The Storyteller’s Dilemma
It had been a terrible month. Zubi had been under the influence of the seasonal flu for a fortnight now. Hir couldn’t possibly leave her while she was recuperating.
They had met in Sawai and Hir instantly knew that Zubi wasn’t in the city for the concert like she claimed. A little digging revealed that she was there to replenish the food and medicine stock for her fellow rebels keeping the torch burning in the heart of the difficult forest to the west of the city. Hir proposed that Zubi take hir with her to meet everyone and in return Hir shall ensure that the rebel’s version of history won’t be eroded from memory were they to lose the fight, a scenario that was increasingly becoming likely. The city police was systematically clearing their path towards the centre of the difficult forest. They were merely over a month away from a direct fight. Zubi knew Hir by reputation, which made it easy for her to accept the proposal, but the real difficulty started when Hir reached the settlement the rebels had temporarily erected in the thick heart of the difficult forest. The band leaders were not as easy to persuade. They demanded that Hir’s story be written in residence at the settlement so that the rebels could ensure that hir circulated a fair account of their fight around the world. Hir had countered that hir stories were documented orally, and that hir had never engaged in writing words down for anybody. In the end it was settled that hir would live with the rebels for at least two weeks and get to know them and on the eve of hir farewell, hir would narrate hir version of the story to the band so they would know what it was that an unbiased set of eyes brought to the account.
Zubi was hir self-appointed guide around the settlement, but she came under the influence of weather barely five days later. That made navigation trickier for the red-robed traveller. To top that, the rebels were not particularly warm towards the idea of sharing their story with someone that didn’t know them in the least. Hir was resigned to limit hirself to observance alone. An atmosphere of subtle fear pervaded the settlement, but instead of dissolving themselves in panic, hir watched as the resilient band of earthlings increased their work-hours to sharpen more weapons and chop more trees in an effort to ready themselves for the inevitable fight. There was nothing new about this scene. Hir knew how this story always played out, generation after generation, century after century, but the courage and determination of these bands of barely equipped but electrified misfits never failed to take hir by surprise. They would have preferred peace over war any day had they been given their fair share, and they knew that their cause was lost but they still had the strength to fight the battle they deemed worth fighting for. This ability to give oneself up for a cause they deemed bigger than themselves, was in its purest form an essential human trait, and hir could not help but shiver in its presence.
In all the commotion it was natural that nobody could look after Zubi, so Hir had taken it upon hirself to look after her. In the meantime, hir had tried hir best to uncover the stories of the people around hir but something still felt horribly remiss. Hir had lived with them, and talked with them, hir had tried to the best of hir ability to understand why they were forced to rebel in the first place and their justification of their acts of violence thereafter but hir still tasted a tinge of dishonesty at the tip of hir tongue. There was something hir had missed. Seeing that Zuby had dozed off, hir decided to walk off the unexplained uncertainty.
Hir could see the elderly hermit smoking in the distance. This was the only friend hir had made in over 20 days. Hir walked towards the hermit in search of answers.
“I see you haven’t left yet” she warmly smiled as she gestured hir to take a seat.
“I don’t have a story. I don’t feel worthy enough. This doesn’t happen.”
The hermit offered hir a smoke before she proceeded.
“Do you know why you’re not worthy?”
“Perhaps. But it still bothers me.” Hir paused for a deep drag even as the hermit continued to watch hir. “This is good stuff.”
The hermit nodded assent.
“I fear I might be censoring myself.”
“That is an interesting counter. What will you do then?”
“I thought you might help with that. I have told thousands of stories, of cultures that have been lost forever, and people that never got a chance to speak. Why should I feel I’m not worthy of telling this story?”
“Do you think you know these people?”
There it was, the question hir had feared the most, out in the open. Hir didn’t know how to answer that. Hir finished hir smoke in silence and stood up. This was a new mission now.
Hir headed straight for Zubi’s bed on hir way back. She was trying to clean her pistol.
“I want you to put that down and listen to me. I have a proposal for you.”
“If this is a pacifist intervention, I don’t have the time hir. You can’t tell me how to fight my battle.”
“It’s not. That is not why I’m here. I don’t think I can tell this story Zubi. I think…”
“Are you saying that you are on their side? I didn’t expect this of you.”
“No, no. Of course not. I know your people have faced a lot of injustice. But I don’t think I’m the right person to tell their story. I don’t know them well enough.”
“But there is nobody else that’s willing to do it. They have tagged us terrorists!”
“And I know that. You don’t have access but I don’t have authority. I want you to be the storyteller.”
“But I have a war to fight!”
“And this is your way of fighting it. You know you can’t be much good here, sick as you already are. But if I give you an audience, and I will, you can tell your story to as many people around the world as you possibly can. And the world needs to know your story Zubi. Your version of events. What do you say?”
Zubi didn’t know what to say. She wasn’t a storyteller, she wasn’t a politician, and she didn’t know if people would even be interested in her version of events, but this was an opportunity to put it in front of them nevertheless. Zubi couldn’t let it go.
“Yes, I’ll be the storyteller. Let’s go and tell everybody else.”
That night for half an hour all activity came to halt. The leaders had asked everyone to assemble after dinner for hir’s farewell.
“Sometimes, solidarity means taking a step back and allowing people to tell their own stories”, Hir started before hir disclosed the whole plan. They could hear the city police chopping their way closer than they had ever done before even as the entire settlement cheered Zubi at the top of their lungs. Tomorrow was going to usher in a different world.