This article was first published on July 5, 2010 in the 'Daily News' under the title 'On getting ambushed at the intersection of word and silence'
Some stories get written, others are still-born. We break narrative into chapter, fracture sentence with punctuation, for purposes of coherence and to give reader breathing-moment, but there always comes a moment when the inkwell of memory runs dry and the carbon of recording runs out of time and is appropriated by other authors and is arrested by other narratives. This, more than coherence-requirement and reader-relief, is what makes narrator call for full stops.
I am not a story-teller but this doesn’t mean I don’t have things to say. Sometimes we have things to say but we don’t know who to tell it to or how. Or we have nothing to say but say any old thing and are called excellent story-tellers. Sometimes we say what we need to say but are heard in ways we do not intend to be heard. We were never given words; we have to steal them and once they leave fingertip they belong to someone else. Our stories were not ours when we write them and once written are appropriated by our readers.
Is silence refuge? No. Whether we are endowed with word-bag or not, whether we have some word-cocktailing skills or not, it matters little: silences too are read, for there is so much space between word and word that sentences are made of both letter-configuration and blankness, just as ambience is obtained by light-shade play.
I went to school. Before that I went to a pre-school. Before that I learnt the ayanna-aayanna from parents and aunts. I use a laptop computer; letters fly from thought and heart through fingertip to keyboard to screen and across invisible lines to a newspaper editor, through subeditors, layout artists, printing press to newsstand and reader. My pre-school story, I realized, stayed with me in school, university and post-university. The smell from the wood-made jigsaw of the provinces does not graze my nostrils as I cross the Western into Sabaragamuwa, but that varnish-wood blend is as representative of any of the many fragrance that make my nation. My teachers still teach me, some from the Great Beyond.
My pre-school story hasn’t ended. My adult story never began. I will die without living and my life is death and dying. In the middle of it all, I write stories. I am not sure, often, if I should. This is a real exchange. Well, almost.
‘No, that story should not be continued. It is too sad.’
‘Are there happy stories in this world? Isn’t it true that we want joy, contentment and triumph as our constant companions but that they are just random travelers crossing our paths now and then? They may stay awhile and chat but will move on. All those grand moments that we call magical, they are preceded and succeeded by things that are pretty shitty.’
‘A fairy tale then; with a lived-happily-ever-after ending?’
‘No. That’s not right either. But what was this story about?’
‘Do you want me to write the story or just trash it?’
‘Don’t write it. Just tell me what made you want to write it.’
‘That would take away the charm of the story and if I ever finish it, you would not enjoy it. I mean, I don’t know if it is a sad story or not, but if it was not you would find it quite flat even if it was the best novel ever written. And if it turned out to be sad, your eyes would not fill with tears. That’s important you know.’
‘I don’t care. You won’t write it. I don’t want you to write it. And you shall not.’
‘Are you my agent or something?’
‘Do you want me to be?’
‘No. I am not interested in publishing.’
‘Then why write at all?’
‘I don’t know. It feels nice to write things down. Sometimes if I sat down to think something out I get nowhere, but when I write, write anything and not necessarily about what is bothering me, things that I earlier found to be complex or obscure unravel. Writing clears my throat.’
‘How can writing clear your throat? Maybe you mean it clears your mind.’
‘No, definitely not. I meant my throat. That’s where things get stuck. Words, mostly.’
‘You are funny.’
‘I am a clown, didn’t you know?’
‘Tell me the story.’
‘It’s a short story.’
‘You will be disappointed and will ask me what the fuss was all about.’
‘Can you stop foot-dragging and just tell?’
‘That’s the way I tell stories. I go round and round until people start wondering when I m going to get to the point. The point is there is no point. Stories are pointless things.’
‘Ok, can you start this pointless story?’
‘You are not letting me tell it.’
‘Well, do you want to tell it?’
‘Since you asked, yes.’
‘Then can you start now?’
‘You are hurrying me.’
‘I am your audience and you have to find a way of capturing my attention and you are failing badly here.’
‘I am the story-teller and I tell stories at my own pace or not at all. Sometimes the throat doesn’t clear and you have to wait for the right moment.’
‘What is the right moment?’
‘You are impossible.’
‘Would you prefer me to be possible?’
That was a merciful conversation stopper. That conversation stopped. Word and silence did not die. Did not live either.
Years ago I raised the following question: The belief that a story ends when a chapter is closed… is this the greatest illusion or the most innocent claim? Chapters don’t close. Stories don’t begin. And in the snap of scissor-blade heart gets sliced, blood drops peep out, poetry written and read and all men and women forced to spend a hundred years in solitude and as such denied a second chance on earth. Nothing, except perhaps love and its capacity to die, be murdered and yet resurrect itself or be re-born, can change these ‘verities’. As for me, today, Sunday, July 3, 2010, 12.34 pm, I am lost in the intersection of word and silence. Ambushed.
Malinda Seneviratne is a freelance writer. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: malindasene.