Previously on Anusha’s most embarrassing experience: A waiter at Pizza Hut has just asked our young protagonist to sing before everyone in the establishment because it is her birthday.
At this, he was met with hearty applause and cheers from his fellow coworkers. Hurrah! Hurrah! We shall make this shy little girl make a fool of herself in public! Hurrah! Hurrah!
And in all of this happy hullabaloo, I sat there shocked and motionless, as if all of my wits had suddenly abandoned me. Me sing? At Pizza Hut? In front of all of these strangers? On my birthday? NOW?
It was as if I had been given some incongruous puzzle that I was slowly piecing together. My first, instinctive response was denial.
“I don’t really want-” I was suddenly cut off by the eager voices of my family members.
“Sing, Anusha! Sing! Sing for us!” they chanted incessantly.
All at once, I wanted to run as far away as I could from that place, demanding that my pizza be on the go.
But I couldn’t. I had been conveniently squeezed between my uncle and cousin, leaving me helplessly glued to my seat.
Slowly realizing that there was no way out of it, I meekly asked the apparently sadistic waiter what song I should sing.
He grinned at my forced compliance and asked me to stand on the table that we had previously been eating on.
Still incredulous that this was actually happening, I gulped and felt my feet clamber onto the hard surface of the table.
I looked down to see my family members smiling at me from miles away. They seemed to be saying indistinct words of encouragement. I couldn’t be quite sure because the only sounds I was aware of were my rapid heart beat and the blood rushing up to my head.
I made the mistake of looking away from them and at the other people seated in the restaurant. There were several other families who had ceased their pleasant conversations to turn and look at me in anticipation. They were waiting. For me. To sing.
Having fulfilled his request to stand on his cruel platform, I repeated my question in a quiet, timid voice.
“What song should I sing?”
“‘Vande Mataram!'” someone shouted. The hymn to the Indian mother land? Oh no, I would just awkwardly stumble through the Sanskrit and Bengali, making a bigger idiot of myself.
“‘I Will Always Love you!” came another voice. Seriously? A Whitney Houston song? What were these people thinking?
At last there came, “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star!” Well I mean, I knew all the words. The song would only last thirty seconds if I sped through it, mercifully ending my public humiliation. It seemed like the best option.
“I’ll do it,” I said audibly. I had had enough of this nightmare. It was time for me to face the music. Literally.
I began to sing loudly and clearly, staring fixedly at the ceiling so that I wouldn’t have to look at my audience.
Only now can I imagine how hilarious the entire situation must’ve been. A small ten year old girl standing on a table at Pizza Hut singing “Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star” to the ceiling. If it hadn’t been me standing at the mercy of my family and Pizza Hut, I probably would’ve died of laughter.
When I had finally finished the painful ordeal, I heard scattered applause. I looked at my family once more to see jovial smiles and several thumbs up, but I was burning in shame and anguish.
Maybe I had just imagined it, but I thought I heard a child’s derisive laughter come somewhere from the audience. That was it. I had done terribly. All of this had been a cruel mockery of my subpar singing abilities.
My embarrassment clung to me like unpleasantly wet clothing that I wore all the way back to my grandmother’s house.
And while the agony I feel whenever I recall the event has dulled with time, I still cringe a little whenever I see Pizza Hut looming in the distance. I call it “Pizza Panic”.