Language was not the problem. Helga's English was very good. In normal circumstances she could almost be judged as being more fluent than her colleagues. The real problem was dealing with the ocean of faces turned expectantly towards her at every general meeting. On those occasions she longed to leave the British shores and return to Hamburg.
She told no-one about the course. She could not admit that narrating to a crowd filled her with such dire dread that no amount of Imodium could be expected to work.
The first day was a revelation. Seated in the community hall, behind outwardly self-assured students, Helga concentrated on the instructor. Dressed in gaudily striped leggings and a baggy shirt, she danced before her pupils learning their names, pouncing occasionally when one eluded her remarkable memory. Helga marvelled at the display of athletic confidence.
The tutor's name was Rose Bush, which got the class giggling from the start, but she insisted they call her Rosy and went on to encourage individual introductions. She had the knack of drawing people out, relaxing them with clever accolades while urging them firmly into role-play situations.
One of Helga's roles was to express appreciation to a fictitious after-dinner speaker, talking on the ethics of art-dealing. Surreptitiously doing the recommended exercises, six quick inhalations through the mouth, she mumbled something about how interesting and enlightening he had been, briefly touching on the only segment she could remember: security in galleries. As instructed, she kept it brief. In truth, with her mouth as dry as desert sand, she could not have spoken any longer.
Helga progressed satisfactorily in the months that followed. She became quite skilled at gulping air and she knew how to position herself when giving a vote of thanks. Speaking publicly still didn't come easy, so she consistently referred to hand-held notes and kept it short. After all, she told her friends, she wouldn't want to be accused of having the gift of the gab.