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Kelem (1st Prize Writing) Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by Pier-Luc Dupont, age 18, Cégep de Sainte-Foy, Quebec, Jul 12, 2004
Citizen Journalism   Opinions


“My sister died when she was my age, when she should have been in her prime. She was struck down by tuberculosis. But, one way or another, she was living on borrowed time. She had just tested HIV-positive at the clinic. She went there on the advice of a friend, another working girl. My sister had no money, no papers. She could never have received the treatment she needed to slow the progress of the disease. There was nothing the nurses could do, except give her condoms, advise her on hygiene, and suggest that she have her two children screened for HIV. Her prospects were dim.”
The emcee presses his hands against his headset and says something few people catch. Zara moves upstage. There, despite the harsh glare of the footlights, she can make out the faces in the front row.
“Ladies and gentlemen, here you see me weighed down by all these sequins. Isn’t it nice to have such a beautiful burden to bear? My sister was never so lucky. Her burden was one of suffering beyond words. Unjust? That word is too vague. Unjustified? That’s not strong enough. What word can I use to put her soul to rest? What word keeps me awake at night? I have to find it; I refuse to give up. I have to find it because, if Kelem had told you her own story, she would have found the word.
“You know more about sequins than suffering. More than anything else, you’re people who enjoy life. I propose that you perform a marvellous magic trick. Take these fine fabrics and give my sister satin sheets. Take this cell phone and give her a voice. Take this glass of champagne and give her a drink. Take this shimmering chandelier and give her light. Take these cigarettes and give her a vaccine. You’re all magicians, but you don’t realize your power! Are you looking for a magic wand? It’s already in your hands: a ballot, a credit card, a newspaper, a remote control. Will you turn up the volume or will you change the channel?”
An endless silence weighs heavily on the audience. Someone coughs.
After a long pause, Zara turns and walks away with dignity. The spotless carpeting muffles the click of her heels. She stands next to Miss Belgium, nods, smiles, and poses. All eyes are on her stunning beauty.
The trumpets blast again, but no one hears them any more. They don’t seem as brassy as before.
The head judge has a lump in his throat. A salty tear blurs the writing on his scorecard into a pool of black, as black as the mascara that stains Zara’s makeup.
As black as the last TV screen turned off in some suburban living room …

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