Congratulations to the 2019 winners
Paper Lands by Tristan Hurree
The Shanghai air was thick and grey. My taxi was one of hundreds, inching its way through the bustling streets. Above, Zhezhi sparrows soared through the forest of steel and glass, delivering messages scrawled across their paper wings. Alien figures emerged from the haze: a sweaty old man shucking carp scales into a gutter, another bottling oil from the same source. They wore round, white masks over their mouths. Down a dim alley, two young children, a boy and a girl, tossed cigarette butts for a paper dog, which yapped happily as it brought them back.
‘Why do their parents let them go outside without masks?’ I asked my driver.
He shrugged. ‘Sometimes, maybe, no parent.’
The dog dropped a butt by the boy’s foot, and he giggled as it nuzzled his toes with a crumpled snout.
‘What will happen to them?’
‘Sometimes orphanage. The boy, maybe factory. Factory man find and promise good life, then dead by fifteen. The girl… Maybe factory not so bad.’
The girl swept up the paper dog and planted a kiss on his yellowed belly. The traffic resumed moving, and the smog devoured the children whole.
The factories were The Old Man’s favourite threat. A threat that would emerge with every B+, every missed goal, every foul musical note. ‘Maybe I swap you with a little orphan slaving in the factories and see if he try a little harder.’ It was difficult to accept this threat from a part-time janitor who spent entire days stewing in the chair by the TV, smoking the cigarettes and drinking the whisky that would eventually kill him. But perhaps The Old Man had known children who’d actually worked in factories? Perhaps he’d worked in one himself while he was growing up in China?
It never occurred to me to ask.
Teacups by Zarin Nuzhat
“He has been waiting for you,” said the chaiwala with a wink as Jamila approached the tea stall. She pulled her veil over mouth, trying to hide a giggle. A tall figure lounged on a seat next to the tea stall. The chaiwala gave her a toothless smile and placed a wrinkled hand over her head, a blessing he had given her since her first time here as a little girl.
Rahim grinned as his eyes fell on her. He stood and pulled out the rusted old stool next to him. She sat down and folded her hands on the small table between them. He enveloped them in his own and leaned forward. For a moment, the chaos of the streets of Karachi around them disappeared – the skinny children running around in shorts, the hollow-faced men selling balloons, the other lovers. All she could see was Rahim. The moment was cut short when he saw the paint mapped across her fingers.
“Were you painting your hands again?” The corner of his mouth twisted up with amusement.
Her cheeks burned as she looked down at the flecks of blue, green, and the pale blue-grey she had spent an hour perfecting. She had been trying to paint the mountains where her mother was from, and the grey clouds draped over them.
She did not know how to explain this to Rahim so she said, “I was painting.”