The Award Ceremony

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The Award Ceremony
by Paul Raworth Bennett

Thinking briefly that he was dreaming – that he wasn’t in that packed theatre after all – Remy leaned forward in his seat, grasped the sides of his walker, and wobbled to his feet. Softly taking her husband’s forearm, Anaïs began to stand as well.

“I’m okay. Really, I’ll be fine”, he gently admonished her.

Anaïs fully understood the gravity of the triumphant moment, how important it was that Remy prevail over his painful, failing legs. For once he didn’t really need them, or anything, or anyone, anymore.  And he looked a little awkward in the suit she’d convinced him to wear, in all the years she’d known Remy, Anaïs had never seen him look more strong or shine more brightly.

His veined, knobby hands gripping the walker, Remy shuffled twenty feet towards the small staircase leading up to the stage. Eleven hundred pairs of eyes followed him and far above in the upper seats, a lone cough pierced the quiet hum of the ceiling fans.

Reaching the base of the stairs, Remy pushed the walker aside, gripped the two polished rails, and slowly ascended. He wobbled on the top step as the young emcee rushed over, his hand outstretched.

“Not to worry, young fella! I’ve got this!” The old man regained his balance.

Anaïs chuckled, Remy’s reflection in her watery eyes. She wasn’t surprised by this moment of pluck; he’d spent a lifetime conquering dissolving staircases far more challenging than this.

After an usher lifted the walker to the stage, Remy took a full minute to journey the forty feet to a spot, centre stage, beside the lectern.  Turning to the right, he surveyed a sea of silent smiles while the emcee stepped up to the mic, looked down at his notes, cleared his throat, and began.

“Dr. Remy Odyssus, it is the Academy’s honor to recognize you for your numerous, unprecedented, exemplary accomplishments as a war-zone photojournalist embedded with our nation’s military during highly dangerous operations.  Your unforgettable images have created widespread public awareness of the devastation of war and of the tremendous courage and resilience of people who have lost literally everything.  Therefore, it is with great pleasure that we award you the Robert Capa Prize for a lifetime of photojournalistic excellence.”

The young man turned to the old man and handed him a glass-framed certificate.  Its several pounds of heft were nothing compared to the heavy metal shackles against which Remy had struggled for almost his entire life.

He briefly wondered whether starting his photojournalism career in his forties really qualified him for any kind of lifetime achievement award – but then he reminded himself how his life had really only begun, after several self-destructive decades, when he finally allowed himself to follow his heart into photojournalism.

“Dr. Odyssus, while you’re up on the stage, would you kindly pose for a few media photos? It should only take a few seconds.”

“Okay” whispered Remy, who normally shunned the limelight.  Standing woodenly, clutching his certificate in one hand and gripping his walker with the other, he smiled awkwardly at the wall of clicks and flashes.

Suddenly, he felt a bodily surge from feelings he’d known very few times in his life – feelings of pride, success, and great accomplishment.  Fumbling for his linen square, he fished it out just in time to catch the large salty trickles that began rolling down his cheeks.

“Is this really happening?” Remy questioned himself, “or is this a dream?”  Despite being published and honored and featured and feted more times than he could remember, he still battled the evil twins of self-doubt and self-loathing.

Regaining his composure, he relaxed and smiled again.  But as soon as he could refocus on the adulating crowd Remy recognized, at front-row-centre, the face of Hector, a dark angel from his childhood.  Hector’s eyes bore two holes in Remy’s chest, filling it with darkness and fear, while his blank face slowly turned from left to right. A suffocating feeling descended upon the old man, who felt like a bird whose wings are being clipped for the thousandth time.

The audience leapt to its feet, filling the room with deafening applause – but Remy could only hear Hector’s sinister hissing voice.

“You know something, Remy? You’re right – you are dreaming, and none of this is actually happening” the voice whispered. “You don’t deserve this. You’re a failure. You’re a fraud!”

His knees buckling, Remy was overcome by a wave of nausea and the searing sensation, felt countless times before, of a knife being slowly twisted into his heart.

“Go back to hell! You evil, rotten bastard! ” he blurted, “You have no power over me!!”

Hundreds of hands rose towards hundreds of gasping mouths. The emcee rushed a chair towards the shaking old man, who was gripping his walker with an almost destructive force.

“Dr. Odyssus? Would you like to sit down? Please!”

“No, thank you young man, I’ll be just fine. I’m so sorry, I just… I just… Please forgive me.”

The shocked audience wondered at this surprise burst of anger. He’d never acted like this before! Was he paranoid, delusional, losing his mind? But then most of them realized that erratic behavior was a hallmark of artistic genius, so the atmosphere quickly lightened again.

And besides, anger wasn’t such a bad thing after all. Expressing one’s emotions was healthy, and Remy had spent most of his life silently screaming from the outside in.

He forced his eyes to confront Hector – but Hector had fled. Strength flooded back into Remy’s body, chasing away the shivers and the pain. The old man steadied himself and stood up straight, and Anaïs’ eyes watered anew.

Remy dried his cheeks again with his pocket square and acknowledge once more the clicks, flashes, and a crescendo of applause.  But it was anyone’s guess where and when Hector might next appear.

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