Futureperfectwriters’ Short Story Slam took part on 22 October at the Festival. Shortlisted entries were performed at the event, with the winner chosen by audience vote. This competition was open to all, and stories were based on the Festival theme of language and were to be no more than 750 words. We are delighted to share with you the winning story by Andrés Ordorica below.

You can also download the 2nd and 3rd place entries:  Mother Tongue by Penny Cliff and We Speak in Tongues by Edward Head.

WINNING ENTRY: The word is mine and not yours By Andrés Ordorica

I have always found the word grandfather in Spanish to mean more to me than it does in English. Perhaps, that is because ‘Abuelo’ is my word and not yours. When I say the word Abuelo, it is more than just a word. Abuelo is abuelo – a person that shares my blood and my spirit. These thoughts are filling my mind while on this trip to my grandparents’ homeland, ‘mi pais’ or ‘my country’ if you will, a trip that is prompting lots of deep questions.

It’s two in the morning and I haven’t slept yet, so I decide to take a shower. The hot water feels brilliant against my skin. My people’s earth washes from my body down the drain. As I dry off I can’t help but notice how much darker I have become. I am a shade of brown I’ve never seen before on my own skin. It’s as if my family history is revealing itself in little ways, claiming me as one of its own. Brushing my teeth I begin to see a girl who is becoming. And, if I wipe away enough steam from the mirror I can see a girl who always was.

He starts to knock loudly on the bathroom door. He must have to pee. I hurry to change and hang up my towel. The questions will have to wait another day. Abuelo has a deep exhaustion in his eyes and seems a bit disoriented. I wait with the light on, just to make sure he is all right. He takes forever to finish in the bathroom. I remember a few months ago Mamá mentioning he was having difficulty, more and more, using the toilet. His body is leaving this world one bit at a time. It’s his way of returning to my grandmother, mi abuela. First the bladder, then the bowels, maybe the lungs and when it’s finally time the heart too. Growing up must be a matter of coming to terms with all the goodbyes you have to say in your lifetime. Or so I’m learning.

Abuelo is surprised to find me still up. He walks over to me, kisses me on the forehead and returns to his bed. If only I could ask him all the questions I need to and if only he knew what answers to give. How did you know she was the one? It’s nearly three in the morning now. Exhaustion is making everything in my head turn to nothing. I’m losing my battle with the night. Before I know it we will be somewhere else and I’ll be filled with more questions.

A loud wake-up call comes from outside: a rooster no less, of course. Abuelo has been up for two hours he tells me. Already been on a walk and had a cup of café with the innkeeper. How nice to be so well rested. We are two hours from my father’s family. Mis parientes de mi padre. Two hours until I can uncover more about my family’s past and their reasons for leaving Mexico.

I have the window open and let the wind rush through my hand. If I concentrate hard enough I can see the currents forming around my hand taking with them conversations from distant places. If you listen really closely you can hear the words being carried away.

-I love you forever.
-Tenemos que ir a misa.
-I regret nothing.
-You were the one that got away.
-Every time I think of you I lose another part of myself. 

What things born of my mouth have strangers heard in other places? Where did my words end up in this world? I use to think when I was younger that if I could only get two hands out of the window then I might be lifted away. They would widen into wings, like eagles soaring above, and I would ascend. A balloon lost in the atmosphere just floating for the rest of eternity towards heaven.

-I wish I could tell you the things that would show you how I’d give up everything just to be in your arms.

Eventually, the balloon will hit a point in the atmosphere and shatter into hundreds of small pieces. I am this balloon and these pieces are the places my people have inhabited across the globe. It may take my entire life, but I will find these pieces.  And, together I will recreate me.