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Open Textbook in Library

Nothing But Silence

(c) Linda Hutchison July 2018

The wind howled around the library building as the occupants browsed the shelves or sent emails at the computers. The noise was obvious, overriding the activities and murmurings of those inside. Occasionally, someone would look up from their magazine and shoot a glance outside at the trees blowing around. No one was keen to leave the comfort of their familiar, usually quiet space, or deeply comfy chairs. In a meeting room down the back of the library sat a group of writers, pouring over each other’s monthly offerings. They would take it in turns to read their own stories aloud, and then the others would gently offer suggestions for how each story could be improved. It could be a word here or there to make the story easier to follow, or an adjustment of the order of the sentences to improve the flow. It might be the replacement of words to reduce repetition, or just a general round of laughter at the scenario presented. The mood of the group was jovial, warm and welcoming, and the topics of the stories and following discussions ranged widely.
On this particular day, a well-dressed young man in his 20s walked into the library and asked at the desk for the writers’ group. The librarian pointed towards the back and he strolled down to the group, hesitating at the door of the meeting room. He spoke with a strong accent.
“Excuse me, are you the writer’s group?’ he asked respectfully.
The writers turned around from their discussions and the leader spoke.
“Yes, we are. Come on in. Are you interested in joining us?” She gestured to a vacant chair.
“Yes, I would like to know more. May I?” His body language reflected either an upbringing of exceedingly good manners, or someone who was used to being spoken down to. Another writer spoke.
“You are very welcome. Come and have a seat. We’re just listening to stories about “Our Heart’s Desire”.
The guest pulled the chair out and sat down quietly. The author of the current story continued. It was a story about someone who had won a large amount of money on the lotteries and had managed to keep their win hidden from their grasping relatives. There was lots of dialog about the relatives never keeping in contact and only visiting when they wanted something. The winner had ended up changing their name so that they could stay anonymous and untraceable. The story went on to share how the winner had lived a nomadic life of luxury travel and occasional acts of benefaction. It was like a Cinderella story without the romance.
After the story had been finished, and the writers had given appropriate feedback, they wrapped up the meeting and moved to their local café for tea and cake. They sat around the table sharing their ideas of what they would do if money was no object. The newcomer joined them and sat quietly listening to their chatter.
“If I could do anything I wanted to, I would sell my shop and write full time”, said a lady who owned a well-respected gift shop. “I really need more time off.”
“I’d probably move out into another house and leave my sons to fend for themselves,” said another, who had three sons in their late 20s and early 30s still at home.
“You’ve obviously made the nest too comfortable,” laughed a third writer. “You’ll have to be like an eagle and put sharp stones in the bottom of the nest to get them to move.” They paused, then went on. “I think I would find a tiny place in the country, well away from chainsaws, roads and speedway circuits. I could do with a bit of peace.” They turned and look at the newcomer. “What would you do, if you could have anything you want?”
He looked up at them and then slowly looked each person in the eye. “I would like to stay in Australia.” There was nothing but silence at the table. The writers in turn looked away, looked down at their coffee, or fiddled with their keys. It dawned on them that living here was a privilege that they didn’t necessarily think of very often. One of the writers asked softly, “Can you tell us your story? We would like to understand.”
Their silence continued as he shared his escape from his war-torn country through deserts, over oceans and finally into a detention centre. His day out at the library was a rare excursion and he was being tracked via a bracelet. When he finished, the writers responded with enthusiastic encouragement about the need to share his story and offers of assistance including tutorials at the detention centre. This had not been an average monthly meeting. No, it was a day that changed each of their lives.

Nothing But Silence: Work
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