As part of this year’s One Read program and inspired by the themes of displacement, disconnection and longing for the feeling of home in “The Ruins of Us,” we challenged writers to craft a tale that somehow explores this idea of being an outsider. We received stories of cliques and exclusion, moving to an unfamiliar city, the immigrant experience, or of returning to a home that is no longer home–all told in no more than 250 words. Thank you to everyone who entered and shared the worlds of your imagination with us. Our two winners are Josh Ray and Chinwe Ndubuka. Writers Melody Hapner and Nidhi Khosla receive honorable mentions.
We invite all participants to come to our Flash Fiction Reading and Reception on Monday, September 16 at 7:00 p.m. in the Columbia Independent School Cafetorium (1801 N. Stadium Blvd).
We are pleased to share with you the winning stories.
Local Blueberries by Josh Ray
He had late night brake light laser streaks zooming on his overworked corneas as he sizzled 85 miles per hour down backcountry salt flat desert America, fingering through a basket of blueberries grown locally at the last town a thousand miles long passed in the rearview mirror. An early Tom Waits tune popped up on the radio with mysterious clairvoyance. And just like that he was transported back to California, back to San Francisco whereto he had taken an inspired joyride earlier this summer with the puerile hopes of discovering something personally and profoundly inner about himself, and wherein he learned a lot about what disenchantment really feels like. And in all this hyper, jazz-hip, drug-scrounging, poor busker, two a.m. highway-jism of infinite lonely soliloquizing, the only definite thing he learned, returning now to something after having never really escaped, being, in so many words, “I Yam what I Yam.”
Week Two and Counting by Chinwe Ndubuka
It’s January and I’m cold. Two weeks ago, when I bid my family farewell at a Nigerian airport before heading to an American university, I was hot and teary-eyed. Here I’ve found I don’t need my many handkerchiefs to wipe sweat or dust surfaces. I interact more with my thermostat. A few days ago, I thought my walls were transmitting electricity, shocking me when I touched them. In this country where the power rarely goes out, the realization was frightful. But it was embarrassment I felt when a police officer—yes I dialed 9-1-1—explained the static commonly caused by dry winter air. For now, I adjust the dial in my apartment by three degrees and two degrees more before the heater hums to life, sending warm air through the vents. Appeased, I consider studying, but my attention rests on the five-level parking garage opposite my window. It’s barely six o’clock and darkness has already descended, but cars circle under bright lights in their own concrete community. Muffled voices pass outside my door. I am alone and lonely. With seven hours between us, it’s too late to call home; to speak to a lively voice that knows mine and carries with it a warmth not measured in Celsius or Fahrenheit. My family is sleeping soundly with open windows. I’m thankful that morning will be here before spring and pray for strength to last the night.
The Homecoming by Nidhi Khosla (honorable mention)
Soon she would be home and surrounded by the cacophony that is the result when otherwise quiet relatives get together. There would be home-cooked lunch, not the flavorless creamy orange-colored curries she had reluctantly eaten at ethnic restaurants. The fans white-colored but yellowing, hung from the high ceilings would whir slowly, lulling one to sleep, while the Sun beat outside on the concrete. Eventually, dusk would fall, the heat giving way to a soft breeze that caressed your skin like resham, the soul and body heaving a sigh of relief for a few hours until the morning Sun started the relentless cycle again. In the distance, you would hear faint strains of devotional music as night approached, stars revealed themselves and a sense of mystery hung in the air.
The car halted. She entered the house, struggling with suitcases. “Thank God for old houses with high ceilings,” she thought. It was only after a few minutes that she realized that an air-conditioner was on, bought she was told because the city was now intolerably hot. The house was quiet. “Everyone is so busy these days but they will try to visit,” she was told. Jet lagged, she fell asleep as if drugged. Squinting, she looked at the gleaming, old Radium timepiece. It was 9 pm. She stepped out on the balcony. The humidity and heat hung low and a mosquito buzzed. She retreated inside as pilgrims whizzed past in their SUV, loud music blaring, ready for salvation.
The Music of a Soft Wind by Melody Hapner (honorable mention)
I live in Missouri. I breathe in Missouri air. I have a mortgage for a Missouri home, and I go to work every day to a job in Missouri. But I do not find contentment nor do I find hope, resolve, or any other emotional binding to this place. Instead, I find myself longing. The dream was to come to fruition with our relocation to this place. It didn’t. I doubt it will.
“Yes,” he says to me.
“You’re wrong,” I say.
“When did this start?”
“When the Arch was within view. When there was no turning back.”
He doesn’t care. We are here for him and what he needs. That’s what matters most. I may crumble on the inside, but I must maintain the appearance of happiness to the world, or at least to Missouri.
“It’s only another handful of years,” he says.
“I know,” I say.
“You’ll be happy then.”
I stare out the window at the snow falling on the branches of the decrepit oak in our back yard. It is cloaked in at least an inch of snow. It doesn’t look as if it would be able to sway to the music of a soft wind, but instead like it would dissolve should the faintest of winds rustle its branches. It is stuck – weighed down by the impossibility of its circumstance. That poor tree is in misery.