Writing Prompt “Travel”
You take a trip to any location you choose. Describe the scenery, the people, and the social system in the city/country that you have traveled to.
Word Count: 1,200
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Read the stories here:
- The Inexplicable Journey of Life by RN Bhattacharjee
- Growing Up by Roy York
- Dream Destination by Phil Town
- Wuhan – Where Worlds Collide by Andy Lake
- Fika, A Swedish Tale by Claude Bornel
- The Trip 1961 by Robert Emmett
- BOOM by Anindita Basu
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118 thoughts on “Writing Prompt “Travel””
The Inexplicable Journey of Life:
“Gimme a call once you get to Jaigaon,” my wife entreated me, looking as bewitching as ever.
I tried to hug her. She pushed me away then.“Get aboard, you oldie. Can’t you see the guard flagging the signal?”
Her worry had barely registered when I found myself standing on the footboard of the slow-moving Alipur-bound Kanchan Kanya Express. The flashes of lightning overhead looked ominious. I kept waving at her but soon her face got lost behind commuters running helter-skelter for God knows what.
I stood at the door for a while before making my way back.There were daily passengers cramming the coach but they would get down nearby. I sqeezed myself in between them on the seat. A bald headed man in his late thirties, caught my attention. He asked one of them to be aware of where he kept his feet. They were gone soon and I could look around for a proper take of my co-passengers. There were two young chaps on the window seats on my left. One of them would take the upper berth later,I presumed. That left us four for the six inside berths. I stretched out my legs as scenes from the last one month started replaying in my mind. I worried for the safe return of my wife while the intermittent rain continued splashing the window panes.
When the elderly couple was done with their dinner.I looked at the man.He was quite bulky and thick-set. He wore thick glasses and, at that point, stretched out his hand to his wife, sitting near the window on my right. The lady, surrounded by all kinds of bag and baggage,dug into a gray handbag and brought out a small bottle. She poured a few tiny balls on her palm and offered them to him.
The train was whizzing past a sea of shadowy figures in the darkness of the night outside. After a while,I got up and asked the lady if she would mind terribly if I pulled down the bunk from the back and retired for the night. I was dead beat and slept like a log the moment I hit the middle berth.
The first rays of the sun were hurting my eyes. I got down yawning and headed to the loo. The woman from an adjacent coach was in front carrying a wild child, throwing her arms and legs about
When I was back I felt sorry to see the lady craning her neck out from under the bunk. To save her the discomfort, I asked her if she would like me to lower the bunk. She looked at her hand mirror, tucked the lock behind her ear before picking up her handbag and bed sheet. It was only then I noticed her strikingly good looks. I sat down beside her. Soon the bearded chap in half pants and T-shirt, climbed down from the upper berth and sat beside me. His friend by the window sprang to mind then and was found sound asleep on the upper berth opposite. The train at that moment was trooping in at NJP junction station. The young chap got off the train, came back soon holding two cups of steaming tea.
“Hey, Dwip, get up. We’re at NJP.” His friend murmured out something incomprehensible.
“Get up,man.I brought special tea for you.”
When the chap realized that his friend was not interested, he imitated, “You don’t drink tea? I’ll leave it on the window sill then.”
Some time passed while the engine of the train was being replaced at the junction. Normally, I prefer not to take tea from those bluffing vendors but I couldn’t help asking for the neglected cup. The lad gleefully offered it. Later, when I took a ten rupee note out of my purse to offer to him, he looked hesitant and discomfitured. The train started moving again and I went back to dozing off and on. Soon,it arrived at Siliguri Town. The sight of the bulky man asking for something from a stall outside, caught my eye. I felt worried. The train didn’t halt for long here. He’d find it hard to get back in the train unless he hurried. Luckily, he was back in the nick of time holding two water bottles under his arms.
“Why did you buy two bottles. Will you never change? Always showing off.” his wife shot at him.
“I thought you asked me for two bottles,” he replied handing one to her while sitting down.
“Why should I do that? I ain’t nuts like you. Now where do I put the bottle when we can’t carry a thing more? Stupid.” She was pretentiously upset.
“You’re always like that. Never satisfied. Blabbering non-stop. Had I brought one,you would’ve fussed for two.”
I kept looking secretly from one to another,wondering about the intricacies of married life.I couldn’t tell for the life of me, who, of the two, was right.The rhythmic movement brought a temporary lull in the compartment.
After sometime, the man called someone from his mobile. “No we’ve reached a place called (he turned to ask me the name) New Malbazar. How far is Alipur from here? No,you don’t have to send the car. We can find our way out.”
He’d hardly hung up when his wife hissed at him,“Why did you ask them not to send the car on a horrible day like this?”
“There’ll be auto-rickshaws outside the station. Why to trouble them unnecessarily?” he shot back.
“It might help. Your son-in-law has some duties to his in-laws as well, doesn’t he? Tell her to send the car. We can’t look for a cab on an ill-fated day like this,” she jabbered. He took out his mobile again and started scrolling down. Despite their numerous arguments. their compatibility was for all to see. I noticed the woman tucking the water bottle in the netted bag behind.
“God! The woman is smart. She’s leaving it like that not to overburden her husband. We can take a leaf out of their book on Understanding and Love,” I whispered.
The train was late by an hour, so I rushed to Bhutan gate. I switched off my mobile to keep the battery going. The continuous rain made my quarter messy when I finally sneaked in at around seven in the evening. I’d a quick shower before clicking to SIM 2 as the mobile came alive in my hand. There were 34 miss calls from my wife! I called back. She was hysterical.
“Thank God,you’re still alive,” she cried out.
“What do you mean?”
“Don’t you know? The train you’re travelling in was struck by lightning. Some 16 people died I stood shell-shocked, stunned by the news. As I fidgeted with the remote to get to Prime Time News on NDTV, the sight of the derailed train with local rescuers bringing out the injured, numbed me into some disbelief and stupor, as the newscaster read out about a husband whose debarred body was still covering the body of his wife underneath.
So, this is my first time posting a story and comments in this platform. Hope I’m not too late.
Best regards and keep writing,
Will not go into minute critiquing… Overall you satisfied me as a reader.. that’s what I want to tell you. Take care. Anindita.
Thanks once again. Please don’t stop writing and critiquing as well. Love and best wishes.
For what it’s worth.
This is a wonderful story, Raffin. It’s filled with beautiful imagery and insightful observations. I hope I’ve preserved the finer nuances of your most exquisite writing style. Like you, I get many ideas for my stories from ordinary people and events that I witness in my life, and then bend them into a short but intriguing story; inasmuch as my ability to do so allows.
I was quite taken with this story, and for that reason, corrected the mistakes and clarified the meaning and language differences. I’ve changed as little as possible.
I hope you like what I’ve helped you do. If not, please find a way to forgive any perceived transgression. I assure you, none was intended.
If it offends you, you can always ask Carrie or Alice to delete it.
“Give me a call when you get to Jaigaon,” my beautiful wife entreated me.
I tried to hug her but she pushed me away. “Get aboard, you old fool. Can’t you see the guard flagging the signal?”
Her worry had barely registered when I found myself standing on the footboard of the slow-moving Kanchan Kanya Express. The flashes of lightning overhead looked ominous. I kept waving at her but soon her face got lost behind a swarm of commuters en route to who knows where.
I lingered at the door before making my way to my compartment. There were local passengers cramming the coach but they wouldn’t be on the train for long. In the meantime I squeezed myself in between them on the seat. A bald headed man in his late thirties caught my attention. He asked one of them to watch where he put his feet. A few stops later most of the locals were gone and I could take a proper inventory of my fellow passengers.
There were two young chaps on the window seats to my left. One of them would take the upper berth later, I presume. That left us four for the six inside berths. I stretched out my legs as scenes from the past month played out in my mind. My concern for my wife’s safe return was as unrelenting as the splashing of rain on the window panes.
When the elderly couple was done with their dinner, I looked at the man. He was quite bulky and thick set. He wore thick glasses and, at that point, stretched out his hand to his wife, sitting near the window on my right. The lady, surrounded by all kinds of bags and baggage, dug into a gray handbag and brought out a small bottle. She poured a few tiny balls on her palm and offered them to him.
The train was whizzing past a sea of shadowy figures in the darkness of the night. After awhile, I got up and asked the lady if she would mind terribly if I pulled down the bunk from the back and retired for the night. I was exhausted and slept like a log the moment I hit the middle berth.
I was awakened by the first rays of the morning sun. I climbed down yawning and headed to the loo. The woman from an adjacent coach was in front of me carrying a fussing child, throwing her arms and legs about wildly.
Upon my return, I was chagrined to see the lady (which lady? the wife?) craning her neck out from under my now empty berth. I politely offered to lower the bunk, after which she looked in her hand mirror, tucked a stray lock behind her ear before picking up her handbag and bed sheet. It was only then I noticed her strikingly good looks. I sat down beside her.
Soon after, the bearded chap in the half pants and t-shirt climbed down from the upper berth and sat beside me. His friend by the window was still sound asleep on the upper berth opposite. The train at that moment was chugging into NJP junction station. The young chap got off the train, and soon returned holding two cups of steaming tea.
“Hey Dwip, get up. We’re at NJP.” His friend murmured something incomprehensible.
“Get up, man. I bought you some hot tea.”
When the chap realized that his friend was not interested, he shrugged. “You don’t drink tea? Fine, I’ll leave it on the window sill then.”
Some time passed while the engine of the train was being replaced at the junction. Normally, I avoid doing business with the crooked vendors but I couldn’t help asking for the neglected cup. The lad gleefully offered it. Later, when I offered him a ten rupee note for his trouble, he looked hesitant and uncomfortable. (But he accepted it?)
The train started moving again and I went back to dozing off and on. Soon, it arrived at Silguri Town. The sight of the bulky man asking for something from a stall outside caught my eye. I felt worried. It was no easy task to disembark, make a purchase and re-board the train before it left the station, but luckily, he was back in the nick of time holding two water bottles under his arms.
“Why did you buy two bottles? Will you never change? Always showing off.” His wife griped at him.
“I thought you wanted two bottles,” he replied, handing one to her while sitting down.
“Why would I do that? I’m not nuts, like you. Now where am I supposed to put it when we can’t carry one thing more? Stupid.” She was pretentiously upset.
“You never change, do you? Never satisfied. Blabbering non-stop. Had I brought one, you would’ve fussed for two.”
I kept looking secretly from one to the other, wondering about the intricacies of married life. I couldn’t tell for the life of me, who, of the two, was right. The rhythmic movement of the train brought a temporary lull in the compartment.
After some time, the man called someone from his mobile. “No, we’ve reached a place called (he turned to ask me the name) New Malbazar. How far is Alipur from here? No, you don’t have to send the car. We can find our way out.”
He’d hardly hung up when his wife hissed at him, “Why did you ask them not to send the car on a horrible day like this?”
“There’ll be auto-rickshaws outside the station. Why trouble them unnecessarily?” He shot back.
“It wouldn’t hurt. Your son-in-law has obligations to his in-laws as well, doesn’t he? Tell her to send the car. We’ll never find a cab on such a foul day as this,” she jabbered. He took out his mobile again and started scrolling down. Despite their numerous disagreements, their compatibility was plain to see. I noticed the woman tucking the water bottle into the netted bag behind her.
God, the woman was smart. Clearly she left it like that to ease the burden on her husband. It was a subtle, but endearing proof of her consideration for him.
The train was late by an hour, so I rushed to the Bhutan gate. I switched off my mobile to save the battery. The continuous rain made my quarter messy when I finally sneaked in at around seven in the evening. I took a quick shower before clicking my SIM 2 as the mobile came alive in my hand. There were 34 missed calls from my wife! I called back. She was hysterical.
“Thank God you’re still alive,” she cried out.
“What do you mean?”
“Don’t you know? The train you were on was struck by lightning. Sixteen people died.”
I stood, shell-shocked, stunned by the news. As I fidgeted with the remote to get to the Prime Time News on NDTV, the sight of the derailed train with local rescuers bringing out the injured, numbed me into some disbelief and stupor, as the newscaster read about a husband whose debarred (ejected) body was still covering the body of his wife underneath.
Do you know what you have done? You have made me reread my story and I simply can’t believe it. Was this story really written by me? It seems so polished by the touch of your magical hand.
Ken, you want me to ask Carrie to delete it, do you? You know what I feel like doing right now? I want to copy-paste our story on my FB page. I want to blog about how it came about. And then share it on my Google+ account. I’ll also try to advertise it on Twitter, if you would allow me, Boss.
I feel extremely honoured when you write: “Like you, ….” this is quite an honour for me. Come to think about it, the very idea of Ken Cartisano being fascinated by my story and rewriting it, is one of the heights (highs?) of my fledgeling writing career so far.
By the way, the lady hanging her neck out was the hefty man’s wife and the young bearded chap did pocket the 10-rupee-note without any further ado.One great mistake I made as it was pointed out by Roy, was the use of the word ‘debarred’ when actually I meant ‘charred’. But at that point I had my head crammed with ‘debarred’, ‘barred’, ‘slurred’ and ‘charred’. And I thought the first conveyed the image I wanted to convey the best!
Anyway, thank you for the trouble you have undertaken on my account and also for the great honour you have bestowed on me in the process by rewriting the story. It will be a life long memory.
With awe-struck admiration, love and best wishes….
Is ‘Boss’ a compliment? Or… Well, I’m glad you’re not mad.(I hope.) A lot of, well, most writers would fulminate at the mere thought of someone editing their story without permission, and even then, only in secret.
It’s your story Rathin, you can do what you want with it. You might want to edit it one more time to put your indelible imprint on it. In the process of adding clarity, I’m afraid my version dulls the color of your original. (I’ve read your version four times, and my version four times.) Yours has a certain vibrant authenticity that i can’t duplicate. Probably because, well, because it’s your story, and your world, and your very astute awareness that makes the story so compelling.
It’s up to you.
The story abounds in quite a lot of incredible characters – Jimmy, Mikey, Ike and above all, Gordie Howe. I wouldn’t know who to choose from from amongst the life-like lot! All in all, a well-crafted, thoroughly enjoyable read (should I say ‘ must read’ instead?). I am aware of your aversion for purposeless flatterers, Roy, but the truth is that writing such a staggering story takes some expertise and skill. Don’t you agree?
Great job done. Relish the success of masterly creation and the glory of achievement. ( forgive me my outburst and over exuberance of emotions). Take care and warm regards.
Some beautiful description here (although I was a bit lost as to the positions of the berths … but that’s not so important, I think). We really get the idea of how cramped those trains are (we’re familiar with those images of trains with people sitting on the roof and hanging on the sides). The relationship between the couple is very nicely established, through a little bit of voyeurism from the narrator. It’s nice how their apparent bad temperedness is in fact routine and actually a sign of their mutual acceptance and love. And it’s because you’ve prepared us well that their fate is so (er …) shocking. I’m not quite sure where the narrator ends up (“Bhutan Gate”? “Quarter”?) Very atmospheric piece. (And I hope you’re safe – the news from Kerala is very bad. Are you near there?)
Take care and stay blessed.
Ken’s redrafting covers all the other points I might have mentioned, and from studying it you will see how some difference in language and technique can add additional vigour to the story.
You took me on a journey on a train in India and I was fascinated by the closeness and apparent intimacy that was blatantly displayed by all parties. I was also fascinated by the various differences of travel there and the train travel I’ve done in the US, Europe and Australia, which were all very similar.
This is by far the best character development you done in my humble opinion, and while you still ‘tell’ far more than you ‘show’, you’ve shown great improvement to my way of thinking. Here’s an example of tell vs show:
He was quite bulky and thick-set. He wore thick glasses and, at that point, stretched out his hand to his wife, sitting near the window on my right. This is all tell.
This could be fixed by showing:
Light glistened off his thick glasses, and due to his girth, had difficulty as he stretched his hand out toward his wife, sitting neat the window on my right.
It shows his willingness to reach out to his wife, even though it is difficult, and the sentence, ‘he wore thick glasses’ is fixed nicely by showing light glistening from them which is action, show vs tell. I may have even eliminated some of it, such as is it important where she is? Does her being on your right and by the window have anything to do with the story? I guess another question is why is she not sitting next to him? Or is it by design they sit across from each other. That may be important to your character development, too, to show that.
Just one thing regarding the ending story. It is a classic tale, retold by you rather well, I think, but my questions are what is a debarred body and is the wife still alive? If she is, you need to relate that, (and possibly a candid line of hers regarding her ‘late’ husband); but if she’s dead (the word ‘body’ doesn’t always mean dead), we need to know that about both of them. I have to assume at this point both are dead, but if she is still alive, I think that would be a much better ending and gives meaning to the ‘love’ that was so evident in spite of their constant sniping at each other.
All in all, rnb, I liked your story and especially like the improvement.
Yours is a long one and there are quite a lot of points for me to note down. I definitely will. But right now let me reply to you since I’ll be busy the whole day today with the essay contest to select the best five from our school.
Firstly, the ‘r’ in rnb doesn’t stand for ‘Raj’ but Rathin which in English would mean ‘the chariot of Indra, the Hindu God’. My late parents realized right after my birth the amount of running I’d have to do my entire life in a hurry. You must have seen how I am fated to chariot my wheel in a hurry, always.
Secondly, the story is entirely original. I came back on the 31st of last month and was fascinated by the couple in the train. I am sorry about the ending though. Initially I made them get off somewhere before me. Finally, when the word count crossed 1684, I had to delete some interesting parts which I ought not to have. Had I been a good human being, I’d have rather sacrificed myself in the story. But that would be trying to impress the reader, wouldn’t it, Roy?
They were sitting across from each other as both of them were aged and must have got the lower berths as a result. I do like your suggestion about editing, something I have been doing for the last 30 years in the capacity of a teacher or even before that, as I worked as a sub editor for a bilingual magazine before I landed up being a teacher. I also appreciate your idea about ‘showing’ rather than ‘telling’. . I’d definitely keep that in mind. To tell you honestly, Roy, I don’t know if I’ve been doing the right thing by contributing to this sight. Some 16 or 20 of us writing, doesn’t make this platform an exciting prospect, does it. But I love it as I feel there are some wonderful people like you. What I should be doing rather is write to some place for the financial aspect f it. In other words, I need to earn by writing, though I ain’t sure if I am god enough. I have never been money-crazy. But recently when my daughter got through the entrance test for the MBBS and told me she wouldn’t go for it, knowing my financial status – I was in for the shock of my life. I realized the mistake I have made all my life by not saving enough. The friend who joined on the same day as I did, has a two-storied house not far from Kolkata! I could easily write about these characters.
Anyway, thanks for your attempt at making a better writer of me. I really appreciate that. See, I don’t even bother to edit my reply to you right now as I’d be doing that the whole day today.
The day is slowly breaking out. I can hear the early birds chirping. It is time for me to have a peek outside at my friends – the majestic mountains. Nothing soothes my soul as the very sight of them does. It is gonna be a long day, mate. Pray for me. Love you forever.
On your comment that only 16 or so of us are writing doesn’t make this platform an exciting prospect, well, I have to disagree. I’m one of the originators of this site back in 2013 and truly enjoy the fact there are ONLY ten or 12 stories a week. Otherwise, this would be a full time job; reading, evaluating, editing, and critiquing, in addition to writing and editing our own stories. I like the feedback I get, generally, although I feel many people hold back.
I listen to everyone’s critiques. Like yours for example of my story regarding the flies. You thought the ending was a little flat mainly because the fact the flies spelled out the word K-A-R-M-A was a bit farfetched. The ending may have been a bit flat, no problem with that critique. However, I might point to a famous classic American children’s story called Charlotte’s Web, in which a female spider befriends a lonely little pig on a farm and uses her web and her spinning skills to write words that help with the pig’s self esteem. The book by the way, sold over 50 million copies and, is #24 on the list of all time sales world wide. Not to shabby for the idea an insect can spell. (Please no letters or calls, I know Charlotte was an arachnid and not technically an insect.)
This is the third letter I’m writing to you in response to your last. I wrote the replies, pressed the “Post Comment” button without remembering to copy them first, like a wandering kid my letters entered the depth of the massive cave-box and got lost without any trace, whatsoever! The day I had my last story posted on our site, I also posted the same on Face Book, Blogger and Google+. I introduced the story by writing that ‘my friend from New York commented that I was retelling a classic.’ Actually, I did you little justice there, Roy. I should have written instead ‘my New Yorker friend, a writer himself’ commented…and so on. Let me tell you this, Roy, that YOU ARE A BLESSING IN MY LIFE.
Fact is I am a very emotional, impetuous and impulsive man, Roy. I live in the moment, say whatever comes to my mind (something I ought not to be doing at my age) and worry a lot about quite a lot of unimportant, unnecessary things. When I read through your comments, I felt that you were doubting my integrity, that you thought I was plagiarising. Poor me! I started visualizing an international story telling contest where the participants had to write a story within the give time limit of 1 hour. Then, only then I can show them that I am no cheat.
Anyway, about this site, I couldn’t agree with you more. I offer my profoundest apologies to you. Forgive me if my words about this platform have hurt you. I would also like to offer my sincerest apologies to all my friends who have only tried to help me grow as a writer. I consider myself lucky to belong to this site. I will grow up, eventually, my friend.
I am sorry that I haven’t read Charlotte’s Web. There are so many books that I will never get to read. I haven’t even read J.K.Rowling! Would you believe that? That is not all I used to dent my daughter’s pride after she had finished reading the last of Harry Potter and started enjoying the beauty of the Rowling world, by calling Potter ‘the gutter-boy’. No point writing about the frenzy my remark would get her into!
Regarding the point about others holding back while commenting, I can’t speak for others but please go on rectifying my mistakes the way you have been doing it all these months. I owe you lots, buddy.
With warm regards and good wishes,
P.S: If this one gets lost as well, you have to forgive me for appearing to be irresponsible. Love you.
The worst possible critiques one can get are those from loved ones who, afraid of hurting your feelings, tell you that your story is great, you are great and so on (when you are actually not that pleased with it yourself). If someone doesn’t like how and what I write, that’s fine, but I’d like to know why. I write to please me. If others want to read it, that’s just great. Then, the biggest compliment they can give me is “When’s your next story coming out? I like what you write. Looking forward to it.”
In the meantime, keep on plugging away.
Thanks for the prompt reply. The long letter I wrote to you in the wee hours of the morning today, was one of my best. Unfortunately, it was not to reach your hand. I felt devastated when I realized that all my backbreaking labour had ended in smoke.
Anyway, what was not to be, was not to be. No point crying over the spilt milk I am writing to you because of what has struck me just now going through your reply. At one point, I found my late mother repeating the same thing over and over again, due to old age. She was, on the wrong side of the eighties then. But having gone through your letter, I have this feeling that, of late you have started repeating yourself unknowingly.
I do hope that I am able to get my message across without causing you the least bit of pain or hurt. I love and respect you too much to ever think of doing anything like me hat. Like I wrote about you in my first letter: There are few who care, dare and share (your knowledge, expertise, concern for the well being of others) like the way you do. God bless you. Love you too.
Hope this message finds you well.
This is my first time in this platform and I’m not finding the other stories in the contest.
Would you be so kind to give me an idea where I can find them?
Thank you in advance,
Hello Claude, and welcome to our little group. So far there are only 2 stories posted, yours and RN. There will be more in the days to come. If you want to read the other stories when they are posted, simply go to the top of this page and look under the header: Read the stories here. Where you can see the list of submitted stories.
Again, welcome aboard, and I hope you have a wonderful day.
I will keep coming back to the page and check on posts.
God bless you.
I just posted the second draft of my story, “Fika, A Swedish Tale” and I didn’t know that I needed to ask you to delete the original post.
Would you be so very kind to do it for me?
Thank you so much in advance,
I’ve asked around, and it seems you may have a point …
No, I was using you as cover for my own barely hinged consciousness. E Platypus Ergo Conundrum. (My Latin is a little rusty.)
A nice story for a starter. I like your early description of the landing, the T, the dialogue that flows smoothly from the characters and the way you introduce your crush for Agnetha. You have briefly yet nicely dealt with the Swedish culture as demanded by the prompt. But my question is what is the message that you are trying to convey through the story? That we should enjoy life as long as it lasts? In that case, I am sorry to tell you that the conclusion leaves a lot to the reader’s assumption.
There are also some eye-catching errors,.I am afraid. I am familiar with ‘bird’s eye view’ but ‘eye bird’s view’ is a completely new one for me! Similarly, I was just wondering if living” in I was nostalgic living the ABBA, should be spelt Leaving or not ? AS the days roll on, you will only get better at writing if the old adage morning shows the day holds any water, my friend.
Here is wishing you Luck and success.
I agree with you, I have some grammar to work around. Considering that English is not my first language and I was in a hurry to post the story before the deadline, I’m aware that i have some fixings to catch up.
Personally, I like to have open endings in my stories and let the readers decide. I like the explore possibilities. And you are right: the central idea is to enjoy life before it is over. That’s my reading of “fika.” But I also acknowledge that I was more focus in the details than in the character’s journey. I’m going to work on my second draft today and post it tomorrow. At least, that’s the plan.
Thank you again for your time and your willingness to read and write about my story.
My name is Rathin. Rathin Bhattacharjee 00…whatever! While going through your story, never for a moment did I think that the author writing it, studied English as his second language. I took you for one of those people whose mother tongue is English but who tend to make careless mistakes nevertheless.
I enjoyed going through your story. There is a lot in your story for the reader to decide due to, to quote your words, ‘the explore possibilities’. Anyway, if you are going to work on a second draft, you can either email it to the admin (to Carrie or Alice) or just write a few lines on top of your redrafted story asking one of them to delete the first. Hope you won’t mind the unsolicited advice.
Welcome home, my friend and Good Luck with your story.
I more than appreciate your advice, considering that I’m still learning how the process work here.
Yeah, I just posted my second draft and I didn’t know about asking Carrie or Alice to delete the original one. I’m going to write a post and see if I can fix that.
Again, thank you so much for your help.
Growing up near Chicago with a best friend living next door is absolutely one of the most awesome things that can happen to a thirteen year old. Especially, when you’ve been buds since you can remember.
Jimmy and I liked sports, but we loved hockey. In winter we would put on our skates and get a hockey game going over at Miller’s pond with neighborhood kids, even though the pond was completely off limits.
One day we were walking home from school arguing loudly about the upcoming championship game between the Montreal Canadians and the Detroit Redwings.
“The reason Detroit’s gonna win is they got Gordie Howe,” I said.
“Ah, you’re nuts. Detroit couldn’t put a puck in the net if the goalie was blindfolded.”
“Oh yeah, well Detroit’s gonna kick Canuck ass, you’ll see.” I shot back. “Gordie Howe is the best player in the world.”
“Gordie Howe couldn’t hold Maurice Richard’s jockstrap.”
We were actually stopped in the middle of the road arguing when a car pulled up and neither of us heard it. Suddenly there was a loud HONK and both of us jumped like we had been standing on a hot plate. It was Jimmy’s old man Ike, and he was laughing his head off. Neither one of us thought it was funny but Jimmy’s old man sure did.
He waved us over to the car and told us to hop in and he’d give us a ride home, so we jumped in the back. He reached into his coat pocket and pulled out three tickets. “Check this out.”
‘What are those?” I asked.
“Just tickets to the championship game,” his dad answered. “I got ‘em from my boss. Turns out his sister-in-law is related to Gordie Howe and he gave her tickets to the game this weekend. They can’t go because of a wedding and my boss gave these to me.”
“But the game’s in Detroit. How we gonna get there?” asked Jimmy.
“It’s only six hours away. We can drive up, go to the game, stay overnight and then come home the next day.”
I was sitting there feeling dejected that I couldn’t go, but was happy for Jimmy. Then, Ike said, “Mikey, I already talked to your dad. He said you could go with us if you want.”
I couldn’t believe my ears. A Stanley Cup game? The winner taking home the greatest trophy in the history of sports? God was surely looking down on me this day. I sat back, knowing my life would be fulfilled. Little did I know.
The next day we packed everything up and jumped in the back of Ike’s Chevy. As it turned out, it wasn’t six hours, but almost eight. There weren’t too many superhighways in 1956, but there were plenty of two lane roads, with heavy traffic in both directions, all the cars crawling along. We told Ike we could get out and walk faster but Ike told us to pipe down.
At last we were in Detroit. Motor City, home of Ford, Chrysler and General Motors. Detroit was awesome. I thought it would be like going to a foreign country, but It was just like Chicago, really.
If you were blindfolded and put into a hotel and had the blindfold removed, you wouldn’t think you were in Detroit, you would think Chicago. It wasn’t like being in a foreign country at all. What little we saw was disappointing. I was expecting special cars to be driving on the roads. After all, it was the Motor City. The people were just like the ones I knew in Chicago. Not even a different accent.
But, we had a hockey game to go to. We got to the arena early and found our seats, Jimmy and I went over by the door to the ice, hoping we could get a couple of autographs. There were a bunch of kids down there with the same idea, and neither Jimmy nor I could get close, so we were on our way over to another area when Jimmy saw another door on the ice.
We scurried over to the open door and were transfixed. There on the ice was the Stanley Cup; the Holy Grail of Sport Trophies. And we were within five feet of it.
Then, we heard a voice say, “Hey, you kids!” We both whirled around. I figured we were in big trouble, but, we weren’t. In one day, our entire life’s dreams were now complete. Standing next to us was Gordie Howe, the greatest hockey player of all time, with his hands on his hips, staring at us.
“God,” said Jimmy, “It’s Gordie Howe.” We both were as happy as moths in a candle factory.
“I don’t know how you got here. They catch you two this close to the cup, you’ll be sitting in the graybar hotel.”
“What’s that?” Jimmy asked.
“Jail,” I said.
“You two come on with me before you get in trouble.” We followed him up to another entrance and he told us to wait there.
After he left, I turned to Jimmy and asked, “Think I should tell him you think he can’t hold Maurice Richard’s jockstrap?”
Jimmy blanched, “You wouldn’t!”
“Naw, “ I said, poking him and laughing.
Then, a minute later Howe came back with a couple of signed pucks. “Here. Now scoot and don’t let me see you here again.”
We both ran back to our seats where we showed Ike what we had. “Where did you two get those? Didja steal ‘em?”
“Naw, Gordie Howe gave ‘em to us himself,” said Jimmy.
“Yeah,” laughed the old man. “Sure he did.”
We didn’t care what he thought. We just sat back and watched the crowd fill in and the players warm up on the ice. Then we saw Gordie Howe skate by. We banged on the glass and caught his attention. He came over by the glass. “You two staying out of trouble?”
“Yeah,” we both laughed.
Ike almost had a stroke. His eyes got big and he came over. “These two ain’t bothering you are they?”
“Nope,” said Gordie. “I stopped by to give them this.” Then he handed his stick over the glass to Jimmy. He waved and skated away. To his credit, Ike didn’t say a word. He just stood there shaking his head.
The Wings lost 3-2, and we had to watch them award the Stanley Cup to Montreal, but not before two friends shared a moment in their lives with the greatest hockey player who ever lived.
On the way home, Ike asked Jimmy what really happened, but Jimmy only smiled and said, “We just happened to be in the right place at the right time.”
Jimmy called me one day, and told me he was sick. He told me I was getting the hockey stick before something happened. After I got it, I hung it on the wall in my den. Then I got the call he had passed. Now, each time I walk in the den I see the stick; I think of Jimmy and the greatest road trip I ever took.
Well done, Roy. This is a very compelling story. I could see myself as the little rascals having the encounter of a life time with their sport idol.
If you allow me an observation, you can add more in the contrast between Chicago and Detroit. I recognize Chicago a little because of movies (“Bueller’s Day Off,” “The Dark Knight Rises,” among others), but I have no clue about Detroit other than some HGTV episodes in the city. See if there is something they have in common and explore a little more, give us details, let us immerse even more in your tale.
Other than that, Roy, thank you so much for sharing your piece.
God bless you,
This is a really great description of childhood friendship, and it’s a subject close to my heart (at least sport, not ice-hockey – how can you see where the puck is and when it’s gone in the goal?!). I remember being just as thrilled bumping into football (soccer) heroes in the street or outside grounds. (Still am, in fact!) The good-natured argument at the beginning, the surprise of the tickets, the meeting with the hero … and then the poignant ending (I wonder how old the narrator is at this point – perhaps that could be made clearer?) … all of this is really well done. There’s a line: “I sat back, knowing my life would be fulfilled. Little did I know.” This seems to suggest that something goes wrong, when in fact it’s really the opposite, isn’t it? Enjoyed this.
A lot of this story is about my real friendship with ‘Jimmy’, although the whole hockey thing is just a daydream. We argued about baseball.
I had a whole thing in there about soccer and watching paint dry, but I had to cut a lot of that out. I feel like soccer (football is a different game in America as you well know) as you do about hockey. They run around for 90 minutes and there’s a nil-nil tie? Really? Thanks for pointing out that I needed to clarify the age of the narrator for an even more poignant moment at the end.
Thanks Phil, and while I’m here that wonderful poetic story written by you is in my top two, I just need to decide if I give you the gold ring or not. Well told, and very, very lyrical. I liked where you took me.
All kidding aside, I have tried, truly to watch soccer (futball – football) and just find myself falling asleep, although I do get a large charge out of the players who fling themselves to the ground and writhe as if they have St. Vitus Dance when they get a slight trip or pull from behind. That can be pretty interesting.
I know nothing about ice hockey, but was engaged by this and could picture it well.
I also like the simile. “We were as happy as moths in a candle factory.” Quite evocative.
Tangential thought: when you think about it, I’m sure in candle factories they take pains *not* to light any of them, as they want to ship them out intact and in virgin condition, I would expect.
(A bit like the Beatle’s Day Tripper – sounds like the metaphor makes sense until you start thinking about it: a day tripper with a “one way ticket, yeah” – in real life day trippers would have a return ticket ….. Idioms can be puzzling….)
Regarding your comment about moths in a candle factory, I am reminded of ‘drawn like a moth to a flame’ and candle worked, although I know deep in my heart you are right. At the candle factory, it is dark. Hmmm…there’s a story there, I think. thanks.
I would like it to be sunny there. Sun gives you vitamin … some letter or other. But not too much, hey! Some sun – good; too much – bad. Wear a hat. Sunglasses. Factor some-high-number sun block. But yes, sun. Apart from the vitamin intake, there’s the sense of wellbeing. The further north you are, like here, where skies are grey, days shorter, rain aplenty, the suicide rate is appalling. I’m not ready to go yet. Give me sunshine.
I would like it to have a cuisine. Nothing too fancy, mind. It doesn’t have to be Michelin five-star gourmet, a flake of fish, a spud, two beans and special sauce trickled into an artistic design on the side of the plate; I’m a simple bloke, with simple tastes. But there has to be something typical you can get your teeth into, and not just stuff you can find on any high street from Wales to New South Wales and all points east and west. Some fresh sardines, charcoal-grilled, that kind of thing. Lovely!
I would like it to have people, naturally. I like people. I don’t love them, as such, but I like them. They’re okay. Depending. I don’t want to meet my compatriots there – at least not the ones that think pouring whole barrels of beer down their gullets then consigning it to the gutter soon afterwards, from either end, is their idea of cultural exchange. Local people – friendly, welcoming, with an exotic language I can’t understand and we have to use gestures to communicate and that makes us laugh and get on like a house on fire. That kind of people.
I would like it to have places of interest. Not just dusty old cathedrals and bits of old Roman wall, long since collapsed and basically just rubble now. Museums with odd things in them – I don’t know, mammoth tusks, fully-formed trees the size of a teapot, a minor, obscure Picasso found in a shed, the gun that killed the country’s president in 1933, stuff like that. And views over the city – nothing like a belvedere to take in the beautiful higgledy-piggeldyness of terracotta rooftops, baking in the sun.
I would like it to have different forms of transport. A funicular maybe, that costs you a couple of quid for a two-minute climb you could have walked, but that’s okay because, as I said, it’s different. Old trams, too – the somehow-comforting clunk-clank-clunk of iron wheels on iron tracks, and the dull bell to get people out of the way, and all the locals moaning when some idiot parks on the tracks and we have to wait while he comes out of the shop and raises an apologetic hand and we all swear at him, and spotting the pickpockets and warning fellow travellers and getting dirty looks from the thieves because you’ve ruined their business until the next tram they catch.
I would like it to be old, my destination, at least in parts. Old and decaying, like some of the corridors here. There’s a certain beauty in decay, in crumbling masonry, flaky paintwork, half-rotting doors. I wouldn’t want to spend my life surrounded by mould and dust and cockroaches, mind you. But passing through, and from a safe distance … yes, decay beats modern any day.
I would like it to have quiet squares. You know, the ones where you’ve been walking all day, seeing the sights, and you get off the main street and into a bit of shade, and at the end of the side street you see a sunny space, and you walk towards it, and it opens up into a lovely little square, no cars, with maybe jacaranda trees in bloom and a nice kiosk selling coffee. You buy one – a tiny cup, very bitter, that you don’t really like but when in Rome … though you’re not actually in Rome – and you sit on the terrace, sip your coffee, grimace, take out your book, read sporadically in between watching the world pass by in no hurry at all.
I would like it to be a place where I could fall in love, even if it’s a Mr Bernstein kind of love. An elegant young woman dressed in white, with a white parasol, possibly drifting past the terrace where I’m sitting, and she doesn’t see me, but a week doesn’t go by after that day that I don’t think of her. And years later I’m still thinking of her, and still in stupid, impossible, unrequited love.
I would like to dream of her tonight. That would be a nice dream. Beauty and warmth together, like my destination. Until I wake up. And maybe that’s a good point to end. Rankin’s been looking daggers at me for ages; he wants to use the pen and I’ve been hogging it a bit.
Anyway, that should be enough for Doctor Moletta. And it’ll be lights out soon.
I won’t try acting smart by commenting the picturesque locales of the story and all when some parts, characters and expressions are not all that clear to me. But you know, Phil, I am a big fan of yours and I like the way you keep on experimenting with your stories. No two stories of yours are similar and each story has its own beauty and uniqueness.
One thing is for sure, though. The narrator isn’t undertaking any real journey. It’s all to do with some envisioned, imaginary places, the kind of people he would love to meet, the cuisine and old buildings,the different forms of transport and staff like that. But what you have done here is – you have created a dream place which offers laughter, hope, love and happiness.
I have always admired your mastery of using the language, your extraordinary wits and sense if humour. Let me give you an example: I don’t want to meet my compatriots…not the ones that think that pouring whole barrels of beer down the gullets and then consigning it to the gutters soon afterwards, from either end..and so on. It’s just an exemplary use of the language and humour at its best. The whole story is replete with such examples. How do you do it, Phil? It’s just amazing. And I like the ending as well. It’s like the worn-out, love-weary lover falling asleep with the thoughts of his unrequited love and yet, with a smile on his sublime face!
Last but not the least, it took me ages to come to the conclusion that the narrator of the story and Dr.Moletta are not one and the same person.
Wonderful writing, Phil. You are a balm to a tortured soul. God bless and all the best.
Hope this message finds you doing well.
I loved the format you chose for your story, sort of experimental and deconstructed. I really loved it. Starting your paragraphs with the repetition of “I would like it to (be/have)” gives a sense of poetry as your write prose. This is a complex way to tell a story and I think you did it very well.
If you allow me an observation, I wish the narrative would have taken the main character somewhere other than only his dreams/wishes.
Also, you use a lot of imagery in your piece and this is great. However, I would like to have a better sense of the place your character would like to be (Wales, South Wales, or Rome) and the people he refers to along the way (Mr. Bernstein and Doctor Moletta).
Still, you have a very strong piece here and I appreciate that your shared it here.
God bless you,
That would get him well away from wherever he is locked up (with a delinquent crime writer …). Where is that? Moletta sounds Italian, but that is not exactly far north …though he could be anyone, anywhere …
Like others, I also didn’t get the Bernstein reference, so thanks for the link. Now I think about it, that’s a bit of a Bernstein moment in my story, perhaps … (Fades out to strains of James Blunt’s “You’re Beautiful” …)
I’m pleased that my story got you thinking so much. In fact the place I (or the narrator) had in mind is in fact in southern Europe. I plucked the 1933 assassination out of thin air, so a coincidence re Peru. Yes, I think your protagonist does have bit of a Bernstein thing going on … as do we all? (I’ll speak for myself perhaps). I messed up with the doctor’s name – once again plucked from thin air (I know someone called Moletta). Something like ‘Steiner’ would have been better suited … too late!
(But see my response to Claude.)
As for the James Blunt song – it also drove me out of several shops when it was all-pervasive!
But maybe this version will make you think again, as it did for me:
(I hope this link does bring in an over-large image…)
‘ Yarrow Unvisited ‘. Imagery of your imagined ideal destinations are wonderful.
There are too many references of cultural literacy in this short piece, that made me as a reader frustrated. Are you talking about writer Ian Rankin? Who is Dr. Moletto? I, as a reader felt a bit confused like when you come across too many difficult word that you have to check the dictionary and wonder why did he need them?Well, That is my problem, not yours, Phil. Your piece is excellent.
‘There’s a certain beauty in decay, in crumbling masonry, flaky paintwork, half-rotting doors…’
‘…a lovely little square, no cars, with maybe jacaranda trees in bloom and a nice kiosk selling coffee.’
This is lovely, poetic, picturesque writing. Like pearls so lustrous, even a swine would pause with wonder, appreciate, and forget for a moment that he was a pig.
Maybe the obscure references are a mistake – don’t know. Mr Bernstein is a character in Citizen Kane. This is his lovely little monologue about fleeting love.
I didn’t realise that link would show up so big. Please feel free to delete the post, if you see fit.
Hey Phil, I just managed somehow to remove the preview, in case anyone wanted to see the clip 🙂
A lot of simple mistakes, but I like the contrast between the two cultures, and especially the somewhat lighthearted aspect of the character’s infatuation with ABBA’s lead singer Agnetha. (I’ve never been a fan of ABBA, nor did I know of their Swedish origins but, wow, she WAS a babe and a half.)
Thank you so much for reading my story and for taking the time to right about it here.
I posted a second draft of the story, where I tried my best to fix the mistakes and improve aspects that Rathin Bhattacharjee had pointed out for me.
Just like you, I was never a big fan of ABBA myself. However, “The Winner Takes It All” is really moves me. If you read about their personal lives and lyrics, you will understand the meaning of the song. And, if you ever had a broken heart, boy, you can connect to it. Is it the purpose of a good pop song?
God bless you,
I dislike pointing others’ mistakes but I think I have to tell you this, Claude, that, most probably, we don’t say ‘mid-age’ but ‘middle-aged’ couple and I think,’That’s why …’ sounds better than ‘It’s why we do fika’. Pardon me if I seem to be acting high and mighy here. I keep on asking my students to point out my mistakes after every class and don’t mind being corrected by them. We learn from each other and from our mistakes as well, right?
I am sure in the coming days you will have made your place in this site. Here is wishing you every success and keep writing.
I tried commenting on your revised story earlier, but it wasn’t published due to maintenance work or something. Anyway, I like the second draft more. The story has a smooth flow about it right from the beginning. The title seems more relevant and appropriate now.
Keep writing and best of luck.
We arrived in Wuhan late afternoon, after our perilous journey through the mountains of Hubei. Now hillside terraces, rice paddies, snow-capped peaks above verdant forests, and Taoist temples with lotus pools gave way to the urban chaos of China’s new capital.
With the fall of Nanjing in 1937, the Chinese government had hastily relocated here. Refugees and men in uniform crowded the streets.
Our well-travelled Duesenberg, so incongruous in the countryside, was more at home here. The back of the car was still half full of cigarettes. I was here to give away samples, and secure contracts for further supply. Neither Britain nor America was then at war with Japan, so the British American Tobacco Company was happily selling to both sides. I was glad to be on the Chinese side of operations.
The mighty Yangtze river was alive with boats as we crossed. Small craft ferrying people and goods across, barges bringing supplies from upstream and refugees from downstream, European and American trading ships of all sizes, Chinese navy vessels and a British warship too. Porters noisily loaded and unloaded cargo, while police held back crowds of men seeking casual work.
We headed into Hankou, formerly the British trading concession and the main commercial district. European buildings in neo-classical and art nouveau styles dominated the harbour here.
The hotels and clubs were still active in downtown Hankou despite – or maybe because of – the war. After several cups of precious coffee to recover from my trip, I made my way to my favourite nightclub, the Chicago.
The clientele were mainly westerners, with a smattering of well-to-do Chinese. On the table next to me a cosmopolitan group of international journalists boisterously swapped stories from war-zones around the world. They were making dire predictions of a Japanese attack, placing bets on who among them would be last to leave.
My eyes were drawn, though, to the “dance hostesses”, or “taxi dancers”. The tallest of these looked aloof and disinterested, as if she’d rather be somewhere else. The high collar of her tight-fitting qipao emphasised the elegance of her neck, and the slits at the side the length of her legs. I felt I had no choice but to dance with her.
“My name is David,” I said in Chinese. “And you are?”
“Rose,” she answered. She avoided eye contact. I kept talking to her in Chinese, until she softened a little, unable to keep from smiling at my mangled Chinese pronunciation. The dance ended.
“Thank you,” she said in English, and made to move away. Behind her I saw her manager glowering.
“Let’s dance again,” I said, handing over another dance ticket. “It’ll keep you out of trouble.”
She smiled wearily, and I saw the tiredness in her eyes, her “dark eye circles” concealed by heavy make-up.
“This isn’t your only job, is it?” I asked.
She sighed. “I clean offices in the mornings.”
“Hard work and long hours.”
“I need money to pay for college. And give to my mother. I am the oldest sister.”
Suddenly she broke out of hold and raced over to my table, shouting angrily. A young man dropped my bag at her feet and fled.
“You must be more careful. People are desperate,” she said sharply as she handed the bag back to me. I showed her what was inside. Cigarettes, of course.
“Do you smoke?” I asked. “And can I buy you a drink to say thank you?”
“I’m not allowed. But you must drink. My boss will like me if you buy something expensive. Whisky. Champagne.”
“They’ll let you drink tea? Take the weight off your feet, and I’ll buy you the most expensive tea in the house!”
She sunk into a chair looking relieved, as I called the waiter over.
On stage the jazz band struck up a new song. Several of the band were black, I noted, but most were Chinese. The singer was a petite Chinese man, his mannerisms very effeminate. He was brilliant, and the band seemed like they had just flown in from the real Chicago.
I studied Rose as she smoked, saw the tension leaving her shoulders.
“Where are you from?” she asked.
“Shanghai. I was born there.”
“Hm, a Shanghailander.”
I watched her mouth as her tongue curled round the syllables. “Your English pronunciation is good!”
“Your Chinese is not bad, for a ‘foreign devil’. Another dance?”
The band struck up a slower number as we took to the floor, “Embraceable You.”
“I saw this film,” she said as we danced.
“From ‘Crazy Girl’, isn’t it?”
“Yes. But that’s someone else. Not me…”
I sang – badly – along with the chorus:
“Embrace me, my sweet embraceable you
Embrace me, you irreplaceable you …”
Rose smiled, and I held her a little closer.
The moment was cut short by a series of deafening explosions. The windows of the club blew in, showering us in fragments of glass. We heard the retreating roar of aeroplanes, then sirens, and people screaming.
Rose had a small cut to her cheek, and trembled violently in my arms. “It’s started,” she said. “I must go.”
“I’ll see you home,” I offered.
“You know the way?”
“No, but I’m guessing you do.”
“But when I’m safe at home, who will protect you on your way back?”
“If you want to stay over, I expect there’s room in my grandma’s bed!”
I laughed. “OK. But you must take a taxi. I’ll pay.”
She moved towards the rickshaw stand, but I caught her arm and guided her to the motor taxis. “You’ll get home much quicker.”
I pulled out some notes for the fare. She hesitated before taking them, caught between need and pride.
“Can I see you again?” I asked.
She placed her hand against my chest, a gesture of affection, perhaps, but also one that stopped me moving closer.
“David, I think you’re a kind man. But you have no idea what’s happening all around you.”
“Maybe so. But can I see you again?”
“No,” she said slowly, a cloud crossing her brow. “Not unless I see you standing over Japanese bodies with a rifle in your hand.”
With that, she was in the taxi and gone.
She wasn’t at the club the following night, or the night after. Then I had to leave for Canton. The Japanese overran Wuhan soon afterwards.
* * *
That year I began running guns to the Chinese from Hong Kong. In 1942 I was recruited to the special forces supporting Chinese guerrilla operations against the Japanese.
Returning to Wuhan when the war ended, I found most of the city had been reduced to ash. I’d hoped to see Rose. But the dance club was no more, and I had no idea of her Chinese name. If she’d survived the Japanese occupation, the devastating American bombing might surely have claimed her life.
Meanwhile the Communist People’s Liberation Army was gathering to attack. Wuhan was truly a city where worlds collide.
Thirty years later, I’m a moderately successful man with a large and happy family. Yet I still remember where my world collided briefly with Rose’s, and her hand pressed gently against my heart.
Had the story been titled “The Shanghai lander”, I’d have liked it even better. It’s a love story, buddy, and Rose towers over everything else. The characterization of Rose and the narrator is excellent.
You can count on me this time. All the best.
You really get a sense of the bustle of the place from the opening paragraphs. The narrator’s encounter with Rose is really well described – there’s a tension which eases as the night goes on. The last line, with the hand on the chest, is very good – residual passion. I’m not sure if this is relevant: “European buildings in neo-classical and art nouveau styles dominated the harbour here.” (or maybe it is – evidence of colonialism?). The moment of the explosions could somehow have been a little more dynamic perhaps – it felt a little flat to me (?). And did I understand it correctly? – She invites him back, he says “OK”, then doesn’t go? When does he change his mind? I really like the structure of this, and the descriptions.
On the detailed comments – re mentioning the colonial-style buildings. Well, following the prompt to describe the scenery, etc. And in line with the theme of the story of worlds colliding. They were there, along with the British warship doing nothing useful at all.
Actually, the prompt set me off writing a kind of 1930s Chinese road-trip story, first in the countryside with a couple of significant ‘collisions’ and then into Wuhan. I was using some of the research I’ve done for a longer piece based in China in the 1930s and 1940s. But creating different characters and incidents based on it.
As I got to about 3k words, I thought it would have to evolve a short story of 5k-7k words. So for this contest I decided to boil it down to the Rose/narrator encounter as the focus. Even so, quite a bit is condensed to get some character development. Like the bombing. Could have been more blood and gore, shock and awe, for sure!
About the invitation back to her place … Rose, I think, is quite shrewd and knows what the narrator wants. She rebuffs his plans with some humour, offering her grandmother instead. And he gets the message.
That exchange also reveals something about her cramped living circumstances and family responsibilities.
But mostly the exchange reveals (I hope) something about the shallowness of his day-to-day concerns compared to hers. That probably stems from his ability as a Westerner to get out, while she has to stay there whatever happens. But I hope one gets the impression that her final words have some lasting effect on him, as he starts to get serious about the war and takes action. It’s not only a love interest, there’s something else she sparked in him, a change in his life.
I too was briefly thrown by the ‘sleep with my grandma line.’ But knowing (as I do) how subtle your writing is…I figured she was probably almost as hot as her grand-daughter. (No, no, no. Just kidding.) I was pleased to read your interpretation of the story as there is much more going on, symbolically than I supposed. But it is there, no question about it. (As previously mentioned. Symbolism is not my forte. Not too fond of embolisms either.)
I dare say, you must be quite knowledgeable about — well, everything to be able to construct such a complex and nuanced internationally flavored story on such short notice. A comparable feat would probably require me to attend night classes for a semester or two.
You know, this is neither here nor there but, I once knew a young woman who placed her hand on my chest, not in restraint but, well, differently, and I felt heat, quite distinctly, and disconcertingly, where she touched me. Love, and women, are a mystery beyond human comprehension. At least for this human. Wonderful story old man.
I think there may be instances in developing countries of grandmothers offering their daughters to foreigners, but probably much rarer for young women to offer their grandmothers 🙂
On the research – I love doing historical research. And I have a pile of history books and biographies relating to this period of Chinese history. One memoir I read was of a cigarette salesman in the 1930s. A fascinating read, as he travelled all over the place. None of the detail is borrowed here, but I have borrowed the general reason for a Westerner to be entering a potential war zone. And I’ve read a ton of stuff on Shanghai, some of it found when hunting in bookshops in Shanghai and Hong Kong (mostly in 2014). I’ve done a fair bit of travelling in China too – though not to Wuhan! Yet. It’s on my list.
One bookshop in Hong Kong I was trying to find for sources turned out to be closed. And there was a small handwritten note by the door saying if interested in the collection go to another address. When I went there it seemed to be a residential address in a block of apartments. I rang the bell and the guy buzzed me in, up to the 2nd floor – and it was the owner’s flat with, literally, piles of books from floor to ceiling in his living room with just narrow gaps to squeeze through. And several customers doing just that. He was a Chinese guy with a love of books in English. A real Aladdin’s cave – with nothing in any order. So sometimes the research takes you places you never expected.
One day I hope to get back to the epic I was preparing – about a Shanghailander who, because of his love for the Chinese girl he grew up with – doesn’t leave China with his family in 1937 but goes with her to fight for the Communists against the Japanese, and later the Chinese government, tracing the story through into the 1960s … One day, one day ….
So anyway, much of the background was borrowed from that work.
To be honest, I’m not entirely sure the story really works with so few words – there’s so much more one could develop. To get in the description and the character development, storyline and symbolism etc – maybe it’s trying to do too much in a 1200 words.
But thanks for the kind comments all the same, much appreciated.
If you allow me two observations…
First, describe moments that can highlight more a scene.
For example, “I studied Rose as she smoked, saw the tension leaving her shoulders.” Instead of saying that David studied Rose or saw her tension, show us his observations and/or how her tension looks like in David’s eyes.
Second, make your transitions a little more smooth.
For example, “Rose smiled, and I held her a little closer. The moment was cut short by a series of deafening explosions.” In real life, an explosion would cut short a moment like that without warning. I know. However, since this is fiction and you are building up a romantic tension, you have room to write something more dramatic and memorable to introduce the bombing. You could use the background music in your favor. Something like: “Her pulse in my fingertips ran much faster than the drums of the song. I went even closer when we heard a loud thud that didn’t belong to the music on the background.” You know what I mean?
Thank you so much for sharing this romantic tale in a time of war.
God bless you,
But you can tell much better than me.
Thank you and God bless you all,
“Fika, A Swedish Tale”
by Claude Bornel
My forehead leaned at the window as the airplane started to descend. With a bird’s eye view, I saw a pear-shaped white cloud floating closer. I saw the ocean, many islands, and a forest getting closer and closer until the tires hit the runaway. Breathing a long sigh wasn’t enough to relief my uneasiness. It became obvious that my fear of flying wasn’t the problem. I was anxious about how my reception would be.
I passed the sliding doors at the arrival area and looked at the people waiting. A mid-age couple waived at me and a young man about my age held a handmade sign reading Jefferson Andrews. They were tall, seemed to be in good shape. Their blonde hair contrasted with their reddish tanned skin.
“Welcome to Stockholm,” the older man said. “I’m Johan; my wife, Sigrid, and this is our son, Matt.”
We greeted each other. Johan took my backpack and Sigrid, my 20 inches carry on. They lead the way to their car in the parking lot, as I walked along with Matt. The temperature was hotter than I expected. I took off my hoodie and looked at how bright the sky was.
“What time is it now,” I said.
“It’s one fifteen now and the sun will be up like that past 10pm,” Sigrid. “We didn’t have a hot wave in the summer for many years.”
I nodded and sat on the back seat of the Volvo with Matt. He kept his face turned to his window most of the ride to their house.
“We are happy you came for the student exchange program,” Johan stated.
“It’s my first international trip,” I replied. “I’m excited too.”
“Awww,” Sigrid expressed sentimental approval. “Did you sleep in the flight? You look tired.”
“No, I’m fine.”
“It’s better if you do something or go somewhere until the jet lag kick in,” she said.
“Matt can take him for a walk around,” Johan interjected. Matt answered something unintelligible in Swedish. He didn’t seem happy with the whole situation.
One hour later, we had arrived in their apartment in the suburbs. I had dropped my belongings in the guest bedroom, and I had joined Matt at the door. He was ready to go, except for his glared eyes and eyebrows together in the middle of his nose.
“You can take him for an ice cream in Gamla stan, for example,” Sigrid suggested.
“There is still enough time for a museum,” Johan added. “The Vasa is a good choice for a first comer, but ask him if he likes music. The ABBA Museum would be perfect.”
“You are not going to start talking about Agnetha, are you,” Sigrid inquired.
Matt opened the door and left his parents talking. I said bye and went after him.
It took a few minutes for us to walk from his home to the nearest subway station, Hallonbergen. At the cashier, Matt bought a blue card and gave it to me. I thanked him without him saying a word. I read the letters “SL” in the plastic card. I repeated Matt’s motion of touching the card on the top of the ticket barrier to open the gate.
I wondered why Matt’s attitude was negative toward me, and I wanted to find a way to break the ice. But going down on the escalator, I couldn’t help noticing a drastic change in temperature. I had entered in a walk-in freezer without warning.
“I should have brought my hoodie,” I said, trying to provoke a reaction. “The air conditioning is very cold.”
Matt ignored me for a moment, but sighed and gave in. “Not air condition. Is natural temperature underground.”
His stumbled English was undeniable. “I can see you’re not happy with me here. What’s wrong?” I observed his demeanor changing. He looked to me, instead of over me.
The train came and we hopped inside. He started by explaining that his parents wanted him to improve his English, but he didn’t. One of the reasons why they brought me to Stockholm was to encourage Matt to speak. It upset him.
“We’re in the same boat. I mean, train,” I said and he chuckled. I told him I didn’t want to come, either. But my dad and my mom kept saying I would regret in the future if I had missed this opportunity.
“Worry too much no good,” he said. “It’s why we do fika.”
“Do what now?”
“You don’t know fika,” he said and I shook my head, seeing him excited talking about it. He described fika as an important part of the Swedish culture. It meant to make time in the day to be with friends or colleagues and appreciate the good things in life. “We have coffee or tea and a little nothing to eat.”
We were at Västra Skogen stop. A multicolored mosaic captured my attention while passengers hopped on and off.
“Those designs are so cool.”
“Almost every station has art decoration.”
Matt stammered through his words but conveyed his point. Some art pieces promoted discussions about women’s rights, education, and deforestation. He was proud of saying that Sweden had eradicated poverty as a welfare society. So, the people were very passionate about those social issues.
“I didn’t ask you,” I said. “Where are we going?”
Following his father’s suggestion, he was taking me to the ABBA Museum. But I noticed him shifting his gaze to the floor while he answered.
“Did you have other plans for today,” I said.
He confessed another reason for his frustration. Because Matt had to keep me company most of the time, he wouldn’t be able to hang out with his friends for most of the summer. “They will be today in Rålambshovsparken,” he said.
“How far from here?”
“It’s the next station.”
“Let’s go there, instead,” I suggested. “I’m okay meeting your friends.”
We were ten minutes away walking distance from Rålambshovsparken. I found a coffee shop on the way and asked to stop there for a second.
“What is so cool about the ABBA Museum,” I said while we waited in line.
“My father had a big crush on Agnetha when he was young.”
“One of the singers?”
He nodded. “And my mom is jealous.”
The blonde woman at the cashier called us and we placed our orders. One cappuccino for me, one green tea for him and a few pastries to sample. I gave her cash, but she didn’t accept it.
As we left the coffee shop, Matt explained what happened. Sweden was transitioning to become a cashless economy. “Some stores take card or smartphone transactions; no more paper.”
“We have some serious tech catch up to do in the US,” I said.
Our beverages were still warm when we arrived at the park. It consisted of a great lawn space in a triangular shape facing a lake. We found Matt’s friends among lots of people there. He introduced me to them and they received me like an old friend. We talked, we drank, we had a little eat together and it didn’t take long for me to understand what fika was all about.
I like the matter-of-factness of this – not a lot happens really, but we learn a lot about the two young people and their families, and about Swedish society (Like the narrator, I now know what fika means, and several aspects of daily life there). One of your lines of dialogue maybe doesn’t sound very natural: “We are happy you came for the student exchange program.” This sounds like exposition for the reader, rather than something Johan would actually say. (More natural would be something like “We’re so happy you came.”)
Welcome to the group!
I agree with you.
The sentence sounds like an exposition, not a dialogue. My challenge was to find a way to explain that Jefferson was an exchange student and a was short in word count. : (
But I will certainly fix it.
God bless you,
“Have you done a student exchange program, before?” Johan asked.
“No, It’s my first international trip,” I replied.
Few language things, like ‘hot wave’ for ‘heatwave’. Present tense ‘lead’ instead of past tense ‘led’. A few more. But for writing in a second language it is indeed very good.
Personally, I’ve never be able to bear Abba, nor understand their fame. I’m in a minority in my family on this, and they forced me to watch Mama Mia – I survived about 11 minutes before I had to flee the room. Someone would have to drug me and carry me into that museum …
No, I’m not Swedish. Despite my name being French, I was born in Brazil and I live in the USA. In the top of that, I have a particular passion for Belgium. Crazy, uh?
I’m not an ABBA aficionado, either. But I have to admit how important they were in their time. Britain and the USA had always dominated the pop music industry. There was little space for artists from other nationalities to blossom, but these two couples broke a barrier bringing their uplifting disco beat from the unexpected Sweden. They opened the doors for other Scandinavian bands like A-Ha, Sugarcubes and Of Monster and Men.
They also have some very interesting stories. Legend says that they never used music sheets to compose their songs. That created a problem many years later, when other artists wanted to play their songs. Another good one is about the song “The Winner Takes It All.” This break up song was composed while one of the ABBA couples were getting divorce. The song is mostly about their struggles along the process, from the singer’s point of view.
And the fact that they have two blockbuster movies (I feel your pain. It’s not my cup of tea, either) inspired in their songs, it tells a lot about their music.
Your phrasings are unique being English as not a first language writer. It gives a fresh perspective, rather an accent to your writing which I consider is positive, though we have to remember the correct grammar rules. I balance with that aspect too. I enjoyed reading your piece. Looking forward to reading more.
God bless you,
This smart phone writing it tough!
I like your voice. 💕
I keep on commenting on your revised story without any luck. Nice one, friend. There is a smooth flow about it.
I don’t think it is necessary to point out the mistakes as I keep on making them on a daily basis. But ‘mid-age’ or ‘It’s why..’ could have been replaced with ‘middle-aged’ and ‘That’s why’.
All said and done, I enjoyed going through your story. Keep writing and enjoy yourself in the process. All the best.
P.S: One of my most favourite ABBA songs – I’ve a dream’ has stayed with me for as long as I can remember. Some people and songs are your lifelong partners.
It’s good to know that ABBA is still present somehow in the pop culture. Did you see any one of the “Mamma Mia” movies?
My Air France flight from Idlewild could have been better, but wasn’t. The high point, after I tossed my cookies subsequent to eating the stuff served for supper, was an invitation to spend the weekend with the forty-something stewardess. I smiled, thanked her, but declined.
While waiting in Le Bourget airport for my flight to Port Vendres, I noticed two things. The place stunk like a urinal. Second, some Russian dancer caused a shuffle and a scuffle because he didn’t want to go back home with his KGB minders. My one-hour between planes turned into a two-and-a-half hour layover.
I foolishly tried to order lunch. The waiter couldn’t or wouldn’t understand me.
No one, it seems, comprehends English. I wondered what all these non-English speaking French travelers would do to survive for a week in the States.
Starve – I hope!
The flight to Port Vendres via Airlinair, well that’s another story. There are two kinds of landings, good ones, and great ones. A great landing is one where the people are unhurt and the aircraft is reusable. The landing at Port Vendres, at best, was almost good. I’m thankful to be alive and back on terra firma.
The sweet-faced customs agent in the form-fitting uniform glanced at my papers and in lightly accented English asked, “Monsieur En-der-sun?”
I smiled at her, “Lyle Henderson, but you can call me Skitch, everyone does.” She ignored my cheap pick-up line, and asked, “Business or pleasure?”
With you, I thought, it would be a pleasure. However, since the reason for this trip is to get a name, I said, “Business.” She raised a neatly plucked eyebrow and stamped my papers.
After checking in at the Saint Elme Hôtel in Port Vendres, I took the concierge’s suggestion and tried the new café on the corner. In the shadows of the palms and behind the shrubbery at the Café Tranontane, I watched my back trail. It seemed clean. I ordered a hamburger and fries. France had yet to discover the wonderment of Ketchup. I dragged my fries through watery mayonnaise and enjoyed the view of the Mediterranean’s placid blue water. Near sunset, I stood and drained the last gulp of warm wine. As I was about to drop a few francs on the table, I remembered that tipping was an American bad habit, not a French one.
The concierge motioned to me when I walked into the Saint Elme. “Messier Krupa, you have a gift.”
I thanked him and took it to my first-floor room. The reason it’s called the first floor is that it’s above the ground floor. In the US of A, it would be the second floor.
I set the fruit basket on the table next to the bed and unloaded the obligatory apples, oranges, and the single banana onto the bed. I checked my new passport and credit cards. They looked fine. I destroyed the others that I’d carried through customs. I picked up the 1911-380, the three loaded clips, and checked them over. After setting them on the table, I checked the other pistol. It was a French 7.63 mm Mauser revolver. It had a custom-made silencer. Curious, I held it to the light to check the name of the manufacturer, Acme Corporation, Wile E. Coyote, proprietor.
Someone has a sense of humor.
I was now ready to meet Sébastien Williams, the first interviewee on my list. I planned to meet him later in front of the Le Bon Hôtel.
I arrived at the Hôtel two hours early, an hour before sunset. I ate supper across the alley at Domaine de la Marquise. The pa amb tomàquet (bread rubbed with tomato) served with some kind of grilled meat was scrumptious. The house specialty was a chilled dessert similar to a chocolate mousse. The waiter suggested the brioche toast with strawberries and ice cream. And for breakfast, he said, their xuixo (deep-fried, sugarcoated cylindrical pastry) filled with crème brûlée was the finest in Catalonia.
To walk off the dessert, I slipped through the lush shrubbery at the rear of the Le Bon and up the dark side. Sébastien, his back to me, was waiting at the curb. Easing up behind him, I cocked the silenced Mauser as it touched the back of his neck. He raised his hands.
“Nice sunset,” he said.
“And for knowing the correct password, you’ll get to see another.”
He turned. “So is it Mister Severinsen or Henderson tonight?”
“They were last time. Its Sander L. Nelson now, but you can call me Sandy.
“Still using musician’s names?”
“Yeah, I like to keep it simple. I’m using a drummer’s name this time around.”
“I understand you’re upset about a dozen Algerians trying to kill you. How can I help?”
“Only three of you knew where I’m from and one of you sicced a pack of mad dogs on me and my friends. They shot up the parking lot of the Country Club. My new girlfriend won’t talk to me. The police chief won’t let me date his daughter. And the Brigadier’s Scottish burr gets un-understandable at the mere mention of my name.” The revolver went into my pocket. “Since you didn’t try to ambush me, I’ll assume you’re not the double-crosser.”
“So, Sandy, what’s the plan?”
“We’ll interview Jean-Baptiste tomorrow evening and Pierre the next night.”
Last evening, Jean-Baptiste had arrived on time. As usual, he looked like a Gestapo in his black leather trench coat, fedora, and surreptitious look. He wasn’t the guilty party.
From our hiding spot near the la Marquise, I watched as a black Renault pulled up and parked in the shadows of a hedge across the highway from the Le Bon. The two people in the Renault watched the Hôtel too intently for their own good. They’re not having the correct credentials earned them a free 7.63 mm slug and seventy-two virgins. I emptied their pockets and took their wallets, their identity papers, and a small hand full of francs; pocket detritus.
At the appointed time, a Peugeot 403 sedan arrived. Pierre parked in the shadows cast by the streetlamp and waited.
“Evening,” I said, slipping into the sedan’s passenger seat.
He froze at the sight of me, guilt written on his face in capital letters.
He looked as he looked the first time I’d set eyes on him, a two-bit actor from a French ‘B’ movie, a dirty beret and all.
I promised him if he’d confess he’d live. I’d turn him over to his SDECE bosses instead.
After his father died, he confessed, his Muslim mother took him to the Mosque and he converted. As a SDECE agent, the imam recruited him to help Algeria in its struggle for independence from France. He gave me the name of the person who’d ordered the hit on me.
“Pierre,” I said, “a suggestion, never believe the word of someone you’ve twice tried to have kill.” The Mauser’s slug, like my suggestion, when in one ear and out the other. Fortunately, the driver’s window was open. I removed the silencer, wiped the gun clean, put the Mauser in his hand, and dropped the pocket junk onto the seat.
That’ll mess the gendarme’s minds.
— ℜ —
Hope this message finds you doing well.
It is very clear to me your passion and enthusiasm with spy adventure stories. I could picture in my mind scenes of movie series like “Identity Bourne” and “Mission Impossible” throughout the lines you wrote. You are creative, full of imagination and don’t seem to let your thoughts hold back your writing–which is a desirable skill in short fiction.
Considering that, I think this is a good first draft to throw the ideas on the paper. If you accept an advice, I would suggest you to work on a second draft to work on your setting, plot and character objective.
For example, you start the story with your protagonist taking an Air France flight from Idlewild. However, as your reader, I don’t know where Idlewild is and the first paragraph don’t tell me where the character is going. Keep in mind that Air France operates worldwide for 168 destinations in 93 countries (yes, I Google that). Therefore, he could be somewhere else other than France. Instead of focusing in your protagonist’s cookie tossing or declined invitation, tell us what is going on since the beginning. What is his reason to travel? Is he disguised as a tourist? What are the challenges for him to complete his mission?
Again, you have a good imagination and I can’t wait to read a more polished draft of your piece.
God bless you,
Cold war scenario, 1961 (Nureyev’s defection). Having referenced this cold war context, it seems that the main action has something to do with the Algeria war of independence from France. I didn’t quite get how an American was mixed up in that or why the Algerians would want him dead, unless maybe somehow the Americans have been helping the French. You also make it sound like an Islamist issue, rather than a socialist/nationalist revolution against French rule.
I liked the Port Vendres setting, which felt authentic, with the Catalan influence etc. Is that somewhere you’ve visited?
Cbornel, there are numerous undocumented things mentioned in the story to rouse your curiosity. Idlewild is but the first.
Then there is the names – “Lyle Henderson, but you can call me Skitch, everyone does.” Later, The concierge at the Saint Elme calls him, “Messier Krupa. Then, Sébastien asked, “So is it Mister Severinsen or Henderson tonight?” And Robin [the unnamed] replies, “… Its Sander L. Nelson now, but you can call me Sandy.”
Anybody notice the connection of the names?
And the tongue-in-cheek stuff
Then there the silencer for the Mauser – the name of the manufacturer is Acme Corporation, Wile E. Coyote, proprietor.
And “Pierre,” I said, “a suggestion, never believe the word of someone you’ve twice tried to have kill.” The Mauser’s slug, like my suggestion, when in one ear and out the other.
As to the “Pulp Fiction, in junior high, I’d race home, sneak into Dad’s office and read such rags as Detective Story Magazine, Police gazette
Idlewild was an airport in New York.
Dad caught me and made me read a better class of stories by writers such as Mickey Spillane and Damon Runyon. Those, and sister Mary Stephens, were my primary writing instructors.
I love this kind of stuff – great fan of Raymond Chandler. I think you’ve posted stories similar in style here before – you do it really well. The exotic nature of the location is well established by using exotic-sounding names. I didn’t mind that the motivations may be a little obscure – some of the hard-boiled stories of old are too. Great ending. You slipped into the present tense on occasions – enough to notice but not enough to take the shine off the story. Enjoyed it.
I had me some adventures back in the old days, but it’s taken at least a week to jog my infernal memory. In addition to being out of town I was sick with a cold, very sick, and my cat ate the first draft of my second story and my other cat ate the second draft of my first story, and there was a dragon in the front yard making it hard to concentrate. (My doctor gave me great drugs. I think.)
And now I see that I only have one day to write a story and post it. Bollox. My plan is to take even more drugs, and mix them together, judiciously of course. (I’m not crazy. I don’t think.) Anyway, hope I get a chance to foist a feverish hallucination off as a vaguely reminiscent delusional episode.
In a train ride in Rome I was engrossed with a You Tube video playing in my smart phone. It was about a revolutionary beauty product BOOM that famous makeup artist Cindy Joseph was introducing. She was radically turning the mentality of anti aging to pro aging. Her motto- ‘Show off your wrinkles that you have earned, blush and glow as you are enjoying this life during your silver years!’
I felt a light tap on my shoulder. The lady sitting next to me whispered,
“Sinorina, your man?” she glanced at my husband who was standing in front of us.
“Yes!” I nodded. With her eyes and hands and broken English she made me understand, ‘Ask him to keep his money bag in his front pocket, not hip..’
I passed the message to him much like her style, with eyes, and broken Bengali.
A lady in a stunning yellow silk suit sprang up. Yanking her large Coach purse flung us a nasty glance. Mumbling something in Italian she got off as soon as the train stopped.
The train jerked and picked up speed. My companion lady smiled, “ Go where?”
“ To Sorrento but now to Roma Termini.” I smiled back.
“Ooo Sorrento! Bueno, molto bueno.” Then she squinted and squeezed her nose in a funny way, “ Napoli bene, Be safe.” Then she got up to get down at the next station waving, “Ciao.”
I had heard a lot about the pickpockets in Italy. ‘They are like flies, everywhere in Italy, especially in Naples’, I was warned. I told my husband to be extra careful, but he is he. And then I came to know that we’d have to take the longer, slower, commuter train to Naples as we had not reserved the faster train in advance.
We were at a loss in the station. The kiosk machine, the right platform, the correct train, each step was a hurdle. But we managed to get help from fellow commuters who showed us where to break the rules and where we needed to be extra cautious. Like, ‘Don’t forget to punch and stamp your ticket in that machine before you board your train’ kind of advices. We made it to the right train and found decent seats near the windows.
The day was hot and muggy. The train was crowded, but the air conditioner worked. Two young preschool age boys were climbing up the wooden seats and doing all kind of monkey business while their mom kept yelling ‘Comportat bene!’ and their father took out a harmonica from his pocket and started playing as the train sped up.
A bald middle age guy had to throw away his sweet smelling cigar when the ticket checker confronted him. He looked up annoyed, crossed brows, from his tablet game pad and gave a dirty look to the musician, but many others clapped and strummed to his music and the boys quieted down.
Outside, the suburban houses with modest backyards, graffiti stricken walls and occasional wild flower meadows passed by.
Suddenly the train stopped at nowhere for no apparent reason. ‘Again!’ the passengers screamed, stood up, slapped their thighs, cursed and complained to someone that I didn’t understand.
I turned my head to find that an elderly lady across my seat was smiling at me. Her salt and pepper short hair tied in a pony tail was now messed. Sweat beads glistened on her forehead. A grey loose tunic showed her protruding collar bones but even in that end-of-the-day tired face there was a radiance on her cheeks, or may be it was from the rouge of the setting sun that slanted through her window as the train took a sharp bend.
“ Turista? di dove sei?”
“ Yes, tourist. No Italian.” I smiled back
“ Go Napoli, Naples? “
“ Yes, First to Naples then to Sorrento. Our final destination. Long ride.”
“ No parla Inglise. Your man?” she looked at my husband.
“Yes, my husband.”
She put her thumb up. “Bene. No husband.” She turned her lips. I understood.
I showed two with my fingers.
I nodded yes.
“ Bene, bene!” Then she became thoughtful and started saying lots of things in her language, which I vaguely understood as she uttered a name ‘Circumvesuviana’, that I was familiar with. . She raised her hand, probably meaning we have to go up, pointed it down, meaning we must go down then she flipped them, must have meant we need to change. Italians do talk with their hands indeed.
“ Careful. Safe.” she muttered.
Then she opened her sack and took out the things. There was a loaf of bread, a small piece of cheese, some green veggies and two oranges. She put them all back except the oranges and offered me one. I hesitated.
She said something, I think meaning, “ Don’t you be shy!” and peeled an orange and gave me half.
At Naples station it was a big commotion as everyone was getting down. The lady grabbed my arm and commanded “ Venir.” I knew from the little French I know it means ‘Come’. We followed her up the escalator, down the stairs, in front of a train which was quite battered- our train to Sorrento, the Circumvesuvian.
“Sorrento!” She cried and grabbed another passenger who was climbing the same train like us. She said something in Italian and the man assured her. She gave us a quick wave ‘Chao’ and left.
This new friend, Carlo, made sure that we didn’t miss Mount Vesuvius, and Pompeii, when the train was passing these places and the beautiful island of Capri far away in the middle of the aquamarine sea. It was dark when we reached Sorrento. He took us to the taxi stand and explained to the driver our destination and address and then just waved us goodbye.
At the end of the day when I met myself in the mirror I detected a blush on my face. From embarrassment? This morning I thought Italy was full of pickpockets!
Nice story. How your notion about Italy being full of pickpockets, was proved wrong and you found out that there are lots of kind and nice people there as well.
You made me jealous with those familiar names – Cairo, Mt. Vesuvius, Pompeii (What is the name of the famous book/movie about Pompeii?) and so on. It was as if you were taking the reader on a ride through the country. Enjoyed going through it a lot.
The last line though had me confused. Did you mean to say that that particular morning of travel in Italy, you felt the country was full of pickpockets, or do you feel the same about the people till this very day? The story will lose much of its charm for me then.
Take care and good luck.
Some little things: my Itailian isn’t great, but I think “sinorina” should have a ‘g’ in it, signorina.
And though it’s not as cut and dried as Mrs and Miss, I think if someone is asking about the narrator’s husband, she would have said ‘Signora’ rather than ‘Signorina’. As in a later exchange she is asked if she has children, and they are said to be big, I expect people would not address her as a young unmarried girl.
“an elderly lady across my seat” – should say “across from” or “opposite”, as it sounds like she’s reclining on the narrator’s seat, or even on her lap ….: )
“In a train ride” – we’d say “on a train ride” or just “on the train to Rome…”
Minor tweaks. Great story, very engaging.
Hope this message finds you well.
I couldn’t help reading your story and I’m so glad I did. Your Italian experience in the train is so realistic that I saw myself there watching you, your husband and your interactions.
Unfortunately, this pickpocket thing is in many European capitals. I remember reading signs and being advised in Paris, Belgium, London, Vienna and, of course, Rome. When you mentioned the Roma Termini station I traveled back in time from my chair. Thank you so much for bringing this memories. For me, this is the kind of reaction a story should bring to the reader. And, in this regard, you were more than successful.
God bless you,
It’s time to cast your vote.
Remember you must vote for your story to qualify, you may not vote for yourself and you can only vote once.
I am done with the voting. What surprised me though was the fact that Anindita’s name didn’t feature in the list. I am not sure whether it was due to late submission or something else. I liked her story and it would have definitely found a place among my top five.
Keep smiling. Love.
Liked your story very much, btw – haven’t had time today yet to comment properly …
I’ve updated the drop down choices and will let everyone know they can revote if they need to.
My health issues mean I do not have as much time as I’d like nor the energy. Please forgive me for not commenting on each story.
By Ken Cartisano
Word count – 1197
In the Spring of ’72 I traveled to Europe to visit my father.
Now, I don’t have the time or space to describe all the events of that journey so many years ago, but security was so lax that I made it to the airport within minutes of the plane’s departure. The Lockheed 1011 was only half full of passengers, and back then, you could smoke on a plane once the ‘no smoking’ lamp went out. I took a train from Heathrow Airport to Dover. The ferry to Belgium across the English Channel was unremarkable and for this I am told, I should be thankful.
In the interests of saving money I frequented youth hostels. For those unfamiliar with the term, hostels, prevalent throughout Europe, offered cheap accommodations for frugal travelers. If you didn’t mind sharing a room with strangers or waiting in line to use a shower, you could sleep in a comfortable bed for two to four dollars a night.
Not all hostels were the same. In one particular establishment, each guest got his own room. At first I thought the place was empty, but when I went to the dining room for dinner I was greeted by a dozen or so German high school students on a field trip with their English language class.
I was all of nineteen and they treated me like Indiana Jones before Indiana Jones existed. (He iss Amedican, und trevelling wissout a caya in za wold.) We spent the entire evening together. They scoffed at the idea of drinking milk at dinner. (From a cow, you say? No.) They all drank beer and wine, which I found astonishing. The oldest of the group was a beautiful blue-eyed blonde with long straight hair and a perpetually serious look on her perfectly Aryan face. I’ll confess, I was instantly and hopelessly in love. I’ll also admit that I was smitten with the entire group, even the silent doe-eyed boys and girls hanging back at the far end of the table. They were all handsome, smart, polite, friendly and richly cultured. I felt like a crass, ignorant, unsophisticated clod and proceeded to prove it by challenging them to a drinking contest.
The last thing I remember was the eldest boy and the beautiful blonde cheerfully helping me to my room. When I woke the next morning, all of my possessions were intact, but the school kids were all gone.
I wandered through France, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Turkey, then Italy and finally Greece. I found myself trekking up 400 steps on the island of Ios, (or Paros) a volcanic gem of an island surrounded by the sparkling blue waters of the Aegean Sea, with a deepwater port on one side, and a crescent shaped beach with two resorts on the other. Both were populated by a great many English and Canadians. When traveling abroad, it’s a treat to meet people who speak your language.
Unlike many of my fellow travelers I was on a budget. This led to some questionable decisions. A young man and his girlfriend suggested staying in one of various caves that dotted the rocky hills above the resort. They were sharing it with a pretty young girl who was about my age.
They showed me the cave. It was cool and dry, but sandy. Despite reservations, I agreed to return that evening, left my belongings in the cave, and set out to tour the island with other newly arrived tourists.
That evening, I found to my surprise that the resort closest to my cave had an outdoor patio which was frequented by English speaking patrons who drank copious amounts of cheap wine and swapped colorfully embellished tales of adventure.
The establishment closed promptly at 10 p.m. I bid the drunken revelers goodnight and upon exiting the building was faced with the prospect of picking my way up the rocky hillside alone on a moonless night. The thought was daunting because at some distant point the trail veered dangerously close to a forty-foot drop into the sea. As I steeled myself for the journey, a spotlight that pointed up at the hillside was summarily extinguished, plunging me, and the hillside, into darkness so complete I couldn’t even see the building I was leaning against. I didn’t consider other options because, except for my wallet and passport, all of my possessions were in the cave. I inched forward along the path to the end of the building, wondering at what point I should get down on all fours and crawl along the path, when my hand, by chance, fell upon a four foot iron rod, completely invisible in the pitch-black darkness, sticking out of a cubby hole in the wall. I slid the rod out of the wall, and began using it as a blind man would, extending it in front of me and moving it from side to side. It clunked against rocks on either side of the trail, and by this method I ascended the hill in an impenetrable darkness.
I clunk-clunked my way in this manner for about 15 minutes when I came to a place where there appeared to be no rocks in front, nor on either side. Torn with indecision, I stood motionless for a minute, gazing blindly into the darkness and was saved by a voice from above: The young girl calling out. “Ken? Is that you? Making all that clunking noise?”
“Yeah. I can’t see a thing.”
“Well, watch out for that ledge. It’s got to be right in front of you.”
I stood there—contemplating. The ledge…
“You’ve got to turn left, Ken. Turn. Left.”
I turned left. Before I could start up, the young girl who seemed so fond of me shouted. “Stay right there. I’ll come down and get you.”
A minute later I heard her voice beckoning from a few feet away. I don’t know how long she’d been up there waiting for me, but apparently her eyes had adjusted to the dark. Mine still hadn’t.
When I arrived at the cave I had no desire to sleep inside its sandy interior and rolled out my sleeping bag on the slab of rock at its entrance. I suppose this sent the wrong message.
I slept immediately and soundly, eventually dreaming of clanking cowbells in the distance. The next morning, when I finally realized the clanking was real, I opened my eyes and was staring into the face of a domestic goat: A puzzled one at that.
I told that young girl later that day that I was moving on. I never gave her a second thought. Maybe she was too nice, or I was oblivious to her charms, but I think she saved my life.
When I finally returned stateside a couple of months later, my best friend had died, the girl I really fancied had married her ex-boyfriend, and my parents were getting a divorce.
Is there a lesson in this story? No, but it should be noted that life goes on with or without you, goats are curious animals, and if you meet a kind girl, for God’s sake, give her a chance. I wish I had.
Is it (part) autobiographical? I did similar trips in 1975 and 1976. Stayed in hostels, campsites, a rooftop in Athens but mostly on beaches (including Paros, close to a beachside restaurant where an ex-pat Australian made stunning pizzas – was he there when you were? If you were there, that is).
I always woke up surrounded by stray dogs who snuggled up to me, for some reason. Not sure why they were specially attracted to me. And various encounters with fellow travellers and alcohol. Missed opportunities with young women too, though I’m not sure why they chose to miss them … Which is all a roundabout way of saying that your story all rings very true to me.
Enjoyed the story and the many touches of humour.
Have you read – has anyone read – A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor? Wonderful book, the travel memoir of a 19-year-old Brit who walked across Europe to Constantinople from 1933 to 1937. Experienced a lot of kindness, like in Anindita’s story. Later went on to be a special agent working behind enemy lines in Crete. Great writing, and a view of a Europe that has faded into history.
Secondly, a man with your sense of humour, very seldom fails to get the best out of Life, no matter what the situations or circumstances may be. I wasn’t exactly laughing holding my sides but you had me chuckling to myself all through. I don’t know about others but the concluding paragraph, for me, was the icing on the pudding. I could even visualise myself in your place with a black, bearded goat chewing the end of my sleeping bag, curiosity writ large on the face, taking time to make up its mind whether to give me a lick on the cheek in the wee hours of the morning!
Your writing as always is impeccable, enticing and enriching. Keep going and enjoying life to the lees.
just a quick comment to let you all know that if you need some extra time to read the stories I won’t be able to post the winner until around 2 pm central!
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