Freedom: Stories Celebrating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

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9780307588838: Freedom: Stories Celebrating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
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Bestselling authors bring together a thought-provoking collection of short stories, each inspired by one of thirty human rights adopted by the United Nations and promoted by Amnesty International.

Freedom is a mix of thoughtful, serious, funny, and thrilling stories that harness the power of literature to celebrate—and affirm—our shared humanity. Published in association with Amnesty International, an array of internationally acclaimed & award-winning writers remind us these fundamental freedoms – ratified in 1948 – are just as crucial to protect and uphold today as ever.
 
The United Nations took a moral stand against human rights crimes and adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a proclamation of thirty rights that belong to us all, starting memorably with Article 1: “All human beings are born free and equal.” Amnesty International is one of several international organizations promoting UDHR. It is a world-leading grassroots human rights organization & a global movement of millions of people demanding human rights for all people – no matter who they are or where they are.
 
Authors include: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Kate Atkinson, Ishmael Beah, Paulo Coelho, Nadine Gordimer, Marina Lewycka, Henning Mankell, Yann Martel, Rohinton Minstry, David Mitchell, Walter Mosley, Joyce Carol Oates.
 

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Contributors:
 
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie · Mohammed Naseehu Ali · Kate Allen · Gabriella Ambrosio · Kate Atkinson · Liana Badr · Ishmael Beah · Héctor Aguilar Camín · Amit Chaudhuri · Paulo Coelho · Vered Cohen-Barzilay · David Constantine · Ariel Dorfman · Helen Dunmore · Jon Fosse · Petina Gappah · Alan Garner · Nadine Gordimer · Juan Goytisolo · Patricia Grace · Richard Griffiths · Xiaolu Guo · Milton Hatoum · A. L. Kennedy · Olja Knezevic · Marina Lewycka · Henning Mankell · Yann Martel · James Meek · Rohinton Mistry · David Mitchell · Walter Mosley · Joyce Carol Oates · Alice Pung · Mahmoud Saeed · Ali Smith · Archbishop Desmond Tutu · Alexis Wright · Banana Yoshimoto

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

FREEDOM

Article 1
All Are Born Free and Equal
Patricia Grace
busy lines

Waking in the early morning, waiting for daylight, there was just one star visible through an eye-sized gap where the curtains did not quite meet. The peephole was at the top of the window where the first set of curtain hooks on either side fitted into the glides on the runners, leaving a triangular eye of black glass. Out in the dark one star had found that eye and put its own wink there.

It could be her husband looking in—fifteen years since he’d gone off to be a star—and if so he would notice most of the furniture had gone. Piece by piece she had given away the big bed, the bedside cabinets, the tallboy and dressing table. It could be him. One small bed and a set of drawers were enough for her.

Others had followed her husband to stardom. Off they’d gone, one after the other, as though he had left an irresistible tinkling trail for them, a plotted path out to that midnight-blue, crackling, spinning, fluorescent full bowl from where they all eyed down.

She listened this morning, as she waited for daylight under one star observation, for sea sounds, but there were none. There was no movement at all out there, the water being stretched to its edges, she thought, like a whole, black, drum-tight skin. She was certain there were fish in the weed and among the rocks but knew they would not cause a ripple on this still morning. There would be no one coming at daylight—as there had not been anyone for months now, or was it years?—row, row in an aluminium dinghy to disturb and entice them, to snatch them and fry them.

If her husband spied about, finding other gaps in curtains in other parts of the house that he could eye through, he would take note of mostly empty rooms now, though she had kept the sofa and a chair. He would see that she had kept the appliances, knew she liked appliances. Appliances gave their lives to you, worked hard for you for as long as they lived. But even after they died—no more hum, glow, heat, suck, blow—they could still restore something, as though in giving up their lives they returned something of your own life to you.

For example, sweeping was good. After plugging in the vacuum cleaner one morning and stepping on the button to hear a silence which no thump in the heart of it could cure, she said goodbye to it and took up a broom. A broom was light and easy. It had no roar. It was a dancing partner with a gentle voice taking her from room to room, finding every grain of sand that had made its way in. She would pause to take the mats outside and flap them at the sea, having a good look while she was out there, to find out what the water and the seagulls were up to, then continue with her sweeping. With a broom you could dawdle away half a morning and before you knew it, it was time to sit down with a cup of tea and a ginger-nut biscuit. A ginger-nut biscuit took a bit of time, was no easy swallow, and it was the same with double-decker cabin bread. She could gnaw away for some time on one of those, sitting in her chair by the window with the heater going in cold weather, or out on her step on warm days wondering what there was to think about or if anything was going to happen.

Sometimes in the mornings when she was talking to her broom or starting the washing machine, she would hear a scrape and shuffle on her doorstep, so she would wait-wait, become part of silence while listening for a tap on the door, a voice out there calling. After a while she would realize she was mistaken about what she’d heard, but just to be sure she would go and open the door, look out and have a few words to say to the air out there. If it wasn’t too cold she’d leave the door open for the rest of the day.

The heater fizzled out one winter, which meant she had to scrape out her chimney so that she could light her fire. From then on it was necessary to go out along the beach with a backpack to collect firewood in the afternoons, making selections from among logs and sticks and branches that the rough seas had piled. It took time finding the right-sized pieces, but each selection gave satisfaction—which is something she explained to the wind, holding each piece up for it to see.

In summer she went out collecting wood too, stacking it for when it was needed, remembering that all of this walking and finding and carrying and stacking was work given to her by an old heater which had given up the ghost. She appreciated it. The winter driftwood often needed drying out on the hearth.

Sometimes on the way up from the beach with her backpack she would hear the telephone ringing but could never think who might be phoning her. She would hurry up to the house, leaving the backpack on the step, opening the door only to find that the ringing had stopped, or perhaps had never been. It was difficult to tell.

She had to boil water in a pot now that she had burned out the jug element, and since the toaster had stopped working she had to make toast on a wire rack over the stove coil, or sometimes over scratched-up embers in the grate, but she was rewarded with richer tastes and flavors.

Anyway, even though she was fond of appliances she knew it was all stuff. Over the years you became crusty with stuff, and even though she wouldn’t want to outlive all mod cons a good scrape down did no harm. A starry eye would see that she still had television and the electric stove, and that best of all, the old washing machine hadn’t given up. Because of having a stamped-on, skew-whiff spine and hands like broken-legged crabs, she was pleased not to have to rub and scrub at a tub.

Most of the gear from the shed had gone, but any one of them looking down from out there, her husband, or any one of those following bunch of nuisances gone to stardom, winking, spinning, sparking, dancing out in the big forever, could see, even without eyeholes in curtains, that she had kept the dinghy and all of the fishing gear.

Sometimes she thought she could hear chitter-chatter and the dinghy being pulled down to the water, sliding through sand and tumbling over stones. But on looking out would see that it was tipped over against the fence just where she had left it last time she’d tried moving it. What help were any of them when it came to getting it out on the water and spending a few hours?

Today was going to be one of those quiet and windless days with the sea silvery and calm, the kind of day when she would sit outside for an hour or two without moving, hardly breathing, as though waiting for some wild, clawed thing—like wind or lightning or dark or cold to set her in motion.

Gray light was fading the curtain-eye now, but she noticed a final wink, and at the same time thought she heard a voice telling her to get out and have another go.

So after her morning cup of tea, instead of taking up her broom, she went out and tipped the boat onto its foot, put her claws into its nose and tugged. It began to slide. Either I am receiving assistance, she told the air, or broken appliances have made my arms and legs strong.

Once at the top of the beach the dinghy began to glide down the slope, floating on air it seemed, as though being borne along by a row each side of hefty pall-bearers.

At the water’s edge she tumbled herself into the boat, took up an oar and punted with it through to the far side of the channel, where she hooked the anchor up on a rock, allowing the dinghy to drift out until the anchor rope tightened.

The fish were hungry, snatching at bait as soon as her line touched the bottom. Looking down into the water, she could see them swarming, but because the hooks she was using were blunt and rusty and much too large, the fish were difficult to catch. It didn’t matter. She didn’t mind sitting there feeding them and spending a few hours. There were things to talk to them about as well.

The tide had turned before she pulled a fish into the boat, pressing her broken-leg fingers in behind the gills and twisting the hook out of its pursed mouth. After that she rolled up her line. One was enough. But she sat for a time dropping the remainder of the bait into the water piece by piece while continuing to have her say.

When the bait was gone, a pull on the anchor rope dragged the dinghy into the channel. The tide moved the boat through and one push with the oar nosed it up on to the beach, where she tipped herself out onto the sand. Taking the anchor and letting the rope out behind her, she fixed the claws of it into the bared roots of a pohutukawa tree at the top of the beach. She decided that she would let the tide bring the boat up and when it did, she told the sun-beaten air, she would return and wind the anchor rope round the tree to keep the boat high and dry until it was noticed and taken away by someone who wanted it.

On the way up to the house she could hear the phone ringing but didn’t hurry even though there was much to tell, but after putting her line away and still hearing the sound of the telephone, she hurried up to the door. As soon as she opened it the house became as silent as when she had first woken in the early morning, as silent as it was every day unless disturbed by wind or rain or appliances.

She took a knife and her fish down into the undergrowth at the back of the house, sitting down on a tree stump close to the lemon tree where the sun burned and stirred among the stalks and beards and tangles, and where the insects creaked and rattled.

Flies descended as she pointed the knife onto the pale belly of the fish. They zoomed onto her head, her neck, her hands. Onto her mouth. She spat and blew. The knife kept slipping from her screwball hand.

A prick into flesh at last, an opening, and with dark blood oozing she was able to hook her hooked forefinger in and draw out the fish’s stomach. Flies were mad. She shook them off the fish and off her hands, shooing them and flinging the stomach pieces to the base of the lemon tree. After resting for a moment, she slid herself down onto the grass, placing the fish on the stump and doing her best to anchor it by its tail while she began scraping.

The scales flew. They twinkled in the drumming sun, and all the time, scratching and scaling, dropping the knife and picking it up again, beating at flies, she was listening along the track to the house and through the open door for the phone to ring because there was plenty to tell.

After a while she thought she might as well talk to flies. There were no phone lines where they’d all got themselves off to anyway.

The tide was in by the time she finished, so she returned to the beach to secure the boat. The rope was soaked and heavy and she became wet and a little dizzy as she went round and round the tree, winding it. It took a long time, and by the time she finished the day was bleeding away. The track to her house seemed to have stretched out and lengthened itself, so she found a good stick to help her along, stopping every so often to jab it into the ground in front of her so that she could lean and rest.

Once inside she removed her wet clothing, cleaned and scaled herself, and although she hadn’t eaten all day decided she would leave the fish in the fridge and go to bed.

In the dark of early morning she opened her eyes to find that the stars had entered her room. There were pinpricks of them all around, one on the end of her bed, others dotted over the walls and ceiling. They winked like scales caught flying in sunlight. They flickered and hummed and began to move, swapping from one spot to another as in a game of Corners.

Soon they freed themselves from walls and ceilings and began to swarm and spin and dance in all the spaces of the room, alighting on the bed, on her face, her hands, her hair, resting on her eyes.

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