A Story Makes a Writer

A tall, slim, ebony-skinned young woman bursts through the door into the dorm room where Carolyn and I are sitting. Tossing her suitcase and backpack onto one vacant bed, the newcomer sinks into the mattress of the next. Flashing her deep brown eyes at Carolyn and me, the young woman declares, “I’m NOT a writer!”

My crooked smile reflecting my disbelief, I protest. “Not a writer? How can that be?” I frown and glance at Carolyn who is still holding her manuscript she has been showing me.

“You say you’re not a writer, ” I continue, “but you are at a writers’ conference. You must have some reason for coming.”

The young woman pushes her black, multi-braided hair behind her shoulders and flops her long, slender hands into her lap. “I do. I believe I have a story to tell.”

My ears tuned by a quarter of a century of listening to English language learners in my classroom, I guess that Carolyn’s roommate hasn’t originated from the east coast of the U.S. from where her day’s flights have brought her. I place her accent as coming from Africa.

“You’ve heard of the genocide in Rwanda, haven’t you?” she asks.

When I nod, she adds, “Well, I’m a survivor of that. My parents were killed…”

My mouth drops open. “I’m sorry. … How old were you when that happened?”

“Thirteen. And I was such a baby. Ididn’t know how to do anything…”

When she hesitates, I suggest, ” … to help yourself?”

She nods.

I put out my hand and introduce myself. “My name’s Patricia. My room is down the hall. And your roommate at this conference is Carolyn.”

The young woman rises to shake my hand and Carolyn’s. “My name is Alphonsine.”

Carolyn and I stumble through the sounds we think we hear, but neither of us gets them right.

“I’m sorry,” I apologize. “Could you spell it – your name?”

When Alphonsine does, Carolyn and I get better at pronouncing her name.

“Anyway,” Alphonsine continues, “that’s why I’ve come. I believe I have a story that must be told.”

I agree wholeheartedly.

In fact, most writers write because they have stories that must be told. Sometimes, ordinary people become writers for that very reason.

I, too, have a story that must be told. But, unlike, Alphonsine, the story isn’t my own. It’s another’s.