Ishmael races around the house, shouting for Mom to tell him where his clean school uniforms are. It feels like a dream where you wake up without pants. Maybe it is a dream. But Mom tells Ishmael to check the clothesline, where Ishmael finds his clothes and leaves some of the world’s most influential peg people on the ground in his hurry. Moments later, Ishmael is dressed and in the car with Dad.
Keep in mind that this is one of the first times that Ishmael is going to do something that seriously frightens him. He never expected to find himself in this position. But Ishmael’s loyalty to Scobie and the rest of the debating boys won out over Ishmael’s desire to protect himself from scary situations.
On the drive, Dad checks if Ishmael is okay. Ishmael says he is, though he feels ready to vomit and as though an alien is going to burst out of his chest. Dad insists that he and Mom are proud of Ishmael and tells Ishmael not to worry. Fortunately, Ishmael is hysterical, not worried. Ishmael assures Dad he doesn’t need to come watch. Scobie is at the school doors and ushers Ishmael into the debate room.
Dad is trying hard to support Ishmael, but he also doesn’t seem to fully grasp how terrified his son is. Nevertheless, this does show that Dad is there for Ishmael; he’s not the one-dimensional jerk Ishmael described earlier, who likes humiliating his son by telling the story of how Ishmael got his name.
Ishmael takes his seat between Scobie and Razza and pulls out some blank index cards. Scobie passes over Bill’s index cards with the speech on them. Razza, meanwhile, scribbles on another card and passes it to Ishmael. It’s a drawing of a stick figure with an arrow in its chest. Smirking, Razza nods to the other debate team, which Kelly Faulkner is a part of. Razza passes Ishmael another card that reads, “Hubba, hubba!”
Dad’s questionable support looks excellent compared to Razza’s—while Ishmael certainly would’ve noticed Kelly eventually, Razza is making Ishmael’s fear and embarrassment even worse with his taunting. Razza clearly has some things to learn about how to best support his friends.
Ishmael comes back to earth when the girl chairing the debate stands, introduces the topic (the private lives of public figures should stay private), and introduces the judges. Ishmael tunes her out and imagines standing up to speak. At this, his legs shake and his stomach churns. He tries to think positive thoughts, such as that this won’t kill him, and it could be worse. It really could be worse—Ishmael could lose his words and all his dignity. In retrospect, that would’ve been better than what actually happened.
It's clear that Ishmael is doing everything he can to get through this speech. He doesn’t want to let Scobie and the team down, so he knows he has to focus—which, thanks to his fear of public speaking and Razza’s teasing, is no small task. And again, it builds tension when Ishmael notes that what’s going to happen is far worse than just losing his dignity and not being able to speak.