There was something not quite right. A problem on stage, about to unfold before us.
We were watching a bunch of kids, all around four or five, dressed in bright colours and glitter, carrying pom poms.
They were about to perform some sort of very basic routine. Having seen dozens of similar pieces at various dance and cheer competitions, it would usually be my cue to doze off. But not this time.
Most of the girls were smiling and laughing. One was waving madly at grandma. The crowd had a giggle at that.
But further up the line, someone wasn’t smiling. A little girl, with dark straight hair, and large, wide eyes. Terrified eyes.
It’s common to see a little one apprehensive at these events. There are thousands of people watching. It must be daunting at the best of times.
Usually, after a slow start, they get into the spirit of things, and have some fun. Or they burst into tears, and run in the direction of mum.
Very rarely, do they freeze. So completely that all the eyes of the audience have nowhere else to look. That’s what was happening here.
The music started, some bubble gum pop song, and the other girls started doing their thing. Running, and jumping, and pom pom-ming.
But the Little Girl with the Big Eyes was doing nothing. Stuck solid, on the spot, right there on the stage.
At first, we could see the funny side of it. It was kind of cute. A girl all dressed up, with nowhere to go.
As the routine went on, it became harder to smile. The Little Girl with the Big Eyes couldn’t move. Not a muscle. She wasn’t crying. She wasn’t doing anything. Just standing, looking out to the audience. Possibly for someone to save her.
If her dance partners had noticed her plight, they weren’t letting on. They were too busy performing. It was almost as if the Little Girl with the Big Eyes didn’t exist.
Someone bumped into her, as the steps ventured in her direction. Still, not a movement.
Towards the end, the girls had to join hands. But their circle had a broken link. The Little Girl with the Big Eyes couldn’t reach out. So they formed it without her.
By this time, we just wanted it to end. It was painful. Something that should have been fun, had become a torture session. And we were paying spectators.
The music stopped. We cheered, partly for the other kids, but mostly for the Little Girl with the Big Eyes. Please, give us a smile. Show us that everything is ok.
But she didn’t. Couldn’t. It was over, four minutes of hell, and still she couldn’t move. Her tiny friends ran gleefully from the stage. Leaving her alone. On that same spot.
Finally, mercifully, a woman ran on and scooped her up. I swear her arms and legs were stiff. It was like bundling up a little statue.
We exhaled. It was over.
I don’t know where she was from. Or where mum and dad were. I just hope the Little Girl with the Big Eyes was given the biggest ice cream there is that night. And that someone explained to her how dancing should be fun.
I hope she danced in her bedroom that night. Maybe even sang into a hairbrush. And forgot all about that stage. Somehow, I doubt it.