There once lived a boy who sang so beautifully that he was accepted directly into the semi-finals of Voice of Okremia.
An old painter had found the boy outside his house, standing in a corner near a broken street lamp, crooning a rhyme of rain and thunder, oblivious to the pouring and roaring around him. Standing by the window, listening to the boy, the old painter’s mind was awash with a thunderous rain. He shook himself out of it; he had to go outside and get the boy inside. Feed him and get him into warm clothes.
An hour later, the boy sat on the edge of the painter’s bed, looking around the house as though it were a miracle. They were all unfinished paintings: silhouettes of a sprawling city in a pale yellow, a stick figure of a man holding a cigar, fitful strokes of charcoal, a red flower amidst a sketch of a tropical forest, a swirl of orange—like a sunset caught in a tornado—fading into a black sky, a toad that resembled a man or maybe a man who resembled a toad. The old painter felt almost embarrassed and he put the boy to bed early and switched off the lights to his bedroom. He wanted to have a little chat with him, ask him where he was from and what he was up to singing like that all by himself in the streets. He could’ve been struck by a lightning, for heaven’s sake.
The next day, it transpired to the old painter only a minute into an attempted conversation that he hadn’t missed much yesterday. The boy made weak noises and meek gestures but he could not utter a word. The old painter didn’t know what to do with him until he heard the boy hum to himself in a corner of the living room. The words were unrecognizable to an extent that they could as well not have been words in the first place. The old painter strode off to his bedroom where under his bed lay a tiny metallic trunk. Now was the time. He was the boy. He couldn’t tell why and he couldn’t reason why not. He opened the tiny trunk and frisked out a bright red shirt, bright yellow shorts and a pair of green sneakers.
It only took a few minutes to convince them to let him in. The semi-finals had already begun. The audience had occupied their spots in the monstrous oval auditorium. They didn’t know how to react when an old man with barely a tuft of white hair and a scrawny kid in red and yellow appeared on the stage. The old painter remembered that the auditorium had fewer aisles when he had visited last although he wasn’t really sure about that. It had been years.
The boy looked at the painter for a cue and when he nodded and left the stage and became one with the darkness, he grabbed the mike and began. The audience didn’t know what was coming and after he was done crooning, they didn’t know what had happened. There’d been a cloudburst in each of their heads and with the song’s parting notes had pierced through the harshest reams of sunlight. They didn’t remember the lyrics or whether there had been any. The judges were flabbergasted and the audience broke into a thunderous applause. The boy scanned the crowd for the old painter but noticed none who looked like him.
The boy became a phenomenon overnight. He appeared everywhere. Newspapers. Television. Radio. He was hailed as a true artiste, a miracle. With profuse adulation came, in equal dollops, a pointed inquiry into the boy’s mysterious origins. Where was he from? Who were his parents? Who brought him to The Voice of Okremia? Supposedly an old man, but who? Who was he? Why did he leave the boy on stage and leave without a note? The mystery only added to his appeal and media went bonkers. All this happened over the course of one day at the end of which the boy found himself holding the tiny trunk the old painter had given him in a luxurious hotel in downtown Okremia.
He appeared on the show and crooned. Again. There was a cloudburst in their hearts. Again. There was a roar of applause. Again. The media went bonkers. Again.
Critics scrambled to find the right words (in fact, any words) to describe his music, or whatever that had been. They could scarcely settle for indescribable – that would be a lazy defeat. They likened his music to a relentless rain impinging on the unforgiving contours of an ailing black buttress, they likened it to gravity that had acted against itself, to a mythical bird’s mating cries but it was never satisfyingly complete a description to both the critics and the readers alike.
To one old critic, who had lived decades more than anyone had imagined he would, it brought back with startling clarity, a certain image. A single poignant swirl of orange light winding into a pitch black canvas. The boy, who looked much like this one and funnily enough, one who wore much the same clothes, had refused to draw anything but that for months. He had appeared on a show, the old critic could not remember when and he had been briefly popular as the boy who broke into The Colors of Okremia.
The little boy appeared on the Voice of Okremia over and over again. He crooned the same song of rain and thunder—although there were neither words nor any easily resolvable musical pattern, everyone knew with an unshakeable conviction that it was the exact replica of what he had sung on the previous episodes of the show. It was the exact same—absolutely, blindingly brilliant—experience all over again.
The boy appeared a few more times and left the crowd equally drenched every time he left the stage. The judges, although mighty impressed, were also mighty torn about whether they should let themselves be impressed or not. It’d be ludicrous to be publicly critical of someone who everyone was in love with. But someone had to speak out. Someone had to serve the bitter truth in the exacting lights of the studio. The boy needed to be more versatile. They wanted him to be both more experimental and more rigorous with his technique. The boy nodded as if he understood what they said but it was evident to everyone that he hadn’t. Equally evident to everyone was that no one understood the boy’s technique, including the boy himself. It was all too absurd an experience for everyone involved and in soon enough, everyone would be happy to have almost forgotten about it.
When he appeared next, he sang no differently. There was an applause but no one would mistake it for a thunder. The judges said that they were impressed but that they had been impressed similarly on a number of occasions before. He had to try something different.
“With that voice,” said one, “You could do anything.”
Just as to what that anything could be was left to everyone’s imagination.
In the hotel room, the boy stripped out of his bright red shirt and bright yellow shorts. He folded them as best as he could and clamped the tiny trunk shut.
He arrived at the show the day after in an unremarkable attire. The judges peered at him anxiously and audience held their breath in their lungs a moment longer. This time, the boy sang something different. Something with words that dropped gracelessly out of his mouth in a jarring succession. After the show, everyone confessed to have seen it coming.
“It’s very unfortunate, poor kid”, they said, “But the Voice of Okremia can’t be a one trick pony.”
However, it took a few more days for the boy to disappear off magazines, TV and the radio.
After decades, when the boy, now an old and unsuccessful singer, arrived holding the hand of a little girl into the sets of Moves of Okremia, no one would recognize him. The girl would become an overnight sensation but no critic would be alive then to wonder where she had seen the curiously familiar bright red shirt last.