Tell A Tale in 500 Words

The Meeting By sue gale

The woman on the stage speaks softly but confidently in slightly broken English. There is no trace of self-pity as she describes her situation dispassionately, her voice cracking a little only when she mentions her children. Without apology she expresses the families’ wish to become part of their village community, requesting a temporary home for six months, just one or two rooms, until permanent accommodation can be found for them all.



At this there is a slight frisson in the room and Audrey tuts audibly, her eyes wide with incredulity, her lips pursed in disapproval. She cranes her neck to talk to the woman behind as discontent rumbles around the hall. ‘Permanent accommodation’ - they all know what that means.



The Chair of the Parish Council stands up. He is an unconvincing speaker who lacks conviction, and sniffs of disdain can be heard in the hall. He attempts to present the project in a more positive light, a community response to help those from another community albeit an immigrant one. It is obvious he feels no commitment to the woman's cause. He is too easily swayed by the strength of feeling in the village hall. Joyce despises his weakness.



Audrey is the first speaker from the floor. She plays to those around her who are nodding their approval as she describes how her own daughter has lived in the village all her life and is still on the housing list. Her words are tinged with the bigotry which always follows the statement 'I'm not racist but....' and this theme is taken up by others who speak with a false compassion for ‘these unfortunate people.’ Their situation is indeed very sad but village families must come first, there are too few schools, doctors, nothing can be done 'much as we would like to help.'



Joyce knows Ken would have agreed with every word Audrey said and she would have fallen in line with him as usual. But he isn’t here now and there is something about the dignity of the woman on the stage which touches her. Over £800 was raised for the homeless at Christmas and yet here were people needing their help, in their village now. She is ashamed of the insulting excuses coming thick and fast. She watches the woman on the stage flinch.



Joyce understands the arguments. She still believes the youngsters in the village should be first in line when houses are allocated but how many of them have lived in permanent fear, starving and terrified? How many of them have nothing left at all? For God’s sake, she thinks, where is our humanity?



The meeting ends on a sour note. She watches Audrey leave and waits while the hall empties. A sheet of paper has been placed on a table at the back for those to sign who might be able to offer accommodation to the refugee families. Joyce approaches and bends over to read it carefully. With a trembling but firm hand, she writes her name.


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