The worst was when the words died in his mouth. No matter how recently he’d wet his lips with water, they’d go dry at the slightest hint of being made to speak out loud. He’d miss some words, make mistakes in pronunciation and easily make an utter fool of himself.
People around him were so so good. The words danced from the tips of their tongues, weaving a tapestry of sentences that draped over the entire audience, leaving them spell-bound. And he? His function was to break the spell and remind them how bad a speaker could be at his work.
He remembers a time when the magic had nested in him as well. A simpler time when he was young and naive and yet to experience what the world could do.
He often thinks back to the first time he’d stood on stage. A wee child of twelve with scruffy black hair and wide eyes, speaking of war and sexuality and an array of other subjects deemed far too mature for a child to tackle. He remembers the compliments, the applause, the admiring adults who hung on to his every word.
Then he remembers her. The girl who had occupied the stage before he’d discovered his passion. The girl who’d been replaced by him and his talent. The girl who greeted him with a smile and sharpened her fangs behind his back.
He was caught unawares when she struck. He began to be called to the staff rooms on multiple occasions where teachers questioned him about things he’d had no idea of doing.
Smoking? No. He knew better.
Spreading rumours about a girl? No. He didn’t even know the girl in question.
Having a sexual relationship with someone older? He, who’d been abused by someone in the past? It was almost an insult to ask him about this.
Nevertheless, the rumours spread. The same teachers who’d taken him from one stage to another now seemed to loathe his presence. The whispers in the classroom were even worse. He thought he’d never be able to bear it.
But what broke him was the silence that followed.
No one talked to him. No one even acknowledged his presence. Soon, he would go days without speaking at all. Not even when he found out that it was the girl who had organised this elaborate scheme to bully him did he employ his words.
He thinks that’s why the words have deserted him now. Because he’d left them first.
Now, eight years later, he feels like he’s still learning the basics of speech. He writes, oh he writes very well. But the gift of the tongue he is yet to regain.
He gets made fun of every day. They laugh at him and imitate his stutter. When he is booed at, the memories he’s tried to repress swim back to the surface. His palms turn clammy and his legs turn to jelly. One man is a patient listener. A crowd of men is a volatile creature quick to anger and frustrate.
They are never patient. They never try to fathom the immensity of his struggle or the importance of the progress he has made this far. They judge without knowing his story.
But still he speaks.
To all those who have been unfairly silenced. Its okay to take your time to regain your voice. 🙂