is the 7th of twelve articles for light holiday reading in my 2020 series of Tom's Summer Shorts. The tales are a blend of my real life experiences, professional insights, personal views and fun stories. My hope is that in them you find joy and inspiration.
In my school days, I and my classmates were required to raise our hand when we wished to speak or to ask a question in class. Only when the form master indicated to a particular pupil, was that boy granted licence to speak, to say his bit. This discipline helped maintain order in the class; it also permitted the chosen individual to deliver his words uninterrupted. But, although this necessary code of conduct controlled when a person could speak, there was no limitation on what could be said. There was no censorship. All views, all opinions were welcome, freely expressed and respectfully listened to. The exchange of ideas and ideals thus shared is to this day recognised in enlightened society as … education.
I awoke and looked around me. The surroundings were unfamiliar. Where was I? Confused, I arose, dressed and went outside. The street seemed normal, the people less so. Pedestrians passed by as if unseeing, robotic almost in their demeanour. When I tried to query of some as to 'what was going on?' I was hushed by disapproving looks and a single finger raised to the lips. Then one man furtively whispered in my ear, “You don't have a speaking licence,” and pointed to the plastic clip bearing his photo and a number which he wore on his lapel, before darting off as if in fear of punishment.
Suddenly a loudspeaker mounted to the wall of a nearby building boomed out. “Applications for speaking licences are now being accepted. Report to the Ministry of Speech Control … ” and gave an address, which I established via hand signals with another reticent passerby to be only a block away.
Arriving at the government department, a receptionist gave me explanatory notes to read and I joined the – silent – queue of applicants for speaking licences, all of whom were busy reading the 'instructions'. I opened my pamphlet and did likewise.
“Speaking without licence, conversation of any kind, expressing unapproved opinions are forbidden by law,” it started, then went on, “Below are listed guidelines, the rules you must follow and notes as to what is permissible when you are granted your licence to speak. You will be tested on your knowledge of these and required to sign and confirm your adherence to them when completing your application.”
I was absolutely … well … speechless! I read on -
Speaking without a licence is a criminal offence
The first rule of 'The Speak' (as they called it) is … Keep to the left – no right or centre speak allowed
Speaking may be carried out only on designated routes known as Wokerways and Lieways
These routes are strictly One Way Speaks
They are policed by Speak Cops
Speak Traps are in place to catch those guilty of unauthorised or excessive speaking
Speaking tickets and fines will be issued to offenders
Speakers may be stopped and tested for Think And Thriving … the most heinious offence under the law ... punishable by cancelation of licence and lifetime speaking ban
All applicants must pay for their licence in advance … there is no free speech!
At this point I thought - 'surely I'm dreaming?' Either that or, like Rip Van Winkle, I had 'slept a long, long time' and come to my senses (or lack of them)! in an Orwellian era. But, when I checked in a nearby mirror I was not old and grey. No, the visage staring back at me was the same well lived in, if somewhat more incredulous, countenance which customarily greeted me.
Feeling in need of a lie down and thinking time to contemplate the bizarre situation in which I found myself, I excused myself (silently) from the line of applicants and made to leave. But a security guard barred my exit.
“Where are you going?” the burly fellow demanded. I pointed to my lapel to indicate that I was not in possession of a licence to speak and therefore not authorised to reply. He arrested me anyway.
Next day in court I was charged with - “Failing to speak while knowingly in possession of the ability to do so. How do you plead?”
Totally exasperated and wanting only to get the whole fiendish business finished with, I blurted out, “Guilty!”
With not the slightest hint of irony the judge sentenced me to a ten year loss of speaking licence and imposed a hefty fine for speaking in court while not licensed to do so! I stifled a scream and returned to my apartment.
Once there, I poured myself a stiff drink. Thus relaxed, I went to bed, confident that in the morning I would awake to 'normality'. After all, what I had experienced was clearly a dystopian nightmare in which the only ones with the right to speak were those most wanting to deny the right to others! No such horror could possibly exist in real life and the free society which I knew and cherished ... Or could it?
I am Tom Riach. I live and write in the sunny south of Portugal.
My latest novel is 'Too Early For A Glass Of Wine?' Claim your copy by clicking on the image below.
LICENCE TO SPEAK is an original copyright Tom Riach feature.
I hope you enjoyed this Summer Short and found it to be of value.
To learn more please visit me on my Author Page.
See you there! Regards, Tom.