She looked insignificant standing next to the lectern. If she’d been behind it her head would be invisible which was why the Headmaster had put the small table in front of her for her notes. He needn’t have bothered. She talked without referencing them, but it wasn’t a talk she delivered, it was an admonishment, a denunciation delivered with passion and volume that belied her stature and had the audience of pupils, teachers and parents staring in disbelief.
What inner demon possessed this slip of a girl in her sneakers, tracksuit and T-shirt? A demon that was now starting to be seen? She looked tidy enough with her blonde hair plaited and blue eyes sparkling with passion and anger. Anger that was directed at her audience. I glanced at my wife seated on the other side of our two youngest. Her eyes were wide with shock. She turned to me and smiled a nervous smirk. Was this what she had expected?
‘You are the ones responsible for this climate mess,’ her voice reaching a crescendo as she pointed her finger at the audience in all directions, ‘but you will leave it to me,’ she hit her chest hard with an index finger, ‘and others like me to try and fix it. You won’t know if we have because you will have breathed your last long before things return to normal.’
She started moving around the stage, her movements aggressive, and accusatory. I could see her chest heaving as she sucked in the cool, dust-musty air of the auditorium. My body seemed to squirm in my seat with the guilt and discomfort that was rising in me. I could sense others as uncomfortable as me with what this slip of a girl was telling us, and it’s not as if we didn’t know it years ago. We chose to do nothing about it, paid lip service with a bit of recycling and planting a tree for a plane ride.
The Headmaster glanced at his watch, lips twitched nervously. I was certain he had not expected a tirade such as this. I could imagine him thinking if he should put a stop to this now. After all what right did a young girl have to talk to the school like this? Her arrogance in criticising the gathering in the way she did may reflect on the teaching staff at the school negatively.
I re-focused on the stage. She was red in the face now as she smacked the table hard with her fist.
‘Recognise it now! You have all done too little to make the needed change but you can all reform and do something! Now!’ She stepped back from the edge of the stage with her hands by her sides and said her final words in a whisper.
The Headmaster stood, ‘Interesting speech to open the debate. In response is Peter Fairwell.’
He led the applause as she descended the stage and resumed her seat between my wife and me.