to the success she had given two years of her life to.
She was struggling. And the more she struggled, the more she sunk into the nothingness that seemed to envelop her.
Then, on the first day that the film wasn’t mainstream news, she finally went into a rage! She broke everything in sight, screamed till her lungs pleaded to burst. The she cried, and cried and then some. When her body was spent, she collapsed into the debris on her floor. As she heaved, struggling to calm her exploding heart, she saw that her nose was the only thing above the quicksand that was her life. She pulled a long breath, sighed, and let herself drown.
Six Feet Down
As she felt her soul prepare to depart her body, she finally allowed herself to remember that day, fifty years ago, when she gave up.
When she woke up from being unconscious, she had forced herself to get up and for the first time in a month, went into the bathroom and showered. She didn’t even feel pain as the water touched scrapes on her body. She was numb.
After her bath, she cleaned her house, packed her things, ate a sandwich and headed back home to her small town.
She moved back into her old room, stripped the wall of everything that reminded her of all she had aspired to, removed the television, radio and books from her room and took them to the attic. She never watched the television, nor listened to the radio or even read a book again.
She applied to be the janitor of her high school and settled into a routine.
She woke up, showered and ate, went to work, came home, prepared a meal for her parents, ate with them and went to sleep. That defined her life.
Her parents tried to get her to be more interested in anything, but she always responded in one way; she smiled that sad smile and shook her head.
When her parents died, she barely cried. She continued her routine until today, when she could barely get out of her bed. And so she remembered.
Would her life have been better if she had tried again? Would she have been rich and famous? Would people have known her name? Would she have been able to help anyone?
She smiled at herself. There was no guarantee that it would have happened.
She had given herself to the opportunity she thought was her big break. Turned out it was a quicksand on a plateau; and she drowned. She couldn’t put her heart out there like that again. She didn’t have a heart to put out again.
Because she died that day at the premiere; and her body was just catching up.
Her last thought as she slept forever was that no one got to know her name.
Not even you.