The pilot short story writing competition is now closed and the winner is Sasha Greene. Congratulations Sasha! You can read her winning entry below:
Kawan said goodbye to his friends at the school gates as usual. He hadn’t told them yet about his special olive tree. Only his grandfather. His grandfather always liked to hear stories of the world outside. Blind as he was, the two of them managed very well together. In the mornings, the old man would tend the tiny garden at the back of the house, and in the evening he would sit and mend the fishermen’s nets, while Kawan read his homework aloud.
‘It’s a special tree, Grandfather,’ Kawan told him, the day that he found it.
‘Special how, my heart?’ The rough fingers grazed the back of his hair gently and settled on his shoulder.
‘I don’t know,’ Kawan replied. ‘Do you think that trees can talk?’
‘Not to us humans,’ his grandfather said. ‘But they are very old and very wise. Maybe you can talk to it. It could be lonely.’
‘She, it’s a she,’ Kawan insisted.
‘And how do you know?’ He could see the curve of the old man’s lips in the dim light of the single lamp.
Kawan just shrugged. ‘She just is.’ And his grandfather nodded, as if he understood.
Kawan often went to sit under the olive tree, and tell her about his day at school, and his grandfather, and his friends. When the summer got hot and everything dried then he brought water to keep her leaves green and lush.
The day that he finally decided to show his friends Kawan was so excited. He proudly led them along the track. But when they got to the top of the hill they were greeted by just bare earth. A wasteland, where yesterday a full grove of trees had stood, rustling gently in the wind. Kawan just froze in shock, unable to comprehend what had happened. ‘It will be the new road,’ one of the boys said proudly. ‘My father is working on it.’
‘I hate your father!’ Kawan screamed. He turned and ran, and didn’t stop until he reached his house, where he flung himself on his bed, gasping for breath, the tears streaming down his face. His grandfather gathered him close, holding the boy and rocking him until he cried himself to sleep.
The next morning Kawan couldn’t help himself. He went back to the site of his olive tree, just to say goodbye. He found the spot where she had been, and crouched down, putting his hands on the earth. It was then that he noticed something. A tiny seedling, missed by the bulldozers, still clinging on to life. He dug it carefully out of the ground and carried it home, where his grandfather helped him plant it carefully in a pot.
‘If you look after it, the olive tree will give you more than just shade and olives,’ his grandfather said. But when Kawan pressed him to explain what he meant, the old man would just shake his head and tell him he would understand when he was older.
‘I’m going to build roads when I grow up, then all the olive trees will be safe,’ was all that Kawan would say. And he never spoke about the other tree again.
Time went by, and the while the seedling grew up into a healthy tree, the young boy grew up into a man. He studied hard, and when he finally brought home his engineering diploma his grandfather was so proud that both of them shed a few tears. But not long after that the old man finally passed away.
Kawan was sad, but he didn’t cry. The gravestone was up on the hill, looking out to sea, and he thought that it was a beautiful place to rest. He took one olive seedling which he had grown from the tree in their garden, and planted it, so his grandfather would always have shade. He would come and sit by him after work, and talk to him just like he had done to the olive tree all those years ago. He kept the little garden lush and verdant, with shady nooks and abundant green plants. His oranges and tomatoes were the envy of the village. And the olive tree, sat in its huge pot in the centre of the garden, spread its shade for him to enjoy.
Life went on. Kawan built a successful career as a road engineer, just like he had determined to do. The old lady who lived next door died, and a woman with two young children moved in. She was polite to him but distant, and Kawan sensed that she wanted to avoid the village gossip. He learned from his other neighbour that she was a widow, and her husband had died in the war. Now he understood why the children never laughed when they played.
The summer was particularly hot that year. Kawan’s plants survived, thanks to the shade of his many trees, but he watched as the garden next door shrivelled and baked and the woman’s seedlings died. She was too proud to accept the food that he offered, and he felt guilty that he had so much, while she was struggling to feed herself and her children. If he could somehow move some of his shade to her garden, surely it would solve her problems. And then he suddenly thought of the olive tree in its pot. It would take some clever engineering, but if he could put it in just the right place…
It took him a whole evening, with two of his colleagues, to move the heavy pot and raise it on a platform. But when the sun came up the next day it gave him great satisfaction to see that the shadow covered almost a quarter of the garden next door. He went to bed that night content.
He was sitting in his garden one afternoon when there was a knock at his door. He went to open it, and found his neighbour standing there with her children.
‘We came to thank you for the gift of your shade,’ she said. The children clustered behind her skirt, too shy to look at him, but their mother looked directly at him for the first time, and he noticed her eyes were a stunning, surprising blue. ‘I know you did it on purpose.’ She folded her arms, as if to defy him to deny it.
‘It was my pleasure,’ Kawan replied, with a slight dip of his head. ‘Will you come in and sit in my garden for a while? I can offer you some fresh watermelon.’
She considered for a few seconds, then slowly nodded her head. He squatted down to the height of the children, who couldn’t have been more than three and five, and spoke directly to them. ‘Do you want to help me cut it?’ They both nodded, their eyes wide, and when he turned and went back into the house, they followed him like two baby chickens.
He took a knife from the kitchen as he went, and showed the children how to knock the watermelons to tell if they were ripe. They squealed with excitement, and ran all over the garden, loudly arguing about which one was the best.
Kawan turned to the woman next to him. She was smiling as she watched the children, and he thought that he had never seen anyone so beautiful. ‘My name is Kawan,’ he said, holding out his hand in greeting.
‘I am Nara,’ she replied. Her hand felt capable and firm, and Kawan couldn’t help the corners of his mouth turning upwards, unbidden, as he looked down at her face.
‘It’s a good name for you,’ he couldn’t help saying. ‘You deserve happiness in your life.’
A shadow crossed her face, but it was soon gone. ‘My children give me all the joy I could wish for,’ she said, smiling again as she looked at them. The children came running up to him, tugging at his hands as they pulled him towards the fruit they had chosen.
He cut the smooth green skin carefully. They took four spoons and scooped out the sweet pink flesh, laughing at each other as the juice dribbled down their chins. And it was then that Kawan truly understood the meaning of his grandfather’s words. The olive tree had given him so much more than shade and olives. It had given him laughter, and hope, and would bring him love.