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The Right Word

When the invasion was over, the Writer was among the first of those arrested. His barbed words had been a thorn in the Dictator’s flesh for many years.

In fact, he had not been productive for quite some time; but they didn’t know that. Invading armies are rarely up to date.

The cell door slammed behind him. The room was almost bare. On the floor there was a rough mattress with some bedding, and a chamber pot.

He examined the room in some detail. This in all probability was the last place he would know. The Dictator would certainly want him dead, after what he had written, all that time ago.

What was left to him? Hours? Maybe, in the chaos that follows an invasion, they would not think of killing him for a few days. Nothing was certain.

He thought it through quite calmly. If this was the end, he should at least leave something behind him, some message, a final word. The walls were rough, dark brick. After some searching he found in a corner a broken bit of stone. With care, he could scratch marks on the wall with the stone. Yes. When he was gone they would find written on the wall a word, the Writer’s final declaration. Perhaps it would give someone pause, at least for a second. Such things get out, too. Who knows, this word of his might become a rallying cry, a symbol of resistance. No one knew better than he the power of the right word.

He stood facing the wall, the stone in his hand, thinking.

LOVE, he thought.

But no. What cruelties had been committed in the name of love? That was not the word.

JUSTICE? No, no, that was worse. It was “Justice” that had brought him to this cell.

What was the real answer, then, in the face of inhumanity… no, not inhumanity, for conduct like theirs has always been human beings’ badge…. What was the word that would  stand in their way?

After some thought, and with care, he scratched in the wall the single word: KINDNESS.

He stood back and looked at it. It was not perfect, it was slightly to one side of what he meant, but yes, it was near enough.

He paced the cell, glancing at his word every few seconds. If one had to leave behind a last testament, did this really say what had to be said? Was there really no more? After all, he considered, a sentence needs a verb….

Next day, the warder was disturbed in his afternoon nap by the knocking at the cell door and the cheerful calling of the voice. He shambled over, grumbling, and opened the hatch in the door. “What?” he asked.

The Writer’s face was glowing with joy. The walls behind the Writer’s shoulder were covered from floor to ceiling with rough white marks. “What’s this?” he cried.

“Good morning, officer,” said the Writer. “I wonder if I could have another cell? I seem to have used this one up.”


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