OVERSEAS TRAVEL – WRITING CONTEST RESULTS

Our deepest gratitude goes out to Judge Kirby Wright, who volunteered his time to choose three prizewinners from a shortlist of ten out of a total of 175 writers who entered this contest.

kirby

Contest Judge: Kirby Wright

FIRST PRIZE—Nod Ghosh, A Day to Remember
SECOND PRIZE—Serena Molloy, Leaving
THIRD PRIZE—Tom Hazuka, Nowhere Station

First Prize: A Day to Remember by Nod Ghosh

Judge’s comments: This story is marred by several clichés, yet overall I found the interior world of the narrator compelling. He reflects on Gretchen, perhaps the love of his life, and the things he did with her and wished he’d done before losing her. Certain lines and thoughts are stunning, such as “His hands look like they are made from china.” I enjoy the idea that memory can defeat photographs by remembering those moments when light and shadow dance upon a lover’s face. I also like the line about catching a friend’s sorrow if you hold him or her for too long in an attempt to comfort—a great way to close.

A Day to Remember
By Nod Ghosh

The monsoon air hits me like a brick wall.

I don’t enjoy protracted goodbyes, but wish I’d spent longer holding Gretchen’s face close to mine, absorbing her perfume.

‘You go, Shane.’ She’d dotted a handkerchief on her face at the airport. ‘Our guests need you.’

‘They need you too,’ I’d said, but it was too late, I’d lost her.

A monkey skitters from tree to tree, its laughter an insult.

Gretchen and I would picnic in summer with friends, Sal, Bruce, Lenny, Hussein and Pat. We’d feast with them in winter. We’d go to a jazz club on wet Sundays. Our friends slotted into pairs over the years.

I wish I’d memorised how light and shadow played across her face, an image to catalogue for the children we’ll never have. Some things can’t be captured in photographs.

This weekend is the Asanha bucha festival, and hotel management assure me they’ll have enough staff, despite the holiday.

In the lobby a ragged man invites an American to a cockfight. I change the wording on the notice that directs our guests to the reception. Moped taxis with side-saddled passengers buzz like insects on the road.

I wait for people to arrive. An immaculate waiter gives me a glass, black bow tie over starched shirt. I force a smile. His hands look like they are made from china. I trace Gretchen’s name in the condensation, then slip my fingers into the drink. I could never abide cucumber, but she wanted to greet our guests with a Pimm’s Cup.

Lenny places a silver-wrapped gift on the table. Their baby is silent in Pat’s arms.

‘I don’t know what to say, Shane.’ Lenny’s embrace is short and electric.

He might catch my despair if he holds me too long.


Second Prize: Leaving by Serena Molloy

Judge’s comments: Although I feel the writer could have eliminated the last line to make this story tighter, I still sense the power of the speaker’s relationship with Mama and how the mother is the guiding light of the story. I found it effective using Mama’s assertive dialogue to push the narrative forward, while mixing it with minimalistic details about their quest for survival. Those details place me in the shallows alongside them as they wade for the boat.

Leaving
By Serena Molloy

‘Hush,’ Mama says. ‘These are not the days for singing.’

Every drop of me wants to sing and dance and clap. The night-sky is bright, a fistful of glistening pearls thrown up. And I never knew sand could be warm, long after the sun has gone. Out there the water breathes, and shifts and lives. I imagine her far over there, the other me, my hair in lots of tiny braids, like a girl I saw on TV, before. When there was TV. When there was before. I loosen my head-scarf and let one strand fall free. They can do nothing now. Little Mo moves his sweaty head in my lap but doesn’t wake. I am spared the crying for a while longer.

‘Always hold him till the sobbing stops,’ Mama says.

I rub his cheek so he can sense I am there through the things that haunt his dreams. I know them all so well.

There is whispering further down. Someone points. A speck on the ocean, but slowly growing, a flower opening. The tingle of expectation. I hadn’t noticed the hum of the engine until they cut it.

‘Stand,’ they say, and prod us to our feet. I hoist little Mo onto my hip, his head presses into my chest and he starts to whinge.

‘No noise,’ the one with the wild eyes says, poking me with his rifle.

I hold little Mo closer and hum softly in his ear. He quietens.

They herd us into the water, colder than I imagined. Waist-deep we wade towards the small boat, a cruise ship to me. I scoop Little Mo’s feet up so they don’t get wet. Someone reaches down and helps me climb on.

‘Keep going,’ Mama said.

I wish she could see how far I’ve come.


Third Prize: Nowhere Station by Tom Hazuka

Judge’s comments: The chance meeting of the narrator and a thin bearded man on the train touches upon an interesting aspect of travel: crossing paths with strangers and sharing intimate moments. The writer captures this well, as well as the feeling of loss when the stranger, now suddenly a friend, disappears through the door. The reference here to Picasso’s Guernica compelled me to check out the painting because the narrator admits it brought tears “at least on the outside.”

Nowhere Station
By Tom Hazuka

I was alone in a second-class car on a train out of Madrid, bound for Barcelona. Yesterday I’d spent twenty minutes standing in front of Picasso’s Guernica, which was black and white like old war photographs and far larger than I expected. I was twenty years old. No painting could make me cry back then, at least on the outside.

It was springtime in Spain. Franco had died last fall after 36 years as dictator, which meant little to me till I saw Guernica. I couldn’t stop thinking about the painting.

The train stopped at some nowhere station. A short, scrawny man around sixty hesitated at the door of the compartment, then sat across from me by the window. I smiled and he smiled back.

There was a five-day beard on his sunken cheeks. He took a pack of Fortuna cigarettes from his shirt pocket and held it out to me.

“No, gracias.” That was about the extent of my Spanish, along with “Buenos días” and “Una cerveza, por favor.”

He shrugged and lit one for himself. He blew out foul-smelling smoke and made what seemed to be a friendly remark.

I knew one more thing in Spanish. “No hablo español,” I said apologetically.

He nodded. Easy math told me he was around twenty years old on April 26, 1937, the day Guernica was bombed. I wanted to ask—oh so carefully—about his life, what it was like to be twenty during a civil war rather than a college student traveling from across the ocean. I wondered if he had fought, and for which side. I wondered if he’d been to Guernica.

For many miles he smoked and I looked out the window, until without a word he touched my knee and left my life at another nowhere station.


SHORTLIST

Earth’s Length and Breadth
By Sudha Balagopal

Nina runs a finger over the flight map on the seat monitor: Los Angeles to London eleven hours, London to Mumbai, nine hours. Twice before, she has made this trip—arriving tired and hopeful, departing crushed and disappointed after botched paperwork.

No matter; 43-year-old Nina is willing to travel earth’s length and breadth.

It must happen this time.

In the humid hubbub outside Mumbai airport, a thin, dark man holds up her name on a placard.

“Good morning!” The cab driver begins loading her bags.

When he holds out a hand for her briefcase, she shakes her head.

Undeterred, he grins, his teeth stained red from the betel leaves he chews.

“We go to hotel now. Madam ask I bring you at seven.”

“No.” Nina cannot wait. “Take me to Madam now.”

“But only be six when we go there. You being tired, hungry?” He voices concern in sing-song English.

“Take me to Madam.” She hugs the briefcase to her sweaty body, praying she has everything.

“Okay!” He bobs his head in the Indian manner, a roll between a shake and a nod.

“This my family,” he points to a photo propped on the dashboard, a sari-clad woman and three little boys.

“Lucky man,” she says.

He chatters, happily maneuvering through undisciplined traffic on awakening streets.

Her responses fade. A fist clenches in the pit of her belly.

Faster! Must be close now.

They arrive at their destination: an imposing, school-like building. He honks once. When no one answers, he runs to the door and rings the bell.

She holds her breath.

A lady in a white sari emerges, holding a dark-eyed baby on her hip.

“My child,” Nina whispers, then charges out of the cab—not one moment to lose.

The baby coos, holds out her arms.


Vainglory
By Peter Jordan

Under the cliff’s shade a flamingo stood on one leg in a shallow pool staring at his own reflection. For a long time he remained in this pose until he heard something approaching.

When the hyena appeared he said, ‘I’ve never seen a flamingo at this pool.’

The flamingo stepped back into the slightly deeper water. ‘I’ve been to many places but never here,’ he said. ‘I’m returning home.’

‘To the soda lake at Isenegeza?’

‘Yes,’ said the flamingo. ‘You should visit the soda lake.’

‘I would need your coat of feathers.’

The hyena knew the leopard had already tried; that he’d died of thirst, his paws shackled with crystals of soda.

‘It’s not far.’

‘But too far for me,’ said the hyena.

Then he asked the flamingo if he could tell him everything he’d seen on his long journey.

The flamingo talked easily about himself until the remaining daylight vanished into the night sky. Suddenly, he realised it was dark. He flapped his wings and rose up towards the escarpment.

‘Why are you leaving … can’t you see in the dark?’ said the hyena.

‘I know there are seven deadly sins. You are afflicted by them all!’

The hyena listened, his head cocked to one side, until he heard the flamingo’s body strike the cliff wall.

As the hyena approached the flamingo lay shivering.

‘There were once eight deadly sins,’ said the hyena.

‘I know of only seven.’

‘The eighth of them was vainglory.’

Quickly he seized the flamingo’s neck, tearing out the feathers to get at the soft flesh.

When his belly was full he rolled in the feathers and gore.

Momentarily, he stood laughing at how ridiculous he looked in his pink-feathered coat. Then he thanked his god for eyes that were not blinded by his own reflection.


Sweet Ebele
By Katie Magoun

Her eyes opened on a world that was brown and stinking. Brown bodies shackled to brown walls. Crusted blood stained floors filmed with unmentionable sludge. Brown flies buzzed incessantly, alighting maddeningly on raw flesh. The din of agonized humanity crescendoed and receded, echoing blankly in the fetid brown belly of the beast.

She struggled to remember what had happened, though she suspected that the throbbing in her left temple was to blame. The floor lurched and swayed below her, and she felt she must’ve been swallowed by some great creature that was at once alive and dead. Terror forced the contents of her stomach up.

From the brown fog of misery a name arose in her mind, Ebele. She panicked, scrambling and yanking at the weighty chains that bound her arms, legs, neck. Pain flared like fire, but she continued to flail. I must find my Ebele. Her heart was like a drum, increasing in tempo with each strangled breath. She cried out with the last vitality she possessed, “Ebele!”

A man stood before her, blindingly bright, grasping a long brown snake in his hand. He bellowed at her in words she did not understand, though there was no misreading the hateful rage emanating like heat from his stocky frame. She whimpered and cried out in fear and rage to match his own. He snapped his arm and the brown snake bit her flesh. Again, he snapped the snake at her.

Again.

Again.

Again.

Through the haze of pain and terror, she wondered feebly if she’d ever see her beloved Ebele again. She closed her eyes, picturing a small brown face smiling sweetly, white teeth flashing in the sun, deep brown eyes sparkling with mischief. Sweet Ebele, she thought. I hope you are dead.


Beshrew Me
By Charles Rammelkamp

True, we spoke the same language, but the currency was different, the coins unfamiliar, so boarding a bus in Alcester, where my wife was attending a conference, for Stratford-upon-Avon to catch a performance of The Merchant of Venice by the Royal Shakespeare Company–a distance of about seven miles–still felt like an adventure, a raft ride down the Orinoco.

The bus driver poked through the coins in my palm, plucked out four pounds for the round-trip fare, smiled at my confusion.

“I don’t get out much,” I apologized, but he only laughed and wished me a good day.

Rolling through the rural West Midlands, past fields just starting to buzz and blossom, I had the giddy feeling of being in a Medieval fairy tale, or maybe a Disney film.

“I need to get out more,” I confessed to the driver half an hour later when I got off the bus. He tipped his hat and smiled.

I’d hit Trinity Church first, I decided, check out Willie’s gravesite, stroll along the Avon …

Later, sitting in the theater, listening to Shylock’s famous speech–“If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh?”–I conceded that this was not that different from being back home in Illinois; I mean, it wasn’t Marrakech or Bangkok, Kampala or Montevideo. But when I heard Lorenzo telling Gratiano about Jessica, who would break her father’s heart by running off to marry a Christian, “Beshrew me, but I love her heartily,” knowing that what he was saying amounted to “Damn me, I’m crazy about this woman,” I sat there in the dim theater, pleased, and all I could think was, Yes!


A Trip to Timbuktu
By Teddy Kimathi

My feet were almost baked from the burning desert sun and sands as I made my way through the Sahara, together with my dad. I carried my bag as though I were forced to go on a camping trip, while my dad walked with the zeal of a pilgrim.

“Son, we are about to reach Timbuktu!” he said.

My dad believes that he once lived in Timbuktu in his past life, before God decided to make him an American in his other life. He also believes that knowledge belonging to Timbuktu is spread everywhere in the world like salt on a piece of omelet.

“I just want to touch the remaining red walls of the ancient library, to remind it that I still stand beside it in the test of time,” he said, as he rolled out his map.

I didn’t want to disappoint Dad by declining to join him in this journey. I knew what this trip really meant for him. Sometimes he saved money from betting and gambling to be able to get a flight to this remote African land.

My mother didn’t want to come along. She always wanted to be unique; she feared Timbuktu would fail to exorcise her fear that she was only a replay with a different name and skin.

She was afraid that her secret recipes would somehow reveal themselves in some of the yellowed, surviving Timbuktu library scrolls. She wanted to see herself as a creator, rather than seeing her recipes written down by ancient, anonymous hands.


Postcards to Send
By Ekta R. Garg

Freddie made his way through the terminal, watching people. Some walked with their suitcases trotting beside them like obedient little dogs. A few guys in suits jogged through the airport, yanking roll-ons behind them.

Runnin’ to the gate so they can spend the next umpteen hours sittin’ still, Freddie thought with a smirk.

He tightened his grip on the handle under his right hand and read the destinations on the gates as he walked past them. Rome. Lisbon. Frankfurt. Dubai.

Didn’t matter what the government said; people still went to where they needed to go.

Pulling his phone out of his back pocket, Freddie kept scanning names on boards behind gate agents. A few of the agents looked tense. Most of them looked bored. Freddie wanted to be that bored one day.

The destination on one gate near the end of the terminal made him slow down. “Madrid,” it said. He pulled up the web browser on his phone and asked Google to show him the city. Every photo became a postcard, the kind he’d send to people once he got there.

Looks a lot like Vienna. But didn’t people from Spain go to Vienna a million years ago? What website was it that said that?

Damn, everything in Madrid’s tall. Not like Paris, where the Eiffel Tower’s gotta show from anywhere. Definitely not like Berlin. Even the buildings in Berlin look serious.

He swiped across the screen and stopped at an image showing tourists grinning and taking pictures. Freddie could almost hear them laughing. And the music. And those casta … casta … something. The hand clickers.

Just then the gate agent made the first announcement for the flight.

Yup; someday I’m gonna see ’em all.

He put his phone back in his pocket and pushed the custodial cart to the nearest bathroom.


LONGLIST (alphabetical)

Z.C. Aardt, The Evening Ferry
Cezarija Abartis, What Odysseus Learned
Hedva Anbar, FLIGHT
David S. Atkinson, International Incidents and White Beans, Not to Mention a Duck
Samantha Barnes, Smoking Hot, Super Cool
Paul Beckman, Goodbye Already
Joy Bergman, Joy in Seoul
Andy Betz, Guess
Faiza Bokhari, Over the Seas
Louise Burch, Without Animal Fear
Ella Carmichael, RAYPHILE
Steve Carr, Isla Mujeres
Marion Clarke, Placement Year
Daniella Conley, Free Fall
Nikki Crutchley, Escape From Me
John Paul Davies, Carnaval
Liana Dudley Holland, Under
Rebecca Duncan, In the Grand Manner
Ikechukwu Echebiri, Double Jeopardy
S.A. Enloe, Of the Beholders
Esha, Scarlet Blood
Krystyna W. Fedosejevs, Fruitful Plans
Shirley Fletcher, OVERSEAS TRAVEL
James Freeze, Holy Protocol
Kelly Friedman, Irish Nothing
Clare Goldfarb, November 24, 1990
Debbie Gravett, Just Ask
KJ Hannah Greenberg, The Price of Cheap
Michelle Greer, The Reluctant Traveller
Jonathan Gurling, A Lesson in Dust and Water
Matthew Scott Harris, A sneak peak back in time
George Held, On the Humongous Breakfast Roll Called a “Dubcek”
Alva Holland, Is Heaven Overseas?
Hasen Hull, The Paris Effect
Abha Iyengar, On the Spot
Jinisha Jain, The Stars Danced That Night
Nell Jenda, Eggs
onie jo, to and over
Ben Johnston, The Easy Way Out
Raye Kessler, A Wedding Gift for Your New Wife—Love, Medea
Myra King, Lunar Seas
Rory Kirby, Zero
Bear Kosik, Leaving for Serendip
Rishav Kumar, A Different World
Paige LaCour, Monkey Business
Castille Landon, OSSUARY
Stephen Lodge, Hippos Sketches
David Lohrey, Bronze Shoes on Horseback
Tricia Lowther, Postcards from the Living Room
Nancy Ludmerer, Unforgettable
Perry McDaid, Emigrants
John B. Mahaffie, Boss of the Plains
Athena Martin, There Are No Foreign Lands
Evan Massey, Cellist
Doug Mathewson, The Way Back Home
Thomas Meade, Overseas Travel
Andrew Mobbs, Three Questions
James S. Moffett, Despair and Delays
Karen Mon, Eucaristia
Damhnait Monaghan, It’s All Greek to Me
Alan Morris, Overseas
Lynn Mundell, Later
Ben Nein, LOST AND FOUND
Dragos Niculescu, ANTÓN LIZARDO
Levi Andrew Noe, Sing a Traveling Song
Kerrin O’Sullivan, In the Land of the Ayatollahs, Iran, 1980
Toyin Olorunsola, A Dream of Naples
Maribel C. Pagan, The Last Letter
Alex A. Phuong, Global Experience
Lisa Reily, Black Piglets
Eva Rivers, Day Trip
Keely Ryan, Return Flight
Holly Saiki, Late to the End
Tricia Saiki, Momo’s Journey
Tim Sever, SITGES
Maulik Shah, Ex-pat
Brianna C Shuipis, NO DIVING
Sarah Silvernail, Across the Mediterranean
Curtis Starkey, Wants
J.J. Steinfeld, The Travel Writer Turned Horror Novelist’s Literary Nightmare
Andrew Szemeredy, Anthony’s Bridges
Judy Tait, In Sharp Focus
Chris Tattersall, The Secret
Aaron Troye-White, In Sickness and In Health
R.W. Warwick, Something is Better than Sinking
David J. Wing, We’re Going on a Boat Ride
Ann Zimmerman, Promises

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5 comments

  1. What an amazing batch of stories! It’s truly an honor to be a part of this group. Thank you, Kirby, for your due diligence in judging the pieces. Congratulations to all the winners and the writers on the long list. Keep writing, everyone!

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