By Rachel Delahay
I write. I promote my writing - each time a bit more to get the project seen.
“Will you do a profile piece...?”
“Women’s hour would love you to go on.”
“There’s this new fashion mag that...”
Only they don’t want to know about the play, the TV show - that story.
They want to know about me - exactly who I am, what I’m about, where I’m from.
“We can’t place you - your voice, your face, your story.”
They want it all. The work is never enough. I shrink myself. I’m being set up to fail.
Not every story can be mine and once they have it - know my truth, the work ends. Those stories will run out.
My work is given an agency by my skin, my sound, my history. If I deviate, it becomes fake. It’s this silent accusation of inauthenticity I have to protect myself from.
The idea that if I don’t know a world, haven’t been born into it, I’m visibly not clever enough to have done the work.
I clip my speech, pitch smart. They smile. It doesn’t wash. It must be based in truth, be mine or…
There’s a pause. Another accusation. I’m a fraud. I’m asked if my background is similar, in any way. It’s now me who smiles. In truth, I can do it. I’ve learned to be whatever they need me to be. There’s a version that can fit any one of their assumed narratives.
Young? Sure. I wash off my make-up.
Poor? I flatten my vowels.
“Would you describe yourself as working class...?” I explain how my mother is a nurse.
“And your father?”
I shrug. They understand what I’m saying but still push.
“What does he do?”
I think, about what is going to serve this story best - their story. What do they need me to say? He left? I don’t know him? Or is that too sad, too broken. Do I explain he’s in prison, last I heard? Is that too vulgar, too edgy? I think again. And conclude to return to my shrug. We now both fall to silence. I wait, desperate for their assumption to reveal itself. What do they need from me? And then a crack.
“He’s black, right?”
I smile, I have it.
“From St Kitts.” I offer.
“Have you been?”
I smile again - a yes. Because I have. Not with him, but no one seems to pick up on that, care about that. They want their story not mine and I provide because in truth, I’m tired.
I just want to write.