The landing

The pull of the wind is strong, but he doesn’t let that deter him. He knows what’s at stake and he’s determined to complete his mission. “I can do this.” He tries to hold steady, but another gust of wind blows him off course. He cuts a hard right and doubles back towards his target.

“I’m not giving up!” He musters all his courage and quickly thinks up another plan of attack. Back home everyone is counting on him for their survival; failure is not an option. Taking a fast dive, he locks in on his target, but the wind abruptly changes direction and he gets sideswiped. Suddenly he’s dropping way too fast, spiraling in a dizzying nosedive, the ground seeming to rush towards him at a harrowing speed. The stark blue and white of the sky merges with the kaleidoscope blend of earth colors, making it impossible to distinguish up from down.

He pulls up with all his might, hoping against all hope that he is pulling in the right direction, all his muscles contracting in fear as they furiously work against the forces of nature. It feels to him like he’s mere inches from making impact before he finally manages to gain back control and get back to cruising altitude.

“Okay, that was a bit too close for comfort!” He checks out his surroundings trying to catch his bearing. “There it is!” To his left he can see his target again, it’s impossible to miss the fierce yellow object seeming to sway gracefully in the breeze with not a care in the world. “I can’t go back empty handed…I won’t!”

With renewed determination he readjusts his course and hones in on the yellow mass. He does a rapid calculation of wind shear and speed, zigzagging his way down slowly, ever so slowly until… “Contact! I have contact!”

Hovering safely in the cocoon of the pumpkin flower he gets his fill of nectar and flies proudly off towards the beehive. The day’s work is done; mission completed!

The Sign

With quick steps, Charlie walks purposefully towards the public restrooms but slows to a stop at the end of the hall. The signs on the wall are clear and simple; no sophisticated, hard to decipher emblems, just two simple words in black 8-inch Times New Roman bold letter type, each indicating an entryway. On the left it says MEN’ and on the right ‘WOMEN’. Taking a few tentative steps to the right, Charlie stops short of the entrance and looks up at the sign once more. ‘WOMEN’; simple, direct, concrete. Then Charlie takes a step back and glances to the left, to the other one. Basically, it seems like the same simple and direct sign but in reality, it is a harsh word, one that evokes confusion, self-consciousness and revulsion. Shuddering unconsciously, Charlie shakes off childhood traumas of facing public restrooms and being forced to accept the ‘norm’. Trying to explain, saying over and over, “This is not who I am”, but no one seemed to understand, no one was willing to listen.

Snapping back to the present, Charlie is just about to head inside when a young mother brusquely cuts in front without a second glance, a toddler’s hand grasped firmly in hers as she hurries self-assuredly into the restroom marked ‘WOMEN’. The child skips alongside her while grabbing his crotch demonstratively; “Pee-pee mommy, Corey pee-pee now!

As mother and child walk/run into the restroom, Charlie stands there wondering with equal measures of envy, sadness and admiration at the ease and confidence with which they disappear inside. Several other women walk past and enter the restroom without a second thought. It gives Charlie the courage to also stride towards the entrance, but this time, it is a gentleman who walks up with a little girl in tow and unwittingly blocks the way. The girl is sporting two long messy braids and can’t be more than seven years old. They are only a few feet away and Charlie automatically halts as well, turns in a semi-circle and pretends to look in a different direction while eavesdropping on their conversation.

“Okay Lisa, daddy can’t go in with you, but I’ll be right here waiting for you. Just go ahead and don’t forget to wash your hands when you’re done.” The girl turns to her father with a flustered look on her face, “but I don’t want to go by myself daddy, why can’t you go with me!” The man crouches down so that he is at eye-level with his daughter, places his hands on her shoulders and gives her an encouraging squeeze. “This restroom is for girls, honey – I am a boy. We talked about this before leaving the house, remember? Boys go to the restroom that says ‘MEN’ and girls go to the one that says ‘WOMEN’. You are a girl, right?” The girl nods imperceptibly. “So, go ahead sweetie. I’ll be right here waiting for you when you come out.” The little girl gives her father one last uncertain look, while she twists her right braid around her index finger, further mussing up the already loose braid. Then she turns around and scurries into the restroom.

As the father stretches back upright, he notices Charlie standing there and smiles; “Her first time using the ladies’ room by herself.” The father suddenly realizes that he’s blocking the entrance and steps aside, “Sorry, go right ahead.” Charlie gives the man an understanding nod, “Yes…going into the women’s restroom for the first time is indeed a life changing experience.” With renewed courage, Charlie takes bold, sure steps, joining the small crowd of women heading in the same direction. Stepping inside, a beautiful, confident young woman with shoulder length, dark brown hair falling in large natural curls around an oval face stares back at her. Almond shaped eyes, the same dark shade as her hair and with just a touch of eyeliner and mascara crinkle slightly, as the corners of soft full lips painted the lightest of pinks, slowly turn upwards…Charlie smiles back at her reflection; she has found her true identity…

Side note:

Last year Wintertuin Curaçao organized their first short story competition. The topic was ‘Identity’ and it had to be no more than 750 words. Five finalists were selected from the 83 submissions they received and on Saturday the five finalists had to read their story in front of a jury of five as well as the general public. The competition was part of The Wintertuin Curaçao Festival held at our public library; a wonderful event that started in the morning with storytelling for kids and progressed into the evening with profound poems, short stories, short plays and musical poetry for adults, recited by well-known local artists as well as performers from The Netherlands. The evening culminated with the five finalists…and I was one of them! It was the first time I had participated in a writing competition and although I really wanted to be selected, I was also anxious, because I would have to read my work…out loud…IN FRONT OF A LIVE AUDIENCE!

With my heart beating at breakneck speed, I stepped onto the podium. Stage lights blinded me as I turned to the public to read my short story. I kept telling myself: It’s just 700 words, it will take 5 minutes, 6 tops…you can do this! Grabbing the mike firmly, I took a deep breath and started to read…

Well, I somehow survived the reading and I still can’t believe it, but…I won! Thumbs up for Wintertuin for organizing this awesome literary festival. I hope they will continue encouraging emerging writers with more of these competitions.

The Note…

Slumped in his chair, he places his elbows on his desk, interlocking his fingers tightly together as if in prayer. He slowly pitches forward, leaning his forehead against his fists for support. Although the outside frost is slowly inching its way up the large French windows, droplets of sweat dot his forehead. He raises his head back up and stares unseeingly into the distance, the breathtaking view of the city below bathed in glistering lights completely lost on him.  His gaze turns to the page lying in front of him. He reaches for it with a trembling hand, unable to stop himself from picking it up. He knows full well what it says, he just wrote it a few seconds ago, and still he reads and rereads it again and again until all the letters bleed together. The icy chill of the words seeps from the page into his fingers, up his arms, spreading slowly throughout his body like a cancer on an all-consuming destructive path. He finally tears his eyes away from the loathsome words, his gaze landing on his computer’s screen saver.

Two identical young boys stare back at him with carefree smiles on their faces as they embrace in a playful bearhug on the beach, the soft rolling waves of the ocean behind them, tickling their toes in the sand. The purity of their joy pulls him out of the dark place threatening to engulf him. He resolutely crushes the note into a tight ball and with the crumpled piece of paper still lodged firmly in his palm, he brusquely shakes the mouse to bring his computer back to life. The warm colors of the smiling boys disappear and are replaced by the blinding white background containing the same lines as the printed version propped in his hand. He moves the cursor to the far-right corner of the blue bar and clicks on the X. ‘Want to save your changes to document1?’ His mouse hovers on ‘save’, then it slowly inches towards ‘don’t save’…click. He quickly shuts off his computer, locks up the office and heads towards the elevators, straightening his back and increasing his stride with each step.

Exiting the elevator at the lobby, he looks down as he crosses the threshold and notices that he is still clutching the balled-up note. Without missing a step, he tosses it forcefully into the trashcan next to the receptionist’s counter. He smiles amicably at the night janitor sweeping the floor and makes his way through the revolving doors. If he hurries, he might be able to make it back home just in time to read the boys a bed-time story.

The night janitor absentmindedly waves back as he finishes his final sweep of the marble floors and moves on to his last task of the evening; collecting the trash. Moving from one trashcan to the next, he lifts the bags, ties them in a knot, tosses them into the big trash bag lining his cart and places a fresh bag in the trashcan. He whistles a happy tune while he works and daydreams about the glorious meat stew waiting for him at home. Just the thought of his knife slicing through the tender meat makes him salivate. He picks up the pace, no longer bothering with replacing the bags with fresh ones but simply emptying their contents directly into his cart. As he shakes the last trashcan next to the receptionist’s desk into his cart, a crumpled piece of paper misses it and rolls unnoticed underneath the counter.

…..

“Come on Charlie, hurry up!” Tina says while blowing warm air into her palms and hopping from one foot to the other. “You are going to make me late for my first day at work. Just pee already!” Charlie happily zigzags from one lamppost to the next, sniffing each one thoroughly as if in search of enlightenment itself. “Ok, Charlie that’s it, last chance, if you don’t pee right now you will have to hold it in until after I come back from work. You don’t want me to have to face Mr. Jones and explain to him that after sticking his neck out to get me hired, I’m late on my very first day because my dog couldn’t choose a lamppost, do you?!”

Just as Tina is about to pull on the leash, the brown Labrador zooms in on three green trashcans lining the side of the brownstone apartment complex. He trots over to them, takes a few tentative sniffs, lifts his hind leg and aims a steaming stream at one of the trashcans. Tina hurries back to her apartment with Charlie leading the way.  She makes sure he has plenty of water in his bowl and gives him a quick hug. “I’ll be back before you know it, I promise!” At the front door she turns around one last time to give the dog the sternest look she can muster, “Charlie, behave!”

She half walks, half runs to the Metro Station, taking the stairs as fast as her stilettos will allow, holding her purse closely tucked to her body with one arm while brushing brown fur from her black slacks with the other. There are still a few empty seats in the train, but she bypasses them all, hurrying to the gliding doors at the back of the compartment. Hooking her hand through the loop of an overhead strap, she turns her back to the rest of the commuters and their idle chitchat. She focuses at her reflection on the glass, smiles warmly and repeats in a low voice, “Frasier Bank of New York, good morning, how may I help you”.

As soon as Tina exits the metro station, she catches a glimpse of the majestic skyscraper at the end of the street. She pauses for a second, takes a deep breath, straightens her shoulders and heads purposefully towards the imposing building. Walking past an Indian restaurant, the pungent curry spices combined with the fumes of car exhaust invade her nostrils. Finally, she reaches the office building and darts through the revolving doors. She straightens invisible stray hairs from her perfectly coiffed bun as she walks up to the empty reception counter, her heels clicking a rhythmic beat on the shiny marble floors. A mischievous smile touches her lips as she slowly lowers herself into the seat behind the huge desk. She runs her fingers lovingly over the cold gleaming countertop and whispers, “My reception desk”, still in awe and disbelief. As Tina leans over to set her purse on the floor, she sees a balled-up piece of paper at the far inside corner of her desk.

Picking it up, she is about to toss it in the trashcan when curiosity takes over. She unfolds it and quickly glances over her shoulder before reading. ‘Please forgive me. I tried to fix it but, everything just spiraled out of control. I shouldn’t have done it. I realize that now. I wish I could turn back the clock, but I can’t. I messed up and now my sweet boys will pay the prize, growing up without a father. I know this is the coward’s way out, but I’d rather have my kids bury me and go on with their lives than have to face them through bars for the rest of my life. I’m sorry.’

“Are you going to answer that?” Tina jumps up nervously and finds herself staring into the soft brown eyes of Mr. Jones who is smiling at her. “I, uhm, yes, uhm no, I mean, of course Mr. Jones!” She stammers and quickly sits back down while snatching the note. She balls it back in her fist in a casual motion and picks up the ringing phone while pushing buttons at random, willing the blinking light to stop its mad dance. “Frasier Bank of New York, good morning, how may I help you?”, she singsongs in what she hopes comes off as a clear and confident voice while she looks back up at Mr. Jones, a smile plastered on her face. “One moment please and I’ll connect you.” Patching the caller through, she turns her attention back to Mr. Jones, weighing whether or not to tell him about the note clamped in her fist. Before she can make up her mind, his cell phone rings. He looks at the caller ID and backs up a few steps from the counter as he takes the call. Without meaning to eavesdrop she still catches some of the conversation. “Good morning Mr. Wellington…Yes sir…of course sir…no problem sir. I’ll be right up sir.” Lowering the phone, he slowly presses the disconnect button. He looks back up and stares at her for a few seconds then gives her a quick nod and heads towards the elevators in the back, picking up his pace as he goes.

As she watches him walk away, she has a strong urge to call out to him but he’s already out of earshot. She looks down at the crumpled paper in her hand and then at Mr. Jones’s retreating back. She doesn’t know what to do. This was not at all how she had imagined her first day at work would be like. It had taken her months of countless interviews followed by just as many disappointments, before finally landing this job. She had naively thought that her proudly earned Bachelor’s of Art degree would automatically open doors to a brilliant new career but all it got her was one rejection after the other. If it weren’t for Mr. Jones, she probably wouldn’t be sitting behind this desk right now. She recalls last week’s interview. It started horribly. She walked into the office and just as she was about to hand over her personal file to the interviewer she tripped, papers flying all over the place. She crouched down to grab them at the same time as he did and their heads collided painfully. Tears of frustration prickled behind her eyes as she realized that she had blown the interview in less than sixty seconds, a new record even for her. She apologized profusely and started backing out of the room but then he said, “Where are you going? You no longer want the job?” She gave him a thankful smile and walked over to the chair proffered by him. He introduced himself while extending his hand. “Hi, I’m Mr. Jones. It’s a pleasure to meet you, uhm, miss Brown, right?”

She keeps watching until he reaches the banks of elevators and presses the up arrow, until he steps inside one of the cubicles and presses a button on the side panel, until he finally turns towards her lifting his head just as the elevator door closes, with him behind it.

“Shit!” She uncrumples the piece of paper and reads it again. “Maybe I’m reading it out of context,” she mumbles to herself. She reads it one more time. ‘Please forgive me…’ “It’s probably a hoax. Besides, even if it’s not a joke, whoever wrote this threw it out. So, he must have changed his mind. What if this is a test? I report it and then I get fired for reading other people’s correspondence. Or I don’t report it and I get fired for being negligent. Shit!” She angrily crumples up the note and tosses it into the trashcan but immediately fishes it out again. “Shit, shit, shit!” she swears under her breath.

The line on her desk starts ringing again and she quickly transfers the call. With the phone still in her hand, she glances at the note, picks it up and reads it one last time. She presses Mr. Jones’ extension number. The phone rings once, twice and just as she is about to slam the phone back down on the receiver, she hears his voice over the line, “Yes?” She opens her mouth to form a reply but before she can utter a word, five burly men dressed in almost identical looking suits barge through the revolving doors and head straight towards her. “Put down the phone ma’am,” the one leading the pack barks authoritatively while holding up his badge. “This is the FBI!”

Tina immediately drops the phone and rolls her chair back, raising both hands in surrender, one of them still clutching the letter. “Wait, wha, wait I, I, I didn’t do it! Here’s the note, it’s not mine, you can have it. I was just about to report it, I swear!” she stammers incoherently. The five men move in on her, a blur of square jaws, cropped hair and grey suits engulfing her. One of them takes the note from her. “What is this?” he asks, turning the crumpled paper in his hand but not actually reading it. “I, I, don’t know. A letter. I just found it. I told you, I was just about to report it.” She tries to regain her composure. “Today is my first day at the bank, I found the note on the floor.” He leans in even closer, his angular nose almost touching hers. Dismissively he drops the paper in her lap. “We’re not here for your letter. This bank is being seized on suspicions of money-laundering. No one is allowed either in or out of the building and you are not allowed to put through any calls, do I make myself clear?”

She nods imperceptibly as she sinks even further into the back of her seat. “Good. Now, I need you to get me a list of all the employees as well as the office time log for the last three months. We will also need access to the servers, so get the head of the IT department on the line for me.” The men haven’t moved an inch but start moving with her as she tries to scoot her chair back over to her desk to make the call. She raises her head in exasperation, her eyes darting to the floor to ceiling glass wall just a few feet away. She glimpses out to the street, longingly imagining herself walking outside in the cold with Charlie, waiting patiently for him to sniff for the perfect lamppost while she endures the overpowering mix of car exhaust and curry spices instead of the nauseating scent of cologne and testosterone emanating from the agents crowding her.

Her eyes catch a movement outside. She emits an ear-piercing scream as comprehension sinks in. Her gut-wrenching scream muffles the sound of Mr. Jones’ body hitting the floor, right in front of the revolving doors…

Side note:

I wrote this story during a creative writing course I took last year. At the start of the session they gave us each a sheet of blank paper, asked us to crumple it and then write down how it would feel to be that piece of crumpled up paper. It was a warm up exercise to get the pen flowing. Then the actual class began. We were taught how to structure a story and had to write one using the tips and tricks we learned. The above story is the result and that prop of paper is what got it all rolling.