I took part in a Flash Fiction Competition hosted by the César Egido Serrano, Museum of Words last year (or maybe it was earlier this year, I don’t remember). The competition is held annually with a first prize of $20,000. Yep, a pretty heavy payout for so few words, but trust me, having only a 100 words to write something profound severely limits your options.
The motto for this edition was: “Mandela: Words and Concord”, following the ethos of the César Egido Serrano Foundation of using words as a tool against violence and to promote dialogue. All-in-all, they received 35,609 applications.
I submitted two pieces of fiction.
Alas… I didn’t even make the shortlist.
Somehow during the writing of the story and the waiting, I must have really gotten emotionally invested because I actually believed I could win. And it kinda hurts a lot that I didn’t. When I wrote “No More Words” it gave me goosebumps. Growing up in South Africa and hating it there for so very many reasons and considering the path my life eventually took, I felt uniquely equipped to write this little piece. A little piece that is epic in what it leaves unsaid.
Here it is:
No More Words
The old man paused and turned his gaze to the lands of his ancestors far below. He leaned on his staff and studied the valleys and rivers through heavy eyelids. Deep grooves lined his leathery face.
The journey up the mountain had been strenuous, filled with many perils.
Qamata called to him, his name a sigh on the warm, comforting wind. “Come child of Africa. You have done enough. It’s time now to rest weary bones. Your ancestors await you.”
The old man chuckled. “A good thing then, eh? I’ve used up all my words.”
“Indeed, Madiba,” Qamata replied. “Indeed.”
To give you some context here, Nelson Mandela was affectionately known as Madiba by most people in South Africa. Madiba is also the name of his clan. According to tradition, a clan name is considered far more important than a surname as it refers to the ancestor from which a person descends.
Madiba was Xhosa, from the Thembu people to be precise. They are a subgroup of the Xhosa nation. Qamata is a prominent god in the folklore of Xhosa people of South-Africa. Qamata is the child of the sun god, Thixo, and the earth goddess, Jobela. Although Madiba was Christian, when I wrote my story I reimagined death as a journey back to the past, to the very beginning. And in this story I wanted Madiba to travel back to a world free of conflict and influence from outside. It felt natural to write the story this way and it made so much sense at the time. It still does to me.
So, while my story did not make the selection, I’m sharing it with you here on my blog so it may stay in the light. At least this way it won’t gather dust in the shadows of obscurity.
As for the other piece I submitted:
Words That Hurt
“But he hit me first!” Tears stained the little boy’s dust-caked cheeks. Blood trickled from a cut on his lip.
The woman held his hand in hers. His scuffed knuckles seemed alien on his young skin, like a corruption.
“Because you called him a coward.” Her eyes were soft and kindly and creased at the corners. She pressed a damp cloth to his lip and the boy winced. “Your lip will heal quickly, Kete, but your words hurt Jac deeply. It will not heal so quickly.”
The boy sobbed. “What can I do?”
“Apologize.” She smiled. “That might help.”
I don’t think this one is as emotionally strong, but the broken skin on the child’s knuckles being described as a corruption felt appropriate and in my view is a good commentary on violence. Again, the power is in what I left unsaid.
Of course, I’m biased. I fully acknowledge that. But I still get an emotional flux when I read my stories. We have only one life to live, after all, and how we live matters a great deal. Surely that must say something, right?
My apologies if today’s blog post sounds a bit whiney. I guess it is a little. But now that I have written this I do feel better. There is that, at least.
Love you all
PS: Having had time to reflect on my submissions and eliminating emotion entirely, I have concluded that my piece ended up closer to being an ode than it does a commentary on words and violence.