Riya And Her Words Unsaid

by Róisín Finnegan (age 16, Clontarf, Dublin)

You have the right to express yourself freely and share what you think, unless it harms or offends other people. Photograph: Getty Images

You have the right to express yourself freely and share what you think, unless it harms or offends other people. Photograph: Getty Images


In the coolness of her school’s sickbay, Riyas’s pain seemed to melt into the buzz of silence.

The room was painted a white much too bright, with cold, sickly green tiles making up the floor that was visible between the two beds. Both beds were situated flush against opposite ends of the cramped room. Riya, the sole occupant of the room, was seated on the right side of one of the beds. She sat with her back against the wall, eyes half shut against the harsh light. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see both her own reflection and that of the opposite bed in the small square mirror, which was the wall’s only decoration.

It was a well-known fact in her small country school that Riya was very susceptible to migraines. She was all too familiar with the layout of the school sickbay.

The light was too much to bear. She shut her eyes and exhaled. Once the pain had ebbed a little, she opened her eyes, looking properly into the mirror. With a start, she realised her reflection had company. She whipped her head around to see the room’s new occupant.

A man now sat parallel to her. He was smoking what looked like a long thin cigarette, though the smell the smoke effused was that of berries, not tobacco. His blonde hair was thin, messy and slick with gel or oil. She judged him to be in his late 30s, though his face was a strange mixture of deep lines and youthful features, so he could have been a young or aging man, depending on his expression. The clothes he wore had been made to last. Their faded colours and small tears and stains were a testament to what they had been through.

Upon seeing him she cried out, trying to put some distance between herself and the stranger, but finding her back to the wall. The sickbay only had one door, which she would have heard open, and there were no windows. How had he gotten in?

The stranger remained calm, taking a long drag from his cigarette and exhaling languidly before addressing her.

“Hello Riya,” he said casually.

“Another migraine, is it?”

Riya shook herself and found her voice.

“Wh-who are you?” she asked, curling herself up to at least feel there was more distance between them.

“Names aren’t so important where I’m from,” he said.

“Those are an art of your kind. In my home we are more concerned with what it is you do. I have many professions, blessed with an eye for knowing when and where I’m needed. Certain obstacles such as worlds or walls are but a fog on a window, easily wiped away, until the path and destination are clear, and I can step inside and find who and what I am looking for. Understand?”

“Not at all,” replied Riya, shaking her head with her gaze still fixated on the stranger.

“Understandable. One of my trades is healing. I find a pain I know the cure for, whose sufferer is beyond the reach of a cure. I reach through the insurmountable distance with hope in hand, and thus am a bridge across worlds for cures and their purposes which lie hidden in the many layers that hold us in existence.”

He reached into his coat pocket and removed a small glass bottle filled to the corked brim with a swirling, iridescent liquid.

“The temptation to have pain leave with the freeing suddenness of a flock of startled birds is one rarely resisted by the human race,” the stranger said wistfully, staring into his bottle, eyes glittering with the knowledge of its contents and their effects.

“For that reason, Earth has always called to me in many voices over many years. Riya, your pain is not one easily cured, as the cures of your world work mostly with body, rarely with heart, nor soul. This, Riya, works quickly, brief as winter daylight, reaching straight to the soul for the malady. This is your most sought-after cure.”

His piece said, the stranger leant forward, extending the arm that held the bottle to her. Riya looked from it back up to the stranger.

“You can’t expect me to believe you,” she said softly.

“You’re cruel to offer a cure that isn’t true. I know it can’t be true. You can’t possibly be real, appearing like this. This . . . this is all just proof that this pain is driving me insane.”

Riya had tried for years to make the pain go away.

She couldn’t count how many doctor visits she had sat through, describing her migraines over and over again. There didn’t seem to be anything particularly wrong with her. She was just susceptible to these things.

Stress, the doctors suggested, over and over.

Not stress, her parents assured them. She was just overreacting.

Her parents never allowed her to speak for herself. Her life was moulded by the strict limits they set. She could never go out, all her subjects had been chosen for her. They had selected the college course she would take. Their yelling drowned any protest out. After a youth of this, fear and guilt accompanied every word she said that was “out of line”.

She desperately wanted to have some small place, some small thing, anything, that was her own, that was an expression of herself and who she could be. But Riya was frightened into silence. It hurt to know that was the way her parents wanted her to be.

“Your pain’s root lies in your words unspoken, Riya,” the stranger said, seeming to read her mind.

“A song silenced that still plays on without a listener, choked by an unhealthy silence that falls upon you as its only hearer and thus stays and congregates into a crescendo that takes root within you and leaves you no peace. This is the only cure. I strongly advise you to take it.”

Riya knew the stranger was a hallucination.

She also knew that all he said could never be true.

And this was why she didn’t feel so bad about leaning forward and taking the bottle, opening it and raising it to her mouth before her thoughts could protest.

None of it was real, anyway.

But at this point anything was worth a shot.

She shut her eyes, pressed her lips to the bottle and drank it all, the liquid cold as ice. Riya inhaled deeply, her hands shaking, looking down to the now empty bottle and then to the stranger.

She felt nothing.

No change.

Then, she felt her eyes well up.

Before she could stop it she felt a tear begin to escape her eye, but as it fell upon her cheek and slowly slid down her face she realised with a hitch of breath that it did not feel like a tear. Something smooth and thin and far longer than a tear was trailing down her cheek. She reached up and caught it in her hand, bringing it down away from her face to see what she now held.

There was a typed word on the surface of her palm.


“Wh-what?” she stammered, her heart fluttering in sudden panic as she felt another something slip out of her other eye. She reached up and caught it, bringing her hand down to see the next quivering word nestled in her palm.


“Jesus, what is this?!” she cried, feeling more and more words spill out of her eyes.

“The cure you have taken gives form to feeling, allowing it to be released with ease,” the stranger explained, a small smile on his face.

Riya desperately tried to catch the whole sentences flowing down her face.

“You feel pain because of the weight of the words you cannot say,” he continued.

“So now you’ll cry them out.”

“Make it stop!” she shrieked.

The words were collecting in a mangled pool in her palms, spilling out through her fingers and falling to the floor. When they fell they flowed to the walls and climbed them, so that the thoughts and feelings she avoided every day were now all around her in clear type.

“You need this Riya,” said the stranger calmly.

“It will be over soon and once it is it won’t come back.”

“Stop it please!” she yelled.

But despite her protestations the words continued to be shed.

Soon the floor was hidden beneath the layers of sentences, her fear and anger spelled out in every corner. The walls too were soon covered in all her words unsaid. And through her panic and confusion, Riya felt the pain begin to ebb away.

When all the walls had been overtaken, the words began to fly around the room, a swirling tornado of repressed thought and feeling unleashed. Riya continued to sob, curling up into a ball and shutting her eyes against the mounting chaos. She felt the hurt of every unheard protestation as it slid down her cheek.

Then, suddenly, it was all gone.

No pain.

Riya opened her eyes.

Her words had all faded from existence too.

As had the kind stranger, all he had left behind was the faint fruity smell of his cigarette smoke and her uncountable unanswered questions.

The effects of her temporary cure had faded fast, but despite this she still felt two final words unsaid fall from her eyes and into her waiting hands.



Article 13

You have the right to express yourself freely and share what you think,

unless it harms or offends other people

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