An alternate version of the awards ceremony story. This was written independently from the same prompt.
The cold February breeze cut into the room through one of the lecture theatre windows, which had inexplicably been left open. A steady stream of students filtered in through the double doors, collecting a leaflet from the pile on their way, and filling up the warmer seats. Those already seated looked out at three cloth-covered easels standing adjacent to the lectern, itself as-yet unoccupied. The benches were as-yet mostly awaiting their occupants, particularly those nearest the open window, but amongst those already seated were Anna and Monika, who had taken up a position half-way back on the warmer side of the room.
Anna sat up straight, wearing a blue jacket and matching trousers, clasping the leaflet along with a handful of other papers showing the pair's poster design, along with several preliminary designs and various notes about the decisions they had made. She flicked through them restlessly. Monika, meanwhile, was slumped in her chair, clad in a baggy sweater and jeans; she hadn't yet removed her scarf, providing as it did some additional insulation against the chilly breeze. She had withdrawn her sketchbook from her bag and flipped through its pages, pencil in hand.
Turning to the list of entrants in the leaflet, Anna scanned down the page, her finger coming to rest next to one pair of names. “Hans and Laura – oh, theirs might be good, Hans always comes up with something striking… and isn't Laura on your course? Hmm…”
Monika looked up at the question, expression momentarily blank in recall. “Oh? Um, yes, I think so.” She shrugged a little with a faint smile, her gaze wandering away after a few moments.
Anna raised her hand, briefly biting a nail before brushing her hair behind her ear. “I mean, is she good? Do you think they might beat us?”
“Oh, she's not bad… I think.” Monika turned back to Anna, sitting up a little straighter. “I don't know if they'll beat us. But you did a good job!” She flashed Anna a smile again, rather more fully than before.
Anna pulled the sheet on which their poster design had been printed to the front, with Monika's illustration in the centre, the labels and heading surrounding it having been set out by Anna, gesturing to it as she spoke. “I know ours is good,” she nodded, “and really, your work is really the centrepiece of the whole thing! I mean, a good design is one thing, but you know, you have to work with what you have, so I really appreciate having some great illustrations to work with.” She looked over directly at Monika, who once again smiled before breaking her gaze.
“Thanks,” she replied, taking her pencil and starting to sketch something abstract in her book. After a few moments, she added, “It was okay,” and continued her sketching.
Their conversation halted, the two each looking into their laps. Meanwhile, the volume of chatter in the lecture theatre continued to build as more students came in and sat down. Around a hundred had arrived; the leaflet named eighteen pairs of entrants, most of whom were accompanied by friends with whom they were sitting. A few others were alone, presumably having come out of curiosity, if not merely to escape the cold.
As the time of the ceremony approached, several members of staff also entered, taking their allocated seats in the front row. Anna peered over the heads of those in front of her as they did, while Monika cast self-conscious glances at the audience that had formed, then leant towards her partner. “Anna,” she muttered, “Will we have to go up there and speak if, well – you know?”
Her attention drawn away from the newcomers, Anna paused a moment. Monika had hunched her shoulders up defensively, her sketch lines having coalesced into a landscape of sorts, but also taking a noticeably sharper and firmer turn as the crowd built and the time approached. Understanding, Anna tried her own disarming smile. “Well, we would have to go up,” she conceded, “but that would be because they liked our work, so that would be good. And, don't worry, I could do the talking.”
Monika softened slightly at the reassurance, her anxiety clearly not entirely dissipated, but seemingly lessened by Anna's words. “Thanks.” A few moments' pause – perhaps slight hesitation. “I hope we do. But it's good anyway. I enjoyed working with you.”
Anna nodded appreciatively. “Thanks. I enjoyed –”
The chatter in the auditorium rapidly died down, conversations abruptly ceasing as one of the staff members stood up and took the podium. The middle-aged man wore glasses, a suit, and a strikingly red tie, distracting observers from the bald spot that had formed on his head. He cleared his throat, the sound amplified by the PA system, and set his own papers down in front of him. Anna once again sat upright in her seat, tilting her head to get a good look at the proceedings, while Monika ceased sketching, leaving her book open on her lap.
“Welcome to the awards ceremony for this year's poster competition,” he intoned. “I'd like to thank all of you for coming here today. It is always marvellous to see the results of collaboration between students in different disciplines, and I am sure that all the entrants will agree that they have learned invaluable lessons from this experience which will serve them well in the times ahead.”
“The calibre of the entries was especially high this year, and all of us on the judging committee enjoyed looking through them. On that note, I would also like to thank all of those who have given up their time to assist me in deciding the winners.”
He clapped a little and gestured to the other staff in the front row, eliciting some polite applause from the audience in return. Anna's contribution was immediate and effusive, whereas Monika added a few claps of her own in response.
“So, on to the awards themselves. It has been very difficult to choose our top three, but, ah, there does have to be a winner. Now, in third place, we have…” He looked down, momentarily fumbling with his papers. “Erika Schmitt and Francesca Bisset!”
More enthusiastic applause erupted as the pair's entry was unveiled by lifting one of the cloth covers from the easels. Beneath it, their poster had been printed on a metre-tall sheet of card, and promoted a range of classic wooden children's toys, selling a warm, sentimental vision of children playing by the fireside. Speeches over, Monika had sat up straighter in her own seat to look appreciatively at the artwork.
The lecturer beckoned to its creators, and Erika and Francesca, sporting green and plum dresses respectively, stood up and edged their way past other students to go to the front. The applause dying down, he invited them to say a few words about their inspiration and the process they had taken. Anna listened intently, her expression beginning to betray her anxiety, while Monika's attention drifted back towards her own sketchbook as the discussion continued.
Another round of applause, and the third-place winners returned to their seats. “And now for second place. The winners are… Francis Cereas and Adrian Achermann!”
Again, the audience applauded for the two entrants, who made their way up to the front to stand in front of their poster advertising a new sports car, blending across the page from a design drawing into a photograph. As they explained how they had achieved the effect, Anna kept glancing down to the list of names on the leaflet, and when they bowed and went to sit down, she sat bolt upright, biting the knuckle of her thumb.
“And so we come to our first-place winners. I must say again how difficult it was to choose, given just how good so many of the entries were. But after much deliberation, we've decided to award the top prize to… Hans Lehrmann and Laura Gallina!”
Once more, the crowd erupted into vigorous applause, but Anna slumped into her chair and thumped her fist into her hand before clapping slowly. “I knew it,” she muttered under her breath. Monika shrugged a little, perhaps a mixture of disappointment and relief, then frowned as she turned towards Anna as the audience quietened. Silence once again having reclaimed the lecture theatre, she didn't speak.
The poster, for ski wear, was simple but elegant, set against a dramatic and beautiful landscape. The winners stood either side of it, beaming with pride, as they discussed their work. Anna slipped further down on her seat and closed her eyes, not seeing Monika's concerned look as she moved a hand towards Anna, then withdrew it again.
Anna was brought back by yet another round of applause, triggering her to once again open her eyes and add some half-hearted claps. Monika tried to say something quietly to her, but her words were unintelligible against the general roar in the auditorium.
The winners had by now returned to their seats. “Before we finish, there were several other entries that we wanted to commend, even though they didn't quite make it into the top three. Please join me in also congratulating Stephanie Schärer and Karl Salzmann, Anna Meyer and Monika Kalan, and Samuel Tschopp and Julien Bossard! If you could please stand up?”
Both Anna and Monika started upon hearing their names, most of the former's disappointment suddenly draining away, while the latter smiled happily, if perhaps a little uncomfortably. Anna stood up amidst the applause, holding out her hand to assist Monika up. She stumbled hesitantly, almost dropping her sketchbook, and then stood up with Anna, smiling at no-one in particular, avoiding catching the eyes of those nearby. Anna, meanwhile, seemed far more comfortable with the attention, giving a brief bob of acknowledgement. A few moments later, and it was over, and both sat down again, seeming a mixture of both satisfaction and relief.
A few more words from the lecturer concluded the ceremony, and the auditorium burst once again into a hubbub of animated chatter. Some of the students stood up and went down to look more closely at the posters of the winners, while others began to file off with their friends.
Monika and Anna looked at each other, each giving a smile. “The competition was very good,” Anna acknowledged, a twinge of disappointment still detectable in her tone.
Her partner nodded, glancing again at the easels, but then looked back at Anna. “But we did a good job too! Thank you.”
Anna, too, nodded in response. “Yes. Thank you too! Say, how about we go and get something to drink to celebrate?”
Monika beamed in response, and the two walked off out of the room together.
Written by mithent