THE SPEECH

He walked onto the center of the room.

“It’s okay,” he thought to himself. “Say it like you mean it. Like you always do.”

He settled himself and stood in a manner so respectable for giving speeches. And as he looked at his listeners, he began.

Pain. Sorrow. Hurt. Things we feel but refuse to acknowledge. We see them as a sign of weakness; a sign of vulnerability. Whether that may be true or not, you are to judge after I tell you my story. This story happened. The pain and sorrow are real. From that fateful day in the summer of 2008, until now.

“Roberta, Roberta darling, fetch your uncle’s medicine at the cabinet.” Aunt Josephine called from a distance.

Roberta willingly obeyed and skipped her way to the medicine cabinet. She gave the medicine to her uncle lying on bed. “Thanks, dear.” Her uncle surmised. She smiled and went on her way. She was on her way to town to see a friend. A very special friend. She hopped and skipped. Happiness and enthusiasm, clearly obvious on her face as she walked about the dusty road. She arrived at a dilapidated shack near the county hospital and there she sat and waited for her companion.

“Hi, Roberta!”

“Hey, any new adventures to tell me today, kind sir?” she jokingly queried.

“As a matter of fact, yes. I will tell you about my journey to the center of a woman’s heart.” he joked.

“Oh, quit it John. You can barely talk to a beautiful lady.”

“Well, there’s an exception.”

“Oh, there’s one?” She blushed.

“My mother.” he said.

She punched him on his shoulders and they both laughed. The day went on and they sat there talking about endless things. They talked about the stars, their dreams, their pets, their neighbors; they talked about life itself. Optimism, evident in every word Roberta uttered.

 

“Roberta, I could never be you. I could never be that wide-eyed girl who sees the world in a different light. Who sees reality, but in a positive outlook.”

“Don’t say it like that. You’re just in the middle of a whole lot of stuff – troubling stuff.” She defended. “If I were in your state, I’d be depressed too.”

“I doubt it.” He said.

They were laying down the grass now, beside each other.

“How’s your mother?”

“Her condition’s getting worse.”

“I’m sorry.”

“No, it’s okay. I know she’s fighting and I have to show her I am too.”

“See, you’re quite optimistic too!”

“Quite?” And they laughed once again.

The sun had set – their day together had ended.

At home, they both lived separate lives. Roberta occasionally helps her uncle and aunt in the house work and John does all manly jobs in his family. They became friends when they first met at the hospital one rainy night. Roberta’s uncle was rushed there because he had suffered a mild heart attack. John’s mother too, was rushed to the place. Roberta and John were the watchers for their respective patients that night. They had been friends since then. Roberta, the charming and cheerful one; and John, firm and resolute in his beliefs.

“Roberta, Roberta darling, your uncle’s meds are running low. Buy a few when you go to town later, okay?” Aunt Josephine beckoned.

“Sure, aunty. I will go see John today, too.”

“Okay, dear. Don’t be late for supper later.”

“Yes I won’t, aunty.”

John had already been there, sulking. She decided to surprise him. She crept up behind him and swooped down on him like a falcon to her prey. He staggered back, surprised. Roberta was too.

“John? You’re crying. What’s wrong?”

John still froze and cried.

“Oh, John.” She held his head and bent it towards her shoulders. “I’ll always be here for you, no matter what.” She reached for his hand and held it. He rolled to his side and faced her.

“Thank you. For everything.”

“Doesn’t matter. I will always be here.”

“I know. And for that, I am eternally grateful.”

He reached for her face and caressed it.

That night, John dreamt the worst nightmare. When he woke up, he realized it was real. Her mother has ended her battle. John wasn’t at the usual place that day, or a few days after. A week had passed and John and Roberta hadn’t seen each other. John wondered what had become of his friend and so he decided to pay her a visit. Maybe she had been waiting all those times and for that John felt guilty. He had to apologize and make Roberta understand.

John went to Roberta’s house that night – to tell her the news.  He found Aunt Josephine and her husband huddled together at the sofa.

“Aunty? Is Roberta around?” and when he saw their eyes, filled with sorrow, he knew something was wrong.

“Aunty? What’s wrong? What are you reading? Is Roberta around? I need to tell her something.” Aunt Josephine handed him a letter, her hands shaking as she did. And as John read it, tears streamed down his face. It was from Roberta. A narrative of why she had done what she had done. A narrative of why he took his own life. John never cried harder in his whole life. She had been raped and she could not bear the embarrassment she has caused to the family. The guy ran away and hid to the next town. Rumor has spread like wildfire across neighbors that she was a dirty girl and that she was no longer an innocent little child. Roberta, couldn’t handle the pressure. She took her life that night.

John’s sadness was beyond compare that night. He felt bad for his friend. He wanted to tell her a lot of things. So many things were left unsaid. So many things left undone. He felt as though life had been unfair to both of them. That may be true, but John stood there, in front of the grieving family and he cried harder, tears streaming down his face like waterfalls – his heart broken as he read further on.

 

John, thank you for everything; thanks for being there whenever I need you. All the laughter we have shared and the memories together will forever be with me. John, this is my last message. I ask that you understand me. I am not as optimistic as you think I am. I am human and bound to all human stereotypes. I am bound to hurt and be hurt. I fight battles, and my battles are not unlike any one else’s. Sadly, I have let my emotions and weakness take over. I have lost this battle. This war befalls each of us. We go through them every day – every day John. We are exposed to the cruel realities of the world – to the judgments, the biases, and the complaints. John, never be like me. Fight harder John. The only comforting thought I have is your smiling face. Never lose that smile. It is what kept we going this past week. Know that I have always loved you. I always have, in ways you never could count. I love you John. Live for me. Fight for me.

A lot of things can be said about people who commit suicides. A lot of words may be used to describe my friend Roberta. But I will never call her a coward. Feelings are hard to explain, as everything intangible may be. However, I know the fact that feelings were created not to be explained and understood but to be felt and shared. And my friend’s feelings will forever be with me. Her pain and sorrow until her last breath.

And as he ended his speech, his classmates applauded.

That was a good essay John, Miss Goldman exclaimed.

John walked to his chair and sat as his classmates’ applause drowned him in.

He took a piece of picture from his notebook and looked at it. It was of Roberta laughing and John beside her, kissing her cheek.

But by now, his tears have long since gone.

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