As I walked to the stage, I felt hundreds of eye pierce me. No, I could not blame them because I would have done the same. Each pair fixated on a particular aspect longer before the general assessment. I had just been called to give my speech on abortion. Having made my research and rehearsed in front of my friends, my ambition had been to smash it but once I entered the hall, everything changed. My stomach started to rumble and a white cold fell upon me. It was until that moment that I knew what it felt like to feel heat even despite the cool environmental atmosphere.
“The next speaker” -the emcee searched the crowd and guessed- “oh, there she is. Let’s welcome her, Gbemisola Akinde!”
The audience applauded as I neared the front. “It will be fine,” I assured, using sweaty palms to smoothen an imaginary rumple on my pleated skirt which one of my friends had claimed looked babyish. Now, I wished I had listened to her. Climbing the mini stairs that led up to the lectern, my legs shook perceptibly. Perhaps, I was just self conscious. The lectern was almost as tall as I was and this thought preoccupied my mind. An eager hush fell in the hall as I was fully placed. Surprisingly, I joined in. However, my muteness was not due to anticipation. It was due to fear. Their eyes told me they expected me to start something but I was held back by the trepidation of not delivering.
“Good day everyone.” The words never left my mouth and I felt my hands tighten against the glass podium as I froze. What if I said the wrong thing? “As earlier introduced, my name is Gbemisola Akinde and today, I will be talking to you about abortion.” This played in my head.
I searched for the faces of my loved ones, willing for the courage it gave as it did in movies but when the four connected, there was the motion made by her, coupled with frustration and it said, “Speak.”
Still, I could not speak.
The emcee came to me. I half expected him to chase me away or ask if anything was wrong but he did not. Obviously, something was wrong. “They can’t bite,” that was all he said before his receding figure became my view.
“They can’t bite,” this rang in my head and I didn’t know when it popped out, “okay, you can’t bite.” Laughter came from the wolves and I felt myself loosen up. A bit. Tentatively, I spoke, “My er, name is Gbemisola Akinde.” Words started to fail me again. Growing panicked, I confessed, “This is my first time and I am, uhm…nervous?” It came out as a question. Already, two minutes of my time was spent.
I can do it.
“I’m speaking on abortion and I won’t be defining it because you already know what it means.” I had not planned to say that. More knots got untied. “Abortion is a wide topic and there are many sides to it. I guess I won’t be able to tell you which side is right or wrong.” This got a collective ‘hmmm’ which urged me on.
“I could tell you abortion was bad because it is like killing babies who might become the next President of Nigeria and all that, but they are not even babies yet” -I paused for the sinking effect, hoping that sarcasm had been infused in my tone- “and I could also have said that abortion was good because it favours those who are not ready to take the responsibility. This does not just include those having premarital sex. Married people too. Imagine a struggling middle class family with five children already discovering another was on the way but wouldn’t that sound like you’re trying to eliminate them just because they’ve inconvenienced you?”
Feeding more on their energy, I furthered, “But, what if someone like me got pregnant now? I’m still a student and I have my life ahead of me. Do you honestly think I will keep it? You might be thinking, ‘Didn’t you know this before having sex?’ but in fact, it happens all the time. Preventive measures, if used, fail at times.” At this point, some people started to clap. “It’s not just about inconvenience now, it’s about reality. That’s why lots of young adults commit abortion…because the stakes are too high.” I could feel the budding of a bias. My plan had been to be neutral all through.
Another level of hush fell. Words were coming, like for Leslie, the Book Thief but when it was fully formed, tragedy happened. The warning bell rang.
“My time here is up and I may not win any of the prizes today but I want you all to think, in an open minded fashion, the pros and cons of abortion and I am sure you will realize that there is no absolute right or wrong angle to it. Religious angle aside anyways,” I said with a reflexive wave of the hand that was not holding the microphone. “I hope we all come to realize that some things just can’t be white or black…they need to have that monochrome.” More applauds came.
“Well, abortion depends on the circumstance. When I say circumstance too, I don’t just mean ones caused by rape or risk to the mother’s health. I am still talking about the normal consensual sex induced circumstances. Not all circumstances are justifiable though but think about it and I hope you will discover that the goodness or lack of it in abortion is not set in stone.” Smiling, I added, “At least not yet. Thank you.” With that, I ended my speech and was ushered with claps and whistling. Of course, some were sceptical.
The next person was called to speak, after the emcee had commented on my speech. I hadn’t been paying attention to his exact words but I guessed it was positive because they didn’t usually comment otherwise. They mostly kept quiet if not satisfactory but there was this nagging feeling that he was hedging around the truth. The feeling grew after hearing the stats off wikipedia the next speaker gave and realizing that most of the things I had said was impromptu. I could not decipher what I felt about the spontaneousness of it or what I felt about my initial stillness.