Amal climbed the podium and surveyed the audience before her. The auditorium was silent, and the heavy pall of mourning lay over the onlookers.
“Words are all we have. Words are all we have ever had.”
Her voice resounded against the walls like the gentle re-emergence of birds in the aftermath of war; a lone attempt at affirmation for a society which previously had no need for such assertion. The onlookers below were like stone statues; uniform in their countenance of unyielding grief. It was morbidly fascinating how loss transformed the fresh beauty of youth into haggard faces; old before their time.
She had started off as an amateur journalist, thrust into the depths of obscurity like most other journalists who started out with nothing. Her late nights spent rewriting articles generated a source of paltry income; barely enough for subsistence. The junk food industry welcomed the dastardly poor with open arms, and for a while she fell prey to unnatural concoctions which beamed at her like insincere declarations.
Uncle Saeed was a pot-bellied man with a distinctive laugh. He bought her a doll when she was five, a jewelled headpiece at eight and a cookbook at twelve; each present paving the way towards a pre-defined future whose inception had been mapped out before she had even uttered the first guttural cry of a baby which gasps for air. She was introduced to family friends as a future nurse; an occupation her three other sisters had succumbed to after years of overprotective coddling.
She forgave him for these patriarchal notions which had been shaped by generations of influence.
In retrospect, it had been unwise to make her intentions known against a volatile backdrop of misguided oppression.
“A journalist?” he stuttered, anger robbing him of the ability to speak coherently. “What do you know of people and politics? You’re only a child,” he raged. He left her behind, face darkening like an impending storm in his wake.
She threw herself into a world governed by ideas. She chased after a world as fluid as politicians’ promises, ranging from disarmingly polite to tyrannically authoritarian. Her thoughts spanned journal after journal; driven by a burning urgency to unlock the eloquence of speech.
Her first breakthrough had been ten years ago, when she transformed into the magician who no longer fumbled with their tricks, instead pulling words out with remarkable sleight of hand.
With new-found respect came understanding. She wept for the poets; the artists and writers who had toiled away at their craft, oscillating between dark depression and exuberance in true testament to the spirit of the ever-melancholic artist.
They were the ones who had the courage the lift the instrument of their trade – be it a pen or brush, and lash out in frenetic leaps of unbridled thought. Proposition was stacked upon proposition, only to be knocked down like a transient hypothesis when new ideas were brought to the table, and voices chattered brightly well into the night.
With the crack of a gunshot, all was silenced.
The birds stopped chirping.
The sluggish flow of blood was the only indicator that some sort of life had existed; an unworthy tribute to the exuberance and creativity of the human mind.
The pain in her chest intensified as she addressed the figures below, and she struggled to control her tears.
“I refuse to let misaligned attempts at censorship taint a canvas of diversity, for intellectual death manifests itself when we cease all trains of thought. The right to speak is universal! It is up to individuals to carefully choose how they wield it,” she cried; a lone rose blooming amongst thorns.
“Let life be an exaltation of Voltaire’s words: I do not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.“
She stood back, eyes glimmering; head tilted to the sky in defiance.
Silence permeated the stage like a dull mist, spreading towards the back of the hall. Then slowly the figures below raised their hands to their hearts, one by one, in a show of solidarity.