Stories For Survival 2021 – Teen Shortlist
Congratulations to our five shortlisted writers. The winner will be announced at our Awards evening at the Royal Geographical Society on Thursday 18th November:
1. Christina Stavrides
An intriguing, very personal essay, with some beautiful imagery (“quiet days were feathers without hurry”) and an ominous, powerful ending.
A World without the Astral Sky
Despite the long hours of seclusion I experienced as a child, I almost never felt lonely. The garden had always kept me company, though before, I never understood why it brought me so much joy. Was it the infinite sense of life within it? The never-ending splash of water heard whilst sitting by the pool, accompanied by the occasional happy croaking? Quiet days were feathers without hurry, moving this way and that in the air, happy to change direction according to the wind. Just as the feather would in its own sweet time be at rest upon the earth, so the sun would rise and set high in the sky. Even as it would disappear, reminding me the time has come to rest, life within the garden never ceased – oftentimes, as I awoke from a drowse, a gentle hooting could be heard from afar, lulling me back into a deep slumber.
As a teenager, the gentle reminder of nocturnal life beyond my bedroom window became a scene of comfort– I learned to eagerly anticipate the time of day that let the pale presence of the moon enter my home and rest its light upon my desk, gently illuminating the cacography of star positioning I had been jotting down for weeks at a time. Being so closely attached to the darkness associated with the moon, I strived to make sense of the astral sky surrounding it. I recall leaning onto my windowsill, mouthing goodbye to the garden of life I came to love so dearly, before packing my things for college. I sacrificed my relationship with the moon so I could study it, so I could study the darkness surrounding it – the twinkling pearls surrounded by a velvet cloud of dust.
I moved to a city full of blinding lights, a city priding itself in the irradiating hues that appeared at every corner. Light-up billboards and a streetlamp were encountered anywhere you looked. I moved to a city under the pretense of continuing to explore the idea of a career path I so desperately clung to as ‘my future.’ Little did I know of the ruin that was to soon follow. As technology and humans’ desire for their own nocturnal life increased, dusk stopped promising starlight, and the complete eradication of crepuscular animals became a reality. I think of the migrating birds, too often finding their end as they collide, panic stricken, into flood lighted buildings.
I often return to the place that awakened my intense love for the stars that solely appeared accompanied by a pleasant shade of jet black. I suppose I still expect to notice one among the toxic orange hues of sky glow. To no avail, of course. As I sit by the window, previously leading to a world full of life, I only discern feelings of raw abandonment entangled within a heavy silence. A feather drops into my lap.
I have never felt lonelier.
2. Ross Macefield
A powerful poem that uses vivid imagery and deceptively simple language
The wind rides the branches through blossom red and pink
Soon the place would be levelled in a blink
A Hiroshima blossom falls over the city
Everything captured timeless still pretty.
The plane appears a silver speck in the sky
Gentle hum of the engines an eerie war cry
Steel death glides from the bomb bay
A small child kneels and prays
The sound of silence is all that is heard
Nothing occurs nothing stirs
Rising overhead the destroyer of the crowds
Rising overhead a sinister mushroom cloud.
The cherry blossom stands charred and snapped.
A single branch remains intact.
3. Suleiman Muhammad
An intriguing essay simply delivered, cleverly personalizing a global issue, making it accessible to all
A World without a home
The roads are rocky. The cold is intense. The altitude is dangerous. And yet, the view is—and has always remained—spectacular. That is the life for someone like me, someone who lives in the mountainous terrain of Pakistan’s northern region, Gilgit-Baltistan. Being over 7,500 feet above sea level in the Hunza Valley, I have been raised by my family to bear such deadly conditions, because…well, our lives depend on it. But Hunza is not the place where I am originally from.
My family is from Skardu located down south—a beautiful valley with a unique mixture of deserts, plains, forests, and snow. The family business in fishing runs deep within our ancestry, for the fish in the nearby freshwater River Indus, are of great use for our well-being. So it is no surprise that just five years after my birth, I was trained by my older brother on how to use fishing rods and small nets–now I am sixteen, and I am able to do all that with ease and perfection. Our small village was located right beside the giant, sixty-three kilometer long Baltoro Glacier—a magnificent structure of pure, snowy-white ice. This glacier has been the reason we made our house in this village, for us being here for two decades living in peace and minimal interference from the outside world. However, in the past three years the situation with the glacier had been getting worse.
Baltoro is melting. The melted ice from the glacier had seeped into the River Indus and the tributary River Shigar, making it overflow. It had been flowing right into our village, our schools, and our market, causing damages in the process. Perhaps worst of all, the fish which we catch—the palla, rahu, thalla, and trout—were starting to decrease in quantity. Our livelihood and our well-being was slowly starting to fade. All simply due to the fact that global warming was causing the Baltoro Glacier to melt.
Therefore, the majority of our village, including my family, made the decision last year to migrate to Hunza further up north, and start afresh with a new village next to Hunza’s Batura Glacier. It was not an easy trek, using the route of the Karakoram Highway, what with all our belongings, our livestock, the vastness of our group, and the sheer danger of migrating up in an uneven, rocky land. Yet with the grace of Allah, and the power of our will, we all managed to make it to Hunza Valley in one piece. We have now laid the basic foundations for our new village, and The Indus remains within our reach. Yet, despite all this relief and success, it does not take much to see that Batura will slowly suffer the same fate as Baltoro Glacier in Skardu.
As I write this memoir down, I begin to think….if all these problems were happening just in Pakistan, then what of the rest of the world? What of the glaciers in Antarctica, in Greenland, in the Arctic—all melting due to global warming? What of the lands near them, all under threat from the rising sea levels brought upon by the melting? What of the flow of the freshwater rivers and streams—dramatically stopping the world’s freshwater supply? What then, will happen to this Earth and everyone on it?
I shall write more on this subject in the future. For now, my mother is calling me to help remove some flood water that has leaked into our new house.
4. Shabnam Shajahan
A beautiful, gentle tale with a surprising, affecting ending
A World without him
I gently took a sip of hot coffee from the metallic mug. I closed my eyes and let the bitter taste of the beverage take over my senses. I could feel people’s eyes on me as they muttered amongst themselves.
“Don’t mind them. It’s just unusual here if a girl visits the coffee shop late at night.” The pretty old worker smiled at me as she placed the receipt on the table.
“Aah,” I nodded and tucked my hair behind my ear.
“Where do you live young lady?” She asked me.
“Hmmm.. Let’s just say I’m on my way to meet someone special” I smiled at her.
The lady squinted her eyes and looked at me mischievously.
“So late! Kids these days!” she covered her mouth with her wrinkled palm, trying to suppress a giggle, and ran away.
I shook my head as I chuckled at her comment. I placed a few bills on the table and left the place.
Just a few more hours. I told myself as I walked through the town. It was late at night, but the roadside stalls were on a full spree. I wrapped myself up with a shawl and continued walking. On my way, I could see such beautiful paintings on the walls that were such a feast to the eyes.
I boarded my bus and made myself comfortable by the window. I was woken up by the sound of bangles and the smell of fresh jasmine flowers. A lady whom I presumed to be in her mid-thirties sat beside me. Her daughter sat on her lap. I patted her head.
“Where are you headed to?” the little girl asked.
“I’m on my way to meet the person whom I love the most and you know what’s the best part?” I squinted my eyes and smiled. “He doesn’t know that I have been travelling” The girl widened her eyes and said, “It’s a surprise then!”
“You look tired. For how long have you been travelling, dear?” The lady asked me.
“I have been travelling for months together now,” I smiled proudly.
“Aha, You must love him so much,” she sweetly smiled.
I smiled and looked outside the window. It was dawn. My heart beats fast at the excitement. Just a few minutes. The aroma of hot puris took over my olfactory system and I could hear my stomach growl with hunger. But I didn’t want to waste my time anymore.
“Coonoor,” the conductor shouted. Yes. Yes. Yes.
My destination was just a five-minute walk from the bus stop. I ran excitedly and bought a rose bouquet on my way.
I panted as I reached his place and I frantically searched for him. There he was. I walked over to him and placed the bouquet on the stone.
AMEER SHAH (1978-2010).
“I would cross oceans and mountains, just to see you. Pappa.” I said and smiled.
A really vivid account with a clever, original dystopian theme
Blue Firefly: A World without light
A leaf crunches underfoot.
I freeze in the dark.
It’s been five years since the light abandoned us. Scientists said it was a previously-undiscovered solar phenomenon that caused the moon to block sunlight. First our solar power ran out, then nuclear, lastly oil and gas. Their prices were rising till last month, when the news leaked out-our resources were over. We had no electricity. No connectivity. Worst of all, no light sources.
I’m here for two reasons.
The newspaper and broadcasting station I work at almost fired me to cut costs. When I offered to undertake this project, they decided that my job would depend on how successful I was. Seemed easy enough: an all-expenses paid trip to the Sinharaja rainforest to document how endemic species were affected by the loss of light. The one torch and two batteries in my weaponless rucksack-the last of our country’s meagre rations-are less reassuring.
I’ve been in the darkness long enough that my senses have acclimatized; I can make out the monochrome tints of the banana leaves in the lower canopy, drooping down to where they touch my head. The wind is cold and faintly scented of damp grass.
In the distance, a pinprick of light.
I tread closer, blinking, until I can make out the insect that was my second motive for coming. The soft glow of the Blue Firefly lights up the foliage around it, exposing feathery fuchsia petals and lime vines that twine around pillar-thick tree barks. The colours are almost foreign after weeks spent seeing things in shades of gray.
I reach up to touch it, but it darts away.
I run, leaves crunching under my feet. The firefly zigzags through curtains of leaves that get denser the deeper I go, but I can’t stop. It looks like the light is getting brighter, and the thought of finding an entire swarm of fireflies soothes the burn in my chest.
A branch breaks, and I feel the heavy shape blocking the wind before I see it. The fear reawakens in my gut: another human may be after my prize. Then the elephant trumpets, and I exhale in relief. I count my breaths until the animal moves, letting me pass.
I move aside a thick layer of ferns and gasp.
The light is so bright that I can hardly see. Hundreds of fireflies dance in rippling waves above a lake, their light reflecting on the water so the entire clearing lights up. The myriad of blue-tinged colours surrounds me. For the first time in years, I’m overwhelmed by what I see.
But as I watch, fireflies begin to drop. I kneel to the edge of the lake and realise it’s covered in fragile insect bodies. I look up at the fireflies, burning so brightly only to die as fiercely.
Sighing, I shove my netted jar back into my bag and pull out the notebook I hadn’t been planning on using. I jot down: Blue Firefly, critically endangered…
All entries will be published on our website once the competition concludes.