Stolen
by Eimear Feeney

Aoibhe sits at her cluttered desk, crying in anguish over her twenty Straith Pictiúrs: the picture sequences used in the Irish oral exam. Scattered among the black and white images are her highlighters, their colourful ink now washed away by her tears . Normally, Aoibhe prided herself on her organisational skills. What a disappointment this was, yet the irritating ticks of the clock tormented her more. It was midnight. Tomorrow she will be a victim of the Scrúdú Béil. It occurred to her that, because she started learning Irish at five, a fifteen minute conversation in Irish should be fun? Alas, no. The Scrúdú Béil strikes more fear in her than the Modh Coinníollach: the horrifying conditional tense. Even in her Leaving Cert year, Aoibhe still questions the purpose of the Straith Pictiúrs, or the importance of reciting every word of “Geibheann" le Caitlín Maude. The words “Ainmhí mé, ainmhí alta" will forever trigger her. The Scrúdú Béil traps her in misery like the lion in the poem.

……….

Biting her nails subdues the tears. A cold sweat accumulates on her brow. Aoibhe stares down at the mass of sheets. It was impossible. Accepting defeat, Aoibhe ignores the black and white atrocities and turns to her flashcards. To amuse herself, she builds a pyramid with them and picks up her phone to take a photo. A friend request pops up. Úna? The name was not familiar but she accepts anyway. Úna starts typing… “Hey, good luck tomorrow”. One of Aoibhe’s dimples appears. A conversation starts to flow. Úna listens to all of Aoibhe’s worries, then offers: “My aunt is the Irish examiner who will be examining us tomorrow, I can tell you which Straith Pictiúr she will ask you, she follows a consistent pattern”. The stars appear to start shimmering outside as Aoibhe’s eyes light up. “I’ll tell you, but in return I ask for something, a trade?”, types Úna. Aoibhe wipes the dark stains of mascara away, as her matching dimples create a stunning smile. She types “yes”, dismissing Úna’s peculiar words about “something in return”.

……….

Aoibhe sits outside the examination room, feeling confident thanks to Úna. The door opens, a hand beckons her inside. Aoibhe sits facing the examiner, Úna’s aunt?. The examiner’s razor-sharp eyes offer no encouragement. “Cad is ainm duit? “, she asks. An easy question. Aoibhe opens her mouth to answer. No words escape. As if her voice was taken. Stolen. She cries silently in anguish, remembering the “trade” she made with a complete stranger.