I reached for the bejewelled halter neck dress and held it against my chest – naah too much skin. Maybe I should wear my beautiful African print dress. I stripped and zipped myself into the outfit – naah too much colour. I threw the dress on my bedroom floor and flipped through my closet until my fingers landed on a satin green dress. That’s it! I slipped into the sheath dress, dabbed gold dust on my eyelids and tinted my lips with strawberry flavoured gloss. Now I felt ready for my date with Oprah – well, me and 9000 people from Toronto but who’s counting?
The show was supposed to start at 4:30pm but by 12 noon, CityTV was showing a very long queue of enthusiastic people waiting impatiently to see Oprah. Not to worry, my friend Christianne’s wonderful husband was holding a spot for me. I walked towards the Metro Convention Centre in downtown Toronto. A bubble of joy was pulsating in my heart, traveling through my veins and causing me to smile and wave at strangers. After 20 years, I was finally going to see Oprah – I could not stop smiling. I walked into the Convention centre in a euphoric state. As more people funneled through the doors, the cloud of anticipation that hang in the air intensified. People were giggling and squealing. One girl I walked past was trembling so much her friend had to remind her to breathe. Not me. I was as calm as a fed baby. Nothing, not even my emotions was going to come between me and my Oprah.
I planted myself in the front row and smiled generously at my neighbours. But as soon as I crossed my legs and leaned into my chair, I started to cough .At first it was the sputtering kind, then it became a full-blown, relentless cough. I don’t know if I was reacting to perfume, hair spray or dust, but my throat was severely irritated and I could not stop coughing. I tried to talk myself out of it. Ok Amma, you need to calm down. Oprah is going to come out any moment now, relax yourself. But I continued to cough until my beautifully dressed neighbours became as irritated as my throat. Some passed mints and Halls my way. “Breathe in.” I could hear someone saying but the simple act of inhaling air triggered a coughing fit so strong that it summoned tears into my eyes. I had to leave the room to find the washroom. By the time I made it to the lobby, I was retching and wheezing. I leaned over a table and coughed and retched and coughed. A lady in a blue blouse rushed to my side.
“Are you ok?”
“Cough, cough cough” I could not talk. My nose was running, my cheeks were streaked with tears and I felt a tightness in my throat.
” Are you choking? Can you breathe?” The lady asked.
“No- it is diffi–cough, cough, cough—cult to breathe. I think- cough cough-” Before I could finish the sentence, I dropped onto me knees and coughed until I could taste my lungs in my mouth. When I lifted my head, a woman in hospital overalls was standing over me.
” Hi my name is Wendy and I am a nurse. Are you ok?”
“Oh, I will be fine, I just- COUGH COUGH…”
“Ok you need to come with me right now!”
I followed her to a yellow room with hospital beds and First Aid instruments. Oh God, I am supposed to be listening to Oprah, how did I end up in the Emergency response unit of the Metro Convention centre? Before I could utter a word, two paramedics carrying debrillators entered the room.
” We were informed that someone is having difficulty breathing. Ma’am are you ok?”
I was trying to tell them that I was ok but they were not listening. They strapped my left arm with a blood pressure monitor and started pumping away. “I am ok, I am ok.” I croaked but they were really not listening. Out came the stethoscope.
“Oh lawd, sir, that will not be necessary. see Oprah is coming out in 2 minutes, I need to be in the convention centre to see her enter.”
” We understand ma’am but this is important.”
“No, I can’t miss Oprah. I can’t! I have waited 20 years for this.” I could hear the screams coming from the centre. They were chanting “Oprah, Oprah, Oprah.” He placed the sethoscope on my back.
“Breathe in? Out? In… good”
” See, I told you I am ok. Can I go now. Please?
” Ma’am we need you to sit for a few minutes so we can figure out what is going on. Did you eat something? Do you have allergies?” This man can’t be serious. The chanting had reached a frenzied pitch. Oprah must be walking on the stage and I was confined in a quasi ward with 3 medical attendants standing between me and my moment. I peeled the monitor from my arm and stood up. “Thank you guys but I gotta go” ” I rushed inside the centre, but no Oprah. Iyanla Vanzant was speaking. Anthony Robbins and TD Jakes were next in line. Thank God, at least I had time to calm my nerves and collect my thoughts before Oprah. TD Jakes wrapped up his sermon by rousing the crowd to an ecstatic state. We jumped on our feet and started chanting “Oprah, Oprah, Oprah, Oprah…” Then, the moment I had been waiting for arrived. Oprah strutted onto the stage. She was wearing green, just like me. “AHHHH!!! I screamed even louder. My neighbours were screaming, people in the back rows were screaming the entire convention centre was charged with excitement. In her metallic Loboutins, hair flowing with confidence, she walked to the front of the stage.
” Canadaaaaaaaaaa!!!!” She screamed. We went berserk! “Thank you, thank you. Sit down, sit down.” She pleaded. “I feel the love, I feel the love,” she kept saying. I sat down and soaked her in. The Life class lesson was on forgiveness and she brought in several speakers to help guests and audience members make peace with their past. My ears absorbed everything they were saying. But I had eyes only for Oprah. I could see her green eye shadow, her matted lip stick and turquoise earrings shimmering against her neck. I could see her. Like really, really see her. She was so calm, so herself. In between takes, she would make jokes and talk to the audience. I just watched and listened, completely mesmerized and in awe of this dream come true.
I will confess that I thought of pulling an ‘MTV moment’ where I would dash onto the stage and surprise her with a Koala-like hug. The opening was there, security was not paying attention. Quick Amma, do it, you are wearing the right shoes. Do it Now. Ready… Set… DON’T! A voice of reason yelped. “That would terrify her. Plus when you hug Oprah, you want her to hug you back, not flinch with fear.” So I stayed put and continued to admire her from my seat. She look comfortable and content. She was scanning the front row, appreciating each individual with her eyes. When her brown pupils rested into my, I lifted my head and mouthed “I-LOVE-U”. she smiled gently.
I love Oprah. You guys know that. She has taught me lessons about love, life and the importance of giving back, and for this day, the Lifeclass lessons she brought were just as impactful. When it was over, she thanked the crowd again and went back stage. I followed the crowd out of the convention centre, but I had a plan in mind. I can’t come this close to Oprah and watch her leave? I had to do something quickly. Unfortunately, my phone was ringing. It was my friend Christianne.
“Amma, where are you?” We can’t find you?”
” Don’t worry about me Chris I am fine.”
“Well do you want us to wait for you at the subway?”
“No, you guys go ahead”
“Ammaa? She drawled. ” You are up to something aren’t you?”
“Yes, I am” I whispered. “Yes I am….”