The Monologue (Complementary Prize - 16-18 years)
Thirty-first of December. It was the awards night. The magnificent “Ritz” was the venue; its unaging beauty and aristocratic eminency made it the most preferable place for all respectable ceremonies in the city. Inside the historical splendor of the hotel, in the modest lobby next to the elevators, Monika was anxiously playing with a strain of her tarry coloured hair. The nomination for “Fiction Writer Of 2012” at the age of 24 was an outstanding achievement, extremely satiable by millions of writers around the globe, but Monika was a hard-working creature, which had the tremendous gift to concentrate at 100 percent and ignore the distractions, either significant or not. She gently touched the button located on the marble wall between the elevator gates and then quietly waited. Seconds later a yellow glow fulfilled the O-shape of the button. She glimpsed at the surrounding of the lobby, an old oak table with curved legs, above it a lengthy baroque style mirror reflecting the elevator gates. The other two opposite sides of the rectangular room were fairly empty. The only colourful fragment striking the dead and grey marble was a painting. Monika glanced back the electronic plate of the floors countdown – it was number 37, far away from the “P” – so she stepped closer to the painting. The depiction inside the brownish frame was John Bratby`s kitchen masterpiece. Monika bent her head slightly in the left and then with a muscle movement, which made her eyebrows closer, she resembled an art critic. While Monika was endeavoring to decode the sense of the picture, suddenly a clatter of women high heeled shoes appeared. It was strange, because the noise was from a single shoe. In the distance a well-dressed old man was moving slowly supported by a wooden walking stick.
‘Isn`t it awkward for a hotel lobby?’ asked the stranger.
‘Oh, I beg your pardon’ she uttered with astonishment.
‘A picture that represents the boredom and banality of the casual worker. Isn`t that strange for a hotel lobby? And that`s not just a hotel…’
‘I…I`m not very familiar with the artist and that genre. Who, I mean why…’ she fumbled with a series of unsuccessful beginnings, but then managed to ask a proper question. ‘Do we know each other?’
‘I am afraid no, but I am pretty sure that the journey to the top…’ he pointed the rooftop with his wrinkled index finger ‘…will give me the opportunity to introduce myself ’.
‘And what evidence do you have to draw such conclusion, sir? ’
‘Pinnnnn’ the elevator cried announcing its presence.
They both rapidly turned their heads towards the opened gate. A sudden cold wave of air filled the small corridor; the strength of the newly generated augment storm was so unexpectedly strong that it successfully joggled the painting on the wall. The unusual air movement was probably due to the obsolete mechanics of the elevator.
‘I guess that`s my evidence’ said the old man.
‘Then let`s go’ she said smiling, keeping the enigmatic tone of the conversation up whilst hurried into the elevator. The old man`s mouth acquired a positive crescent, and then filled the empty space of the huge elevator beside Monika, leaning wearily on his walking stick.
The upwards movement proceeded. Monika scanned the interior, but the exaggerated meanders of the glassy lamps and the artistic scribbles forced her to yawn continuously. Her peripheral vision was stuck on the old man, but his sight was blankly facing the ground. The way to the ceremony hall was halved. All of a sudden, the elevator froze with a slight shake, the lamps blinked few times, losing their original glowing power. Finally the red, for emergency appeared.
Panic. Monika wasn`t scared about her life at all, the thought that she might be late or miss the chance of her life, to receive the most anticipated award, was silently torturing her mind. She jumped unexpectedly and then made few tiny steps with her chiselled legs towards the doors, the little amount of experience that she had in extreme situations, turned her into motionless puppet. She didn`t have any idea how to act, how to get out of this situation, but she was up on her feet willing to do something. Monika anxiously glided her hands on the gilded elevator plates till she reached the straight separating line of the gate, she slipped her small fingers into the nasty space between the plates and then tried to move the enormous gate, however without any visible result.
‘It won`t open, darling. Just sit down and relax’ the old man said smiling with such peculiar calmness in his voice that Monika turned directly at him and without any hesitations released her accumulated anger.
‘Are you insane?’ she questioned rhetorically and then fiercely continued ‘Firstly, you intruded the private space of mine, then the witty humor with the selfish “I got through everything in my life” and now you are telling me to relax. We are stuck in an ancient elevator and I am going to miss my nomination speech. Are you out of you mind, sir?’ she yelled so loudly that the power of her own voice surprised her.
A few minutes of pause followed, tension reigned as the silence continued, but no action was undertaken. The voices of the arguing technicians and the worried manager from the floor below mingled so homogeneously that the outcome was like a bee murmur, not a single word could have been recognised. Monika decided to break the oppressive silence.
‘I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it, just…. I dedicated my time to write and I can`t believe that something so stupid…’
‘It wasn’t part of the plan, was it?’ the old man interrupted confidently ‘You toil with being perfect, every night working till exhaustion. Weekends don`t exist. Only working days. And when you are in the home stretch and almost complete a simple, ordinary, pathetic machine separates you from your dreams. That`s hilariously funny.’
‘Yeah, I guess you are right….’ Monika exhaled, then powerlessly pushed her back against the elevator wall and with a slow, traumatic noise from the friction slid on the floor.
‘Didn`t happen to me when I won the award’ he said carelessly.
Straight after the old man had finished his sentence, Monika bounced like a little child stung by a hornet; the vitality was intravenously injected into her body once again compared to the lifeless creature lying miserably on the floor from just a minute ago.
‘You-You wo-wo-won the award’ Monika stuttered in her respond amazed by the old man achievement.
‘Back in the old days, yeah definitely I won it’ the old man said reluctantly.
‘What did you publish? Where did you work? How old were you? Did you have any published work before that?’
‘Oh, sorry, if you don`t want to tell me of course…’ she felt that her behaviour was not appropriate.
The old man laughed kindly and then said:
‘Do you know?’ he paused, as if he was trying to find the right words ‘The story of my life is pretty boring, but I can tell you how I started. Do you want to know?’
The immediate acceptance triggered the beginning of the story.
In the summer of nineteen-forty-nine during the hottest August of my life - (said the old man sitting at the corner of the semi-dark elevator facing the freshly excited girl)
- I had the unattainable dream to become a writer, sadly as in all interesting contemporary stories, my parents didn`t have enough money to support my reverie, so I had to find alternatives. The old cottage, where Mrs. Macduff gathered the aristocratic children to teach them literature was twenty kilometers away from my village and also the books weren`t free of charge. I needed money, a lot.
Then one day Jimmy, the builder of the village, kindly offered me a job. The mechanic nature of the work determined its simplicity. I was supposed to move a kilometric stone pile from the left side of the road to the right side, nothing more. The amount of time was infinite, but so was my eagerness. So I got to work. Day after day after day I was carrying the damn grey rocks under the deadly heat. I didn`t go out with my friends, my girl was not a priority any more (the old man laughed with pity). A week later I was almost done. It was late at night, maybe about ten or eleven o`clock, the dim haze had already descended the village, but regardless of the bad weather and the fatigue I decided to stay and finish the job. I was so close, I saw myself getting into that cottage, becoming a writer. My nostrils were full of salty dry dust, the ragged clothes that I was wearing were soaked with the blood from my own wounds, the severely sunburned flesh replete with flakes from my old skin entirely transformed my body, like a snake shedding its own identity. Just when I was nearly done my legs didn`t resist the exhaustion and I slipped on one of the stones, rolled down the cliff and ended up in the ditch.
The next day I woke up in a hospital with few bruises and a broken leg, which was so damaged that I remained lame (the old man stared at the walking stick, as if the past was torturing him both mentally and physically).A few weeks after the accident I was recovered from the hospital and as a kid with lack of patience I headed to the dreamy cottage. All the people knew about the accident. Even Jimmy paid me more, probably rankled by the guilt, so the teacher invited me with the biggest smile I had ever seen. But everyone else was gossiping and whispering, the children opinion couldn`t be hidden. In front of them I was a weird poor boy, who ditched his friends and girlfriend for something that they took for granted. They weren`t able to understand that my dream meant everything to me. They didn`t understand it! (the old man cried and yelled simultaneously). They stared at me as if I had a queer disease, I wasn`t sick God damn it, but then I realised that writing is sacrifice and with every enjoyment on paper I had to cut off a part of my soul.
‘So how did you fix that?’ Monika questioned hopefully.
‘I never managed to fix it, darling and that`s what life is about. You can glue the broken toy, but it`s never the same, isn`t it? The break line is still there, the tiny rift, which leaves a perpetual scar on you mentality, is still there.
‘But how? What happen with teacher and the course?’
‘I ran away like a chicken. I ran away crying.’
Suddenly the gloomy lamps flashed repeatedly and then the elevator rapidly moved down, and stopped with a horrifying rattle from the breaks. Monika found it hard to balance herself, so she tripped in the darkness and hit her head into the metal edge of the door, her body collapsed on the ground.
Monika opened her eyes with an effort and found herself in the lobby, surrounded by the white clothed medical staff. The elevator was opened. Monika stood up; she could hear the heart pulsations in her head, which brought her a feeling of dizziness.
‘Where is he?’ the words flew out breathlessly like nightmare fright.
‘Who, my dear?’ the nurse asked worried.
‘The old man, who was stuck in the elevator with me? Where is he?’ Monika demanded.
‘There was no one, my dear. You were alone, lady.’
Monika headed to the exit door, the other people around tried to question her, but she was deaf to the backdrop noise, her walking tempo switched to jogging and then desperate run in an unknown direction. Outside the fireworks cracked vigorously announcing the start of the New Year.
By Lachezar Plamenov Arabadzhiev
The British International School Shanghai, Pudong