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1st Prize Winner - Group III - The Products of Inescapable Randomness

March, 2015
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The Products of Inescapable Randomness

I had a revelation a few months ago about the complete arbitrariness of life. I mean, clearly I knew before my hat blew off of a cliff and ended up in the ocean that bad things happen for no reason without any warning whatsoever. But it wasn’t until that moment, staring at it as it was buffeted back and forth getting further and further out of reach that I was really struck by the unpredictable randomness of absolutely everything.

That’s how I feel about all of this. People coming, people leaving; nothing we can chart dictates who we meet and who we grow to care about and who we eventually stop caring about. I suppose you could say that it’s jobs or family or culture or destiny, but that’s not how I look at it. Things change all the time – life is a precarious balance of could be and is and was, and I see absolutely no sense in assuming much of anything about what will happen in the future.

For example, for the first year and a half of secondary, I had the really excellently good fortune of having a double seat on the bus entirely to myself. And then, one day, completely out of the blue, I got on the bus and there was someone sitting in my double seat. That didn’t have to happen. If your family had moved into the other house you were considering, or if you’d decided to stay at the other international school, or if there were a couple other empty seats on the bus, you wouldn’t have ended up by the window of my double seat in the February of Year 8.

The first thing I noticed about you was that you were every bit as unhappy to have to share your sitting space as I was. I appreciated this deeply, as it meant that from the beginning we could establish a pact of silence and non-bothering, and I didn’t have to spend my mornings and afternoons having conversations that at best would be a waste of time and at worst would be uncomfortable and stupid.

It went on like that for a while. I noticed you in the peripheral way I tend to notice people who don’t force themselves upon me, enough to realize that you were at least as introspective and socially uninvolved as I was.

Then came another one of those unforeseeable life things. Through the filming of a frankly really atrocious group project I had an actual experience with you as equal human beings rather than silent, ill-fated bus rats, and as a result I was forced to admit that you were actually a pretty engaging individual.

I came back to school on the first day of Year 9 with the vague but palpable hope that this year might be better than the last. This was no difficult task; my eighth year of education started poorly, continued poorly, and ended poorly. I was grimly determined not to be overly positive about my prospects lest it be taken as a chance to be proved hilariously wrong, but I was betrayed by some small part of my mind that still clung to its optimism.

Maybe it was this fragment of a feeling that I wasn’t doomed, and maybe I just liked you more than I cared to admit, but when I sat down next to you that day, for the first time, I felt compelled to talk to you.

It began with a cautious, almost ironic, “So how was your summer?”

I don’t know what you replied with or what we found to converse about through my rusty small talk, I just know that slowly I came to value the time I spent on the bus with you, flapping my arms about excitedly and producing words about exactly the right kind of nothing.

There wasn’t a specific moment when I became aware of the full scope of my fondness for you. It was sort of a gradual gathering of realizations: the last Sunday of the October holiday when it occurred to me that I was looking forward to seeing you again; when you had a cold and noticed that I cared; when you weren’t sitting by the window and I was actually disappointed.

At some point the bus-talking bled into other facets of life. Talking in class and the halls, sharing book recommendations, and passing notes in math with graphic calculators became infinitesimal daily interactions that tempted me out of the deeply rooted desolation that had become ingrained in my existence.

There were discrepancies, of course. Some days I’d have to coax you out from behind the roughly textured beige curtain of the bus window, and one afternoon your sister confidently exclaimed to me that you didn’t “have a crush on anyone”.

I didn’t have to persist in my interactions with you. But the thing was that I’d spent a year slowly being buried in unhappiness, and somehow the universe had aligned its wayward and whimsical chance at me, and here was something in my life that made me feel like I could keep living. What else could I possibly have done?

By the end of October the hive mind that is teenage gossip had closed in on the two of us, and on the Friday of the second week in November I handed you my calculator. The text on the screen read, “So are we giving in to the egregore?”

Your reply in the affirmative came on a tiny green sticky note that formerly served as a bookmark in your math textbook.


That Sunday we both attended the Youth Global Leadership Summit. Among the hundreds of identical white chair covers, we sat towards the back in an otherwise unpopulated row on the left. We held hands, and it felt completely natural, among the assemblage of propitious students watching prominent inspirational figures on a really big screen, as if this was what was always going to happen.

Later, we found a slightly darkened and relatively secluded area to sit and enjoy each other’s company. You remember. You remember all of this, and everything that has happened since then.

I suppose this is as good a time as any to tell you about yourself.


You think about everything you say; your words teeter on the edge of formation like every single sentence could be the last and if so you want it to be a good one.

You’re ludicrously tall.

You have an amusing distaste for popular media.

You hoard your chocolate like you’re stocking up for a chocolate famine.

You’re far better than me at platform games and chess, but sometimes I can beat you at Pentago.

You have unflinchingly good morals.

You could win an argument with the sheer force of your stubbornness.

You have a profound appreciation for beauty.

You’re incredibly intelligent and have absolutely no common sense whatsoever.

You’re honest and genuine in a way I could never be.

You’re unlike anyone I’ve ever met.

You’re the best friend I could hope to have.


A very astute novelist pointed out some time ago that if you think about it, every relationship ends in one of three tragedies: break up, divorce, or death.

And that’s true, I suppose. But that’s not what’s important to me. Someday you’re going to move away from here and live a different life and be a slightly different person, but I don’t care. I don’t care if our tragedy occurs tomorrow or in a year or in twenty years. I care about what we did with the time before the tragedy, with the arbitrary events we encounter every day.

I want you to know that I’m sorry I’m not a better friend. It’s easy to tie things up in attractive poetic bundles, and I, especially, am wont to do so with my obsessive attention to words, but that’s not how life is. Life is having everything to live for but sometimes still wanting to die. It’s being irritable and snappy when the other person doesn’t really deserve it. It’s forgetting to put on deodorant in the mornings and wearing odd socks and accidentally putting on the pants that have a hole in the crotch. It’s your favorite hat blowing off of a cliff. It’s people you care about moving away. It’s finding ways to deal with all of these things and more. It’s messy and random and ruthless and beautiful.

I’m glad I get to live it with you.



By Anna Xie

Yew Chung International School of Shanghai

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