Congratulations to our 2012 Winners
1. Rachel Beverley, "Lost"
2. Joshua Ryan, "The Ocean My World"
3. Stephanie Symons, "Untitled"
4. Chloe Mung, "The Game"
Highly Commended Entries
5. Lucinda White, "Old Bab'a Road"
6. Gemma Smith, "Back Home"
7. Angela Zhangbao, "Fitting In"
8. Jack Penton, "Examination"
9. Angela Choi, "Surviving Dysfunction"
10. Jacqueline Sum, "It's Different"
The competition is open to Year 10, 11 and 12 students and TAFE students aged 16 to 21 to produce a piece of creative writing.
The competition opens Friday 20 July and closes Friday 21 September. Judging occurs during September and October and winners will be announced Monday 5 November 2012.
Your task is to write a creative and engaging story, poem, or script. It should be no more than 1000 words, and should be a creative work of your own that shows how personal lives intersect with larger patterns or communities. It should address one of the following themes:
It may be a work of Fiction or Non-fiction.
If the piece is Non-fiction, then you MUST alter all identifiers to preserve the privacy of the individual or community.
There are seven thousand things I want to say to her. I can feel them filling up my eyes, scratching at my fingertips, clamouring in the space behind my open lips; but the moment they come in contact with the breathing air, they crush and die, choking and failing, not quite good enough to breach the space between us and bring her back to me. She stares at me from the couch across the coffee table, her eyes dull, the tarnished globes of a woman whose lover doesn’t polish them with the sight of him each day any longer. These are the longest hours of her life, the seconds ticking by like bodies dragged through molasses, slowing her heartbeat until it stops, and all I do is sit, silent, as useless as a mannequin on our mother’s couch. The whole room feels suddenly absurd to me: the glass coffee table top set demurely in its scrolled metal frame, the striped chintz sofas, the white wallpaper that insists it’s some obscure shade of cream – Ascendant Pearl or some pretentious title. Nothing feels real. It’s like the setting of a television show, something barely tolerable where the scenes in the background are obviously painted backdrops and the actors are wooden amateurs. That’s how I feel. An amateur at life. Here am I, untried, uncracked, I who have never loved, never lost.
She looks blankly at me. The tissues I have handed her in some painfully inadequate attempt at a gesture sit untouched on the table at her knees, like some piteous roadie throwing herself at the feet of a band member, unnoticed. They riffle in the slight breeze of the open window that doesn’t shift a strand of her hair. Her eyes used to be blue, I think, the clearest blue of the evening, a cerulean sea.
“Tell me what to say,” I say to her. This room is a cavern, an abyss that’s only three metres square, as vast as the opposite ends of Russia, a tiny Pearl prison. I can’t find you in here. Somehow in this miniscule space I’ve lost her, unlatched from my keep in the wild expanses of the ocean that opens up between us.
She doesn’t even blink. Her hands are limp. Why are we here, in my mother’s suffocating living room? Why aren’t we somewhere we can breathe, where things feel alive instead of frozen in this pointless Pearl stasis? I feel as if this scene has been going on forever, and will continue on into forever, some Ourobouros of endless hollow limbo. We’ve lived here before, and here we are again, returned, cycling around and around, trapped in this all-consuming pain. I can’t remember not sitting here, her grey eyes panning like the dead stare of a refugee, sliding across the room in slow motion, as if her mind is swimming through tar. They fix on me, a blank nihilist canvas, Hamlet in his woes. How stale, flat and unprofitable seem all the uses of your sister, when she cannot understand your pain?
“Say?” she whispers. I don’t recognise this voice. This is the voice of the graveside, the waiting, the broken. She shakes her head, the infinitesimal movement of a limp body punted by a current. “There’s nothing to say.”
I lean forward in desperation, as if closing physical space closes emotional space as well. “I know you, Alice,” I plead. This isn’t my voice, either. This is the voice of the adrift, the lonely, the scared. “There’s always something to say.”
I’m losing her, piece by piece, pitching away in front of me like a sculptor’s marble. Her eyes home in from a million miles away, somewhere in the wasteland of the grieving mind. Alien eyes flatten me. “There was always something to say,” she tells me.
I blink. The words, delivered with all the slow lassitude of a shuttlecock floating to ground, make impact. The room is deathly silent, still, and yet it feels silent of a different kind. Everything is deathly, or already dead. It seems so obvious, in the reverberating aftermath of those words. There is no going back from here. This loss is irreversible. It seems strange to me, how the loss of one person can be so tied into the heartstrings of another, as if that’s person’s hands were tangled within their chest and with their leaving, ripped them out in the tense rigor mortis, leaving this stranger behind. Alice no longer exists. This is Alice-No-More, Alice-the-Mourning, Alice-the-Lost. This is some black silhouette of my sister, and it’s all I have left.
The coffee table, the white walls, they all seem redundant. There’s no such thing as Ascendant Pearl. All that exists is this hollowed-out person, and me. This pompous table, these superfluous trappings, they are nothing anymore, mere occupations of atoms. My mother’s perfectly possessed living room is a joke, a cosmic pointlessness of a scale that sits at one end, my sister, transformed, at the other. My role in all this is as clear as day.
I am changed too. As Alice lost her lover, now I lose Alice, and this person, this grieving person that sits in the same place I did moments ago, breathing the same air, hating the same space, this person knows what to do, even as she knows it won’t fix anything. She stands up, rounds the ugly table, and sits down, an inch aside her sister.
“Then I won’t say anything,” I tell her, and put my hand on her limp fingers, clasping them in my own. You are a wonder, I want to tell her. You are a lover. You are alive, even now. This, in my palm, this isn’t strength. What is strength is the oxygen that beats your heart even in his absence. What is strength is the effort you take to speak even in his absence. What is strength is his absence, and your continued presence.
But I don’t say any of this, because I don’t need to. I just exist, alongside her.
This is how we begin. We breathe.
It was 5am; the sun was just squeezing out above the horizon; the morning chill cut into me as we cruised down the dirt road out towards the secluded beach on this part of the coast we called home. The swell was massive and the conditions almost perfect. I was still half asleep but had that feeling that it was going to be a gnarly morning.
I could feel butterflies in my stomach as we got closer and could see the break. I wasn’t half asleep anymore; there was a buzz that was rushing through all of us.“Are you guys ready or what?” I heard Kane say. “Too right I am” James replied.
I was in a daze glaring out at the ocean, watching, waiting, wishing.... “Levi! LEVI!!!” I snapped out of my dream.
“What?!” I exclaimed.
“Are you pumped?!” James asked.
“Mate I’ve been waiting for this since last summer.” I replied.
The sound of the old Land Rover was taken over by the roar of the swell and the smell of the exhaust over powered by the salty scent of the beach as we got closer. We slid up onto the deserted beach and parked the car right in the middle. There were just us and a few hundred seagulls in sight. The sun now shone down from above, the chill of the morning gone. My heart raced as I looked out at the massive swell.
We grabbed the boards and started heading toward the water. Sprinting toward the ocean, our hearts raced as we dived onto our boards and started paddling out toward the back of the break. The chill of the water rushed through my wetty as I dove under a wave; water rushing around me. I was in my element.
The tranquillity of the ocean around me was breathtaking. The silence of the ocean took over me and swept me away as I sat on my board waiting. We all saw the set coming. “I call first wave!!” Kane yelled as he started paddling toward the shore watching the upcoming wave surge up behind him. He stood up gliding across the water with such grace and ease.
I started paddling trying to catch the next wave. I saw it building up behind me. I could feel my heart beating in my chest. I felt the board pick up and I launched myself onto my feet. It was surreal. The wind swept past me as I glided down the wave. It started to break and before I knew it I was inside the wave’s barrel. The clear blue wall of water surrounding me and swallowing me, I felt a sense of security and safety within the barrel. It felt as though I had no worries in the world. I saw Kane paddling back over the wave as I looked out the end of the barrel. I soared out of the barrel with my arms in the air looking up to the sky.
As I paddled back toward where Kane was sitting, I could see James carving up the wall of a wave, cutting back and getting air whenever he could. I got back to where Kane was and we were looking for the next set of waves we could catch. I saw a wave building out the back of a set. James had joined us again by this time. The other two opted to not try one of the waves in this set so I started paddling. I looked back to check where the wave was and noticed the size it had grown to. It was huge. I felt it sweep me up and it felt as though I was flying. I went to push myself up but started to nose dive. I couldn't help it. I crashed into the water head first. I was being thrown around as the wave crashed and tumbled. I could feel my leg rope pulling me toward the board. Then, I felt a sharp pain in the back of my head.
I blacked out for a second, then back in again, then out again, then in. I was sinking slowly toward the bottom of the ocean. I blacked out again, then as I came to again I could see the silhouettes of James and Kane on the surface. I blacked out again. This time I could see in my mind the beach we were on. I saw the glistening sand, the clear blue water and the perfect waves breaking. I came to again. This time I was on Kane’s board and we were heading toward the shore. I faintly heard someone say, “Levi? Levi? It’s okay mate we’ve got you. You’re going to....” I blacked out again.
I went back to my dream. I was now paddling out through the waves. It was almost as if it was real. I was sitting out in the ocean on my board. The tranquillity overtaking me, the silence empowering me and the calm ocean gently comforting me.
But reality is cruel. I’ve dreamt of that day every night since. The wave picking me up, the water rushing by me; I wake drenched in sweat every morning. There will be no more peace, no more salt water in my hair, no more scent of the sea in my nose, no more sand between my toes. The wheelchair is now my board, the hospital ward my ocean. I don’t belong there anymore; I don’t have that connection I once had to that one thing I loved most of all, the ocean….
God of my heart, my whole desire is in loving you. I give myself to you without reserve.
Clutching nervously at the leather handle pressed into my glove I straightened my back, an attempt to conceal the overwhelming fear I had in both deserting one world and emerging in another. The wrought iron felt icier than usual, forcing me to quickly withdraw my hand from the gate, as if the whole place was shunning me, accelerating my departure. I granted myself one final glance at the place that for two decades had been my home and my purpose, where now my ‘progressive disenchantment’ and ‘defiant attitude’ were not welcomed. As I committed to memory the texture of the vines and the beauty of Our Lady’s statue I felt surprisingly threatened by the monstrous building, portrayed dark and imposing by the absence of light. “You are obliged to depart under a strict shroud of secrecy. One compelled to abandon her calling threatens the vocations of the younger members you understand?”. I started down the street convincing myself I had outgrown my vows, rather than abandoned them.
I consecrate you to my heart. I desire to dwell with you all my days.
Walking through Prince Alfred Park, the unforgiving August wind biting at my neck, I recalled Sister Elizabeth’s words. ‘Take these’, she had said desperately, discreetly pressing a handful of coins into my palm, ‘they should get you a rail concession at least’. I wondered how long it had taken her to collect those and resolved not to spend them. If we met again, I’d return them. In a world where shillings and pounds were now dollars and cents, I was to pave myself an identity, a foreign privilege supressed by my life with the Sisters of Mercy. The most prominent physical adjustment of course, was my clothing. Did this outfit match? I’d never chosen clothes with the purpose of crafting an identity. Heightening my discomfort was the rain that began to inundate the pavement, soaking my ankles. I did not own an umbrella so I put on my hat and tightened my scarf.
I consecrate you to my will. May it be joined with yours in all things.
As I neared the railway station courtyard I was alerted by the giggles of a toddler who had carelessly overtaken me in pursuit of promising puddles.
“Thomas, stop! No silliness, you’re going to wet this poor lady”. The boy’s father retrieved his son and turned to me, “I am terribly sorry ma’a... Sister Marie?”
I smiled nervously into the eyes of Richard McKeon, a regular parishioner.
“S-Sorry about that... Sister?”, he stuttered gawkily, returning to his wife. They linked hands, little Thomas following, eyes burning into my back. Would God ever grant me the blessing of a family? Or did my actions render me undeserving of such joy. I hoped I was worthy of forgiveness. After all, I did not seek dispensation with the intent of sacrificing my relationship with God, rather to experience life beyond what that relationship had restricted me to within the Order. A salesman warmly offered me a Daily Mirror as people bustled to and fro. Monday August 7th 1967, it read, Holt confirms increased support for American forces’. That must be the war, I thought. I was overwhelmed by the chaos of this place.
May your spirit guide me in the way of obedience and may selfish desires not find a way in me.
“I’d like to go to Hunter Street Ashfield please Sir”.
“Well that’s just lovely innit, I ain’t takin’ ya there, what do you need?”, the officer remarked unamused, startling me with his sarcasm.
“I... I need to go to the station there, I’m to meet my Aunt and Uncle”.
“Parramatta to Ashfield. Return or single fare ma’am?”.
“I will not... not be returning, no”.
“That’ll be 85 cents then”.
I retrieved the crumpled ivory envelope that Mother Superior had entrusted to me, the mercy cross hauntingly stamped on the seal. I cluelessly offered the waiting man whatever foreign cash it contained. Frustrated, he snatched a small purple bill, returning the remaining money and a note I had overlooked. I identified the dispensation statement, careless raindrops smearing the print, ‘...there is nothing in the order’s constitution which says it must assist former members...’. I was unsure of what reception to expect from the O’Doherty’s, my only remaining relatives. They would call me by my Christian name, Claire. It sounded peculiar in my head. The uncertainty of the future was intensified by the social deprivation that the strict protection and regulation of my life had caused.
“To Ashfield?”, I questioned the attendant.
“Platform 2 today ma’am”. I nodded and headed towards the second platform, and essentially my second attempt at life.
Moving pictures on the tele
Fascinated, curious eyes
Eager mind ready to absorb
The good old Scooby takes centre tonight
'Cow' in English...how to say it in Chinese?
Propped before the small screen, dear mummy right beside her
Fuel found for conversation, giggles and fits
Maybe the Darling Harbour slippery dip can wait another day
Next stage, in her small hand
Brand new toy Tamagotchi
Off to school, time to mingle, time to connect
Not alone, other companions too with their pets
Maybe the blossomed plains can wait another day
TICK TICK SWOOM SWOOM
Undesirable and unwanted existence
"Tamagotchis are now ba-"
Never mind that now, there's but another dingle dongle
First hand off the shelf, hot in her hands
X-box in its finest form
Black, chic and something foreign
Screaming nothing but FUN FUN FUN
Non-stop hours tapping remotes with her brother
Maybe the bike ride to Connelly Reserve can wait another day
At school begins the so-called computing
Small doses required too at home
Jennifer shares an ear plug with her instead
Of chirping away about summer in Shanghai
'WEI WEI? HELLO ARE YOU THERE?'
Shy introduction to the sliding Sony Ericsson
Few years later
More than half a day of radiation
Maths exercise 10D, To Kill A Mockingbird, Facebook, Youtube
Seeking, surfing, hungry for more
TICK TICK first glance, almost 5 in the Arvo
TICK TICK TICK TICK TICK
Rise and shine! Clock strikes 6
Maybe Mr Snooze can wait another day
So much advancing, evolving, developing behind her back?!
X-box with an extra 360
Mp3 threatened species sought after by iPods
PC in retirement villages
Apple Macs the young, able new recruits
Good riddance ol' pal Eric, hello Siri!
A 2.0 world
Gravity is defied
With clusters of UFOs
Tracks twist and turn
Solid menaces protruding from concrete
Humanoid plomps beside her on the bus
Wired and hard-shelled
Face embedded with an everlasting smile
Wide owl eyes, rectangular nose, box head
Buff shoulders, stiff limbs, jagged motion
Ahh, following the latest trend In VOGUE
Sporting functions and being gaudy with blinking lights, I see...
Maybe mankind can wait another day.
I’m on the phone to my sister. She’s crying.
I’m not sure what to say, what to do. She’s my big sister, she’s the one who’d dried my tears. I had no idea what to do with hers.
She tells me she’s pregnant.
I suddenly feel like I’ve been wrenched up out of my world, out of the bubble I’ve been living in since I got here, and been dragged back down to what life was before, back to our unfortunate reality.
I start crying too.
We just sit crying together, my sister and me, on the phone, a world apart.
* * * * *
I got the scholarship two years ago. The indigenous scholarship to a school in Sydney, a posh, rich, all-girl private school nobody had heard of. Regardless, everyone was ecstatic. All my friends and family threw a ridiculous celebration in our backyard and everyone brought food and beer and Cottee’s cordial and both child and adult sat laughing and drinking and chewing on steak for an entire day.
It was great.
I kept thinking that it was; great, that was until I pulled up to the place I’d be living at for the next three years. It was mammoth; the driveway was longer than the total cross-section of my old school, the trees taller than the highest building back home and… there was a church in the middle of the grounds? My mind was a train wreck at that point. Great had snapped itself in half. I could feel a gap wedging itself between past and present, my world and this world. Confusion? Yeah, I was confused.
The first night I thought of my sister, Lin, remembering her telling me to ring everyday, as her departing words of wisdom she’d said “Let the rich bastards pay for the phone bill, and ring me, everyday, because frankly I want to hear all about life on the other side.” Then with a grin and slap to the back of my head I was out of Darwin in off to a new world. This world. My new world.
I remember the first day. It was… enlightening. Teachers looked at me funny, smiling with a sort of manic stupidity, like they were trying to be nice but didn’t really have a talent for it. Teachers at home just had the job of keeping us all in one piece, making sure we kept sober, clean, un-impregnated, and most of the time alive, though it didn’t make the headlines if the headcount decreased during lunchtime. The girls here were insane. They talked in an unbelievably absurd way; like drinking and drugs were cool, like sex was the most exciting thing that could ever happen, like being a rebel was the only way to be. I could feel that gap between us. Everything felt like it was happening too fast, like everyone shuffled through people and words and places and feelings at super speed, fastforward. I remember thinking that people laughed and cried at the same time. It was bizarre. Like the fact that at six that morning I’d looked out the window of the boarding house and seen girls in sport uniforms off to train for soccer or netball or swimming. This didn’t happen back home, the incentive just wasn’t there. I was seen as a bit of an oaf for trekking here and there for my tennis matches. I wonder if anyone noticed it was that effort that got me here. No. I think people back home were too busy slapping me on the back and telling me not to become a blue-blood to really look into it.
Two years is a long time.
It’s been about a year since the confusion faded, since I started wearing makeup and growing my hair out and wearing my skirt shorter, since I became part of this world, since I’d closed that particular gap. It’s been nine months since I won my last tennis match. It’s been six months since Lin’s phone call, the one that brought me down from the cloud I was living in.
For six months I’ve been replaying our memories. I remember as kids weÙd dream, imagining ourselves going places, meeting people we hadn’t known our whole lives. I’m living it, the dream and she’s living our nightmare, following the pattern dictated by decades of unreasoned tradition. I’ve been thinking of our phone calls, telling her about the city, the rich girls, the school, the crazy fact that all of them pay thousands of dollars just to attend when back home it took a ton of effort for a majority of the school the even show up. I remember hearing the wonder in her gasps when I told her about the sports uniforms, and the gym and the six am trainings.
* * * * *
Two months later I was home, reminded of just how big the gap between my two worlds was.
I saw her, my sister, stomach protruding absurdly, blowing on a whistle, pointing a finger around all over the place, surrounded by a group of children in white t-shirts bouncing balls up and down a makeshift court in the middle of the road. Training. Uniforms. Six in the morning.
I’d caught Lin’s eye and we started laughing and crying at the same time.
* * * * *
Back to school. The image of those kids still implanted in my brain. I felt like my worlds had fused together, if only by that tiny strand. Lin had told me I was her inspiration, that my stories of my new life had made her want to change everyone else’s. I told her she was a genius.
This morning I told the assembly that I was organizing a pen-pal program for girls here to inspire people back home and in other indigenous communities, just like I’d inspired my sister. Turns out the respect I had gained from my peers proved beneficial, they’re all leaping at my proposal.I can feel the gap closing already.
She stared down the long and dull corridor of her suburban home, the scene of too many beatings. The corridor she was dragged down by her hair. She glanced at the deep crack in the plaster and ran her fingers over her forehead. The wretched pain from the wound throbbed. Her knees buckled and she slid down the wall and let her head fall helplessly into her hands. How did it get to this point? She was a broken woman, rocking backwards and forwards in the tunnel that led to her hell.
The front door swung wildly open to reveal her husband stumbling through it. His arms flailed, and she could smell the raw stink of gin already. He was drunk, a side of him she knew too well.
“Claire!” he bellowed, following by a disgusting belch. She knew there was no point trying to calm him. She ran to the bedroom and locked the door, but the locks couldn’t withstand the rage inside of her husband. She knew that.
“You bitch!” he roared and lunged himself at the lock. She clutched her legs to her chest on the other side of the door. The handle shook violently, and then the whole room began to shake around her. The walls closed in on her. Her heart thumped in her chest and sweat covered her wound. Her body could not take another beating. But he just wouldn’t stop. A picture frame smashed to the ground and she gasped. The lock began to look looser and looser.
She scooped the picture and slid underneath their bed, the bed where they conceived their daughter, the bed where they had laughed and planned their future. She scrapped the shattered glass of the picture. It was a photo of her and her husband on their anniversary last year. She stroked his face. The man that stared at her was not the same man that was on the other side of the door. This man was who she had married, who was a happy, loyal and gentle man. He had morals and was a great father to their daughter. But this man let the gin change him into a man he wasn’t.
The door came crashing open, just as it had done so many times before. He knew exactly where she was. But this time was different. She no longer felt like a weeping puppy, but a strong woman. This had to stop. He grabbed her by her hair and reefed her out from underneath the bed.
“STOP!” she screamed as loud as she possibly could and held one of the shards of glass in front of her. He stared at her, taken a back. She grabbed the bottle of gin out of his hands and smashed it against their dresser.
“You can’t keep doing this to me John! Look at me. Look at what you have made me. It’s not my fault she died. It’s not anyone’s fault and you still storm in here punishing me every night. You think that covering your pain with gin is going to make it go away? Well it’s not! It’s not! You’re a pig and a coward and you need to man up and face your grief like everyone else did. We can’t change that she fell off that horse. We can’t change that she chose not to wear a helmet. You couldn’t have done anything to change it! So why do you think that bashing my face into the hallway wall is going to make her come back? It’s not John. She’s gone. Deal with it.”
Her husband looked at her. His knees buckled and he slid down the wall and let his head fall helplessly into his hands. He was a broken man, a man that needed his daughter.
She sat down next to him and wrapped her arms around his brooding body. They rocked backwards and forwards. Together.
When the grey winter had passed, Rosa came to sit beneath the flowering tree for the last time. There was beauty here but never peace. In this spring of her 23rd year, the greening hillside and the blossoms of the apricot trembled with the distant quakes of battle, skirmishes in the war that had stained her life. Even in months of fragile ceasefire, Rosa heard inside her head the rumbling, gunfire and screaming of the Chechen wars, the sound track that played behind even her earliest memories.
They lived in Grozny then, the gracious capital of the Caucasus that shone in times past like an opulent setting of antique silver. A place of high culture, elegant boulevards, parks and theatres. Papa had kept a small clothing store in the city’s heart before he was cut down by crossfire in ’94, during the first battle against the Russians.
Rosa struggled to remember that time; she had been just five years old. She remembered the smell of the burning city, though, and the fearful nights when her mother’s sobbing crept through the house like a sick animal.
Abram was three years older than Rosa, but after Papa’s death, her brother began roaming the war torn city, resourcefully making money for the family to survive. In the hard years that followed, he grew from an urchin into a street warrior and it was he who organised the move away from the ruined city to the relative safety of a village farmhouse in the mountain foothills. He chose not live with them there, preferring life in Grozny with the comrades who shared his fierce resentment.
With schools bombed and children needed in whatever work could be had to help provide, education was an early casualty of the long years of Chechen war. Books had been scarce at first for Rosa and reading came late, but from age 10, her skill and vocabulary grew quickly as she learned that in the turning of pages there was escape. She began to read from the Qu’ran each day and Abram took pleasure in supplying his sister with armfuls of bought and stolen books filled with stories from around the world. His own reading skills were basic, and he would often tell her he was happiest on his visits when she read for him by candlelight.
By age 13, Rosa was creating her own stories, tightly scrawled tales in the thick notebooks that Abram would give her. In the cruellest winter of the second war, when bombing in Groszny was constant, Rosa wrote fantasies about wealthy and sophisticated characters from Chechnya’s past; artists, musicians and handsome poets swirling through glamourous society parties and falling in love with unattainable princesses.
That was the winter that Mama died of influenza and Abram and men from the village worked all day to dig her grave in the frozen earth. Abram left the city behind then, and on the late nights when Rosa missed her Mama the most, she would cry on his shoulder and he would stroke her hair, whispering over and over, “Do not worry Rosa, we are together, and when I am with you, you will be safe always.”
Abram had just turned 18 when the Russian soldiers sacked their village. The tanks came at around noon and by nightfall the air was thick with smoke and the bawling of terrified farm animals. There was nowhere to run, and when the door was rammed open, Rosa could only scream as three burly uniformed men crowded into the house, brandishing Kalashnakovs.
Abram positioned himself in front of his sister, with his only weapon a heavy silver candlestick, a tarnished remnant of another time. The Russians laughed and pushed past him to grab Rosa.
“Let her go!” Abram shouted from the floor, as he threw the candlestick at the back of one of the soldiers. The Russian let out a grunt of pain and anger and turned around and shot a bullet through Abram’s forehead.
Since that stark moment when her brother was killed, even during the rape and beating she endured after, Rosa felt she had existed in a trance, a ghost state where everything around her seemed muffled and surreal. She was hollow.
Within a year of joining the guerrilla group in the mountains, Rosa was skilled in the techniques of combat and accustomed to the workings and deadly power of the Kalashnakov and explosives.
As the spring of 2009 swept away the long, grey winter, she returned to sit beneath the flowering apricot tree on the hillside above her former home. It was here that she had buried Abram, scratching out a grave with foraged farm implements and her own small hands. Sitting among fallen petals, she whispered: “We will be together, Abram, and when I am with you, we will be safe always.”
A week later, in the crowded centre of the Russian capital, Rosa and a female comrade joined the throng of evening commuters on the subway. Jostled in the crowd, Rosa felt pure with resolve and determination.
Terror experts explained to media that when a suicide bomber detonates an explosive vest, the bomber’s chest and torso are blown to bits, but typically the head remains intact. This was how the Moscow police identified the two women at the centre of the bombings that killed 38 and left many more maimed. They were members of the Chechen rebel group known as the Black Widows, the police said, a cell of women driven by loss of loved ones to sacrifice their own lives to exact revenge.
As Russian President Vladimir Putin vowed to “destroy the filthy scum behind the vicious crime”, elsewhere, beneath an apricot tree, a warm breeze riffled yellowing pages tightly scrawled with a young girl’s imaginings of poets and princesses in an opulent city that glowed like antique silver
Glancing down the corridor I saw Cain slump in his chair. Walking towards the young boy I noticed the fear in his eyes, as I remembered back to my school days. Once a lost soul myself, I could see the similarity between us, forced to go to boarding school to receive a better education. Hailing from a tiny community in Central West NSW, my best friend went to court expecting to escape punishment on his third criminal offence. Overly confident, he was shocked to receive an eight month jail sentence, extended when he instigated a fight within the prison. Not seeing him since our childhood hasn’t erased the memory of my youth, and the constant absence of my friends at primary school. Having chosen a life of crime, Aidan and I went our separate ways as I moved away from my large family to a boarding college. After a year of homesickness I settled on leaving, my Mother the only confidant that motivated me to stay. Wanting to do her proud and make a name for myself, my position within the college football team grew and, as with my confidence, my marks improved.
Seventeen years on I am now a secondary English teacher. After receiving an Indigenous scholarship in my final year at school, I attended a rural based university and have never looked back. My deepest regret transformed into the greatest decision I have ever made, having distanced myself from an inevitable lifestyle of criminal behaviour.
Approaching the shaking boy, I watched as Cain’s eyes darted around the room, escaping my focused eye. Having assertively sent him to my office, I ordered him to produce his excuse for the vandalism of the boys’ boarding entrance. His posture improved, Cain looked me in the eye claiming that he didn’t commit the act.
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Now seventy-five, I write to Mr Davis every month. Having lost his wife of fifty years in a car accident last year, he does nothing but read, with my visits always spent in his library. Sitting in his large arm chair, he doesn’t say much now, his life marked with grief following the loss of his wife. Recently he wrote to me, expressing his pride in my work and achievements. Working as a rural journalist and media promotions officer for Indigenous students, I can only attribute my youth opportunities to Mr Davis. I remember one day of my schooling so vividly that it symbolises a turning point in my adolescence. Lying to avoid punishment for graffiti, he had looked down at me noting that he had witnessed my act. In place of a harsh penalty, my retribution was to join the school football team, and to work with the Year Seven Aboriginal students who have left their remote communities to experience the boarding facilities. Having left home at a young age myself, football created a distraction and social opportunities, with the benefits of my education allowing me to achieve my dream of becoming a journalist.
Looking across the room at Mr Davis, I saw a frail man with an ongoing legacy. Even in the times of deepest grief he reads and listens, as the desire to help me in every way shines through. Sitting in his dimly lit library I reflect on the future I could have had, an undesirable life of misdemeanor and an inevitable lack of education and opportunities.
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Although frequently sheltered from the threat of imprisonment and the high statistics of Indigenous youth that are susceptible to the often harsh legal system, the media is a primary source in the promotion of these issues. However, it is rarely seen that the issues surrounding the community are written about within the community, as those in small districts rely on Sydney papers for the bulk of their news. Therefore, the establishment of an Aboriginal forum published within local papers could both raise awareness and promote interest in Indigenous youth as, despite advances to initiate Aboriginal culture into small communities, there still remains segregation within society. With a recent study concluding that Indigenous juveniles are now 28 times more likely to be incarcerated, solutions and preventative techniques should be the priority of Australians, especially in rural areas - deterrence is vital. A situation such as Cain’s saw his drive for a better education, having been given a chance by Mr Davis, a crucial step in his journey to achieving his aim. As boarding facilities and colleges are available with the opportunity to be relatively close to home, Indigenous youth may choose to move away from home to expand their horizon of educational prospects. Although it is not inevitable in all communities that youth will experience inequality, the knowledge of generations can indicate that one small change can provide an invaluable journey.