The text message was simple:
Everyone, please show up at the municipal building at 10:00 a.m. tomorrow. The organizers of the event, and the mayor and his office, wish to Award you with certificates for your much-appreciated participation this weekend.
It was a long text, but aren't official texts from official officials often wordy? Anna couldn't remember. She hadn't been on the receiving end of any kind of government agency in years.
It was fine for her; she was free on Friday mornings. Based on the ensuing chat from the other participants it was not fine for everyone. A prime example of the value of planning in advance. Why did no one get that?
The event had been the previous weekend. Why not give out certificates at the closing ceremony? At the very least this "Award Ceremony" could have been announced sooner than the day before. Then again, official officials often liked to throw their weight around by making people jump without warning.
She sighed and continued with her day. Certificate or not, it would be nice to see some of the people she had met through the city's weekend festival.
Friday morning, Anna was at the location on time, along with three others of the 30 participants slated to receive Award Certificates. The receptionist was trying to call someone in charge. Apparently no one had bothered to inform him they were having any kind of ceremony.
The four in the reception area looked at each other with smiles, but didn't talk. They hadn't gotten cozy during the weekend. The half dozen new friends Anna had made weren't there yet.
At 10:15 two official officials were there and ushered the group - now 10 strong - upstairs to a large conference room. Phones were dinging as the chat group filled with questions. Some people were struggling with directions, others were delayed, and it was announced that the mayor was unable to attend but would send an assistant. Then the room was reassigned and someone had to let the others know before they arrived.
By 10:30 all the recipients had arrived. Anna was grateful for the pitchers of water distributed around the conference table. It was a hot morning already and she hadn't expected to be here even this long. As the under-assistants who had worked most closely with the volunteers during the festival mingled through the group, it became clear that this was more social than had been conveyed. Everyone was very grateful and so sad the festival was over, but so glad to have made new contacts.
"Please, everyone, have a seat," rumbled through the room.
Those not yet sitting obliged. The underling who managed the chat group explained again what was happening and apologized for the delay that morning. Anna stifled a yawn as statistics sprouted in the air around them: attendees, revenue, business participation, citizen representation. Finally, a thank you to everyone again for their valuable contribution. Anna sat up ready for the Award Ceremony to begin.
Then the speaker introduced a city official who made a speech of gratitude laced with propaganda encouraging them to continue doing business in the city. A county official followed suit, praising the volunteers and the town for being a vital part of the county. Finally the mayor's under-officer was introduced, reading a speech ostensibly written by the mayor who was unavoidably detained this morning.
It was 11:30 before the speeches ended, and Anna's butt was going numb. Her brain uttered a silent prayer that they weren't going to issue each certificate individually like a graduation ceremony. She was sure the other volunteers felt the same.
The chat group manager returned to the front of the room with a digital clicker in her hand. She begged a few more minutes of their time to share a special promotion they were working on to boost the town within the wider state. A tourism commercial? Surely that wouldn't take too long.
The clicker clicked. A power point started. Anna's jaw hung in disbelief. As chat-girl moved through the slides, adding explanation and at times requesting feedback from her audience, Anna despaired of lunch. After the power point was finished 20 minutes later, the city staff opened the floor for feedback from these now valuable volunteers. What appealed to them? What wouldn't work? What, in their experience, might visitors prefer? Who should they be targeting?
There was a minute of silence as no one said anything. A few muttered positive comments, encouraging no change. They all just wanted to be gone. Anna dreamed of a time before she'd heard of the Award Certificate and cursed her parents for raising her to crave acceptance and accolades at the sacrifice of a rare free Friday morning. Why couldn't she have made up an excuse and declined?
Then Agnes spoke up. Agnes was an older woman who hadn't understood all that was being promoted. She asked questions that were not even remotely addressed in the power point. But the official officials, not wanting to dismiss questions or seem unprepared, took the opportunity to veer into further explanation of their next pet project.
This pet project would require volunteers. At some as yet undetermined point in the future. The penny dropped. They weren't just award recipients, they were being recruited. She looked around at the others in a panic. Was everyone just going to sit here for eternity? She saw more confusion, despair, panic, on other faces.
At a break in the discussion Agnes had started, one of the volunteers rose and excused himself. Anna applauded inwardly. "I'm sorry, but I must go now. I did not know I'd be here two hours." He moved toward the doors and an under-official scrambled to find the certificate with his name on it.
In a rush, everyone was up, Award Certificates were handed out, photos taken, and the group chat leader announced that any further ideas about the new plan could be sent to her. They were sorry everyone had to leave so quickly. Anna didn't think it had been quick at all. If they were committing to two hours, they should have been informed in advance.
Anna was the last one to descend the stairs. The officials seemed genuinely saddened by the emptied conference room. Or maybe just sad that it emptied so very quickly. Maybe that had been rude. Anna had lingered out of politeness, knowing she had no real plans, just a very real need for lunch.
As she exited the stairwell into the reception area, she saw some aproned caterers carrying trays of steaming food up the stairs toward the conference room she'd just left.
Thanks for visiting my #AtoZChallenge! All month I'll be writing flash fiction, with the theme "Audience Participation". Now it's your turn, lovely audience member. Do you have a writing prompt to suggest? Don't worry about choosing a letter of the alphabet, just leave me a word, a thought, a place, a concept... anything! and I'll add it to the list.
To start off the month, my "Award Certificate" prompt came from real life. From here on out, I will credit any prompt-giver with a link after I use the prompt!