Sitting there, Arti was amazed at the young woman performing on stage. It was the girls first time at the group. She was there with one of her friends from work. Arti had come a few times, always wanting to sign up, but never actually doing it. Sitting toward the back of the room, in a makeshift corner with her overly ripped jeans, t-shirt, and worn sweater.

Arti watched. The girl had high waisted jeans, thigh high boots, a babydoll sweater, glass stereotypically artistic, and well done hair and makeup. She was keeping the beat with her bobbing head, some major pop song of the summer. She was awful. But she believed she was great. She shimmied, shook, and moved like she was better than the original. Arti was floored.

There were days when Arti doubted her ability to properly brush her teeth, forget reading something she had written out loud or even wearing her handmade scarves out of her house. Her scarves held together while keeping her warm, and her breath never reaked. But still, she had made the scarf. She had written the world. She had coffee for breakfast, with her lunch, and after dinner.

Arti lived in a world of disbelief. Every day there were people around her who just went out and lived their lives. Right, wrong, indifferent, righteously, or sinnfully. With or without talent. Certainly with no second or even original thought. And she could barely walk out of her house. But she did. Barely.

The girl finished her verbal assault on the ears of the audience to be met with resounding applause. Arti sat confused. She gave the girl credit for going up and showing her shit off, but did she know what she sounded like? Did she truly believe that she sounded good? Arti pulled her leg in closer to her chest keeping her other foot dangling, bouncing on and off of the bar that ran across the underneath of her chair. Was Arti even worse than she thought? Was she better? Was she breathing?

Arti dug half moons into the back of her arm. The sensitive part. The part the guys in her class pinched to make the girls they liked turn and pout. Arti dug her nails so far into her flesh that the half moons became weird, misshapen squares across the back of her arm. She winced and released. Hopefully she hadn’t drawn blood. There was only one performer left. Then Arti would be able to leave. Leave without notice, without reading, without issue.

A young man made himself comfortable on the stage. He sat on a high stool, finagling the guitar and the microphone to be just so. He looked about Arti’s age. Maybe a year or two older. He looked quiet and maybe shy. He winked at a girl in the audience who blew him a kiss back. Arti blushed. She hated being here, but she loved celebrating the arts – including fellow artists.

Arti took a few breaths in and out. A calm washed over her as the young man began to sing. He had a moving voice. A voice that was strong and powerful. He sang with meaning. It was better to end the performances on a note like this, as opposed to a sour one. Arti pinched the soft flesh between her fingers with the points of her nails. Arti was in no position to judge the talent of others. After all, what talent did she have. Maybe not as much as this young man, but perhaps she was a little more talented than the girl who couldn’t sing. Maybe the people would still clap for her. Or maybe not. A long, loud, powerful note pulsed its way through the audience. Applause rose up, and collided with it in the air. Sound filled all of the empty spaces between Arti and the rest of the group. It was time for Arti to go.

Sliding her coat over her shoulders, Arti grabbed her canvas bag and with her face down, eyes glued to the floor, Arti left the shop without reading, without paying for her coffee, and without understanding people any more than she did when she arrived.

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