Why a magnet?

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The broken radio lay discarded on the junk heap. Its still-shiny chrome and black plastic casing stood out against the dark red of the rusted anvils and old machinery. It was strange to see it there instead of on its customary place on the dresser.

We grabbed it,  and began twisting the dials, raising the antenna and pushing it back down, pressing buttons. But nothing happened. The radio was truly broken. Then one of the speakers came loose, giving a glimpse at the inner workings of the device. My brother began to pry it open further. I was the hesitant ninny. I knew how vital the radio was to everyday life, how valuable electrical goods were. But my brother said they didn’t need it, wasn’t the replacement in there in the kitchen already?

I was curious too to see inside the radio, so my protests didn’’t last long. I wanted to know how this little box brought us music from America and beyond, and let us attend sports events taking place a hundred miles away.

But when I saw the magnet in the centre of the speaker, I was stumped. What could it possibly have to do with radio broadcasting? A magnet was a magical thing of itself to us children, our concept of it highly influenced by cartoons, where the bad guy was lifted up and held tight by a massive red and silver U-shaped specimen, betrayed by his belt buckle. But I knew this black circle that looked like a piece of rubber was a magnet, because it looked exactly like the fragments we’d played with before. They must also have come from obsolete radios, taken apart by either someone curious or someone thrifty. And knowing my dad, I’m going with curious.

My brother and I split the magnet in two. I took my half into school, and it was a sensation for a day.

Thirty years later, I listen to music and radio programmes on my laptop. I can’t even see the speakers, and have no idea if they need magnets or not. But the excitement and wonder of that afternoon pulling a radio apart is as fond a memory of a time gone past as the sound of crackling voices coming over the airwaves as a station bursts out of the white noise and into life. Beat that, iTunes podcasts.

 

Inspired by Daily Prompt: Magnet

“Hello.”

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“Hello.”

A seemingly innocuous word. Yet, like all utterances, it depends on how it’s said.

When men bellow it across the street, it’s not so welcoming. When they whisper it at you in a dark street or corridor, it’s the verbal equivalent of an opportunistic grope.

As a foreign female, the word is thrown at you like a javelin. It tells you that you have been seen, your otherness will not go unnoticed, unremarked here. It slices through the air at you, dragging the attention of everyone around with it. It punctures any daydream you may have been having, any illusion that you can have a normal life here, be an ordinary person.

Then there’s the mothers/grandmothers who point their toddler at you and tell it over and over: “Say ‘Hello’”. Teaching the child from a young age that people with different skin colours are something to stare at, to point out, to treat as exotic spectacles. So the concept will prevail for yet another generation that people of other ethnicities are tourist attractions, so it’s okay to gawp slack jawed at them and discuss their appearance like you would an exhibit in a museum. That a photograph of them is a prize to show off on social media. Or a sneaky selfie beside them on a plane or in the metro. Ignore their discomfort, their annoyance; sure, it’s not like they’re human beings like yourself, is it?