These entries from February's challenge were selected as Honorable Mentions. Those who completed this challenge are now encouraged to share their stories in the comments section of the "February Writing Challenge."
The Forgotten Portrait
She’d never spoken before.
Each day in class, she would use a black ballpoint pen— the nice kind, the kind that permeates the paper with ink— in a brown moleskin notebook. Her blonde hair was always pulled back by a thick headband with her bangs obscuring her emerald eyes. She tapped her left foot on the floor (something I had deciphered as a nervous tick), and she usually sat with her right leg crossed over her left leg.
It seemed routine to me almost.
I would longingly gaze at her each day, admiring her general presence. It seemed to me that she only radiated light (she did sit by the window after all, and it was generally sunny that time of day in San Francisco).
Her life was a mirage of the qualities I deemed as “the best” over all seventeen years of my life; she was the romanticized version of human to me. I wasn’t oblivious to my growing feelings, and it was something that had become almost normal to me.
I would watch her from afar, afraid that if I ever got too close I would damage the blooming zinnia right in front of my eyes— that I would ruin the one pure thing left in this world.
I found it amazing how each day went by and somehow everything seemed to fall back into place. The late May sunshine streamed through the large windows in our history classroom. The dark wood appeared amber in the natural light, creating a hazy bliss.
Despite the fact that the year was almost ending, I still seemed to take in the beauty she had to offer rather than sit in solemn silence for the next couple of weeks.
I desperately wanted change, but I knew that was out of reach for me. She would remain a beautiful collection of all that I had ever wanted, and soon, a faint memory of my days in high school.
Her name was Marie. I’d found that out the first day of school and written it down in my black planner as if it were my diary and I was documenting a secret. She had introduced herself to the class when our history teacher called on her, but ever since that day, she had never spoken again.
I often wondered if she ever noticed me or at least knew who I was.
I thought it must be nice to have someone know who you are.
I hopelessly sat in my desk across the room, two rows down and three desks from Marie. I watched her as the teacher lectured us on what it means to be a high school senior and why that was such an important responsibility to not only us but our school community.
Marie doodled in her brown moleskin notebook with her black ballpoint pen, the sunlight creating a silhouette of her body on the hardwood floor. It was perfect in a sense, the aestheticism of it all.
I watched as Marie’s focus shifted from her doodle to the teacher. She furrowed her eyebrows together and tilted her head slightly to the right. She raised her hand, causing me to furrow my eyebrows together and tilt my head slightly to the right.
She never raises her hand, I thought.
Our teacher hardly noticed her since this was something that never occurred once during the entire year.
She was like a forgotten portrait— radiant and golden but lost and unappreciated.
She was something that people watched in admiration but moved on to the next thing far too quickly. People did not bask in her beauty long enough to understand the full scope of her power she held in those emerald eyes.
Our teacher stuttered on her speech upon seeing Marie’s raised hand.
“Yes, um… ,” our teacher began to say. She seemed as if she was searching for Marie’s name.
“Her name is Marie,” I said.
Every head in the class turned to look at me in shock, and I was genuinely shocked by what I had just said too.
I watched in fear as Marie softly turned her head towards me. Her bright pink lips upturned into a smile. I felt a deep red invade my cheeks, but I still managed to smile back.
I looked up at our teacher who stood bewildered in the front of the classroom. Our teacher now looked at me, her lips pursed and arms crossed. “Thank you, Amory,” she said, my name full of venom in her mouth. I did nothing more than nod politely and let Marie speak.
Our teacher turned back to Marie, motioning for her to speak now.
As Marie began to talk, I watched her lovingly. Her voice formed saccharine sentences that projected different historical schools of thought in order to form a thesis on our senior class that sat in this very room.
The more I watched Marie as she spoke, the more I realized something.
Although she was the forgotten portrait, a name I had claimed for Marie to describe her innate, silent beauty, I had an epiphany. I realized I was the portrait curator, and that I could be her entryway into a new light.
City of Fire
When I strode out of my family’s shabby tent, it was already mildly warm. The sand underneath my feet was as unstable as my feelings towards the future. I guided myself through the waving city of multicolour tents without being seen. As I climbed a dune, I thought to myself, what an underrated mystery this place is. The wind blew my scarf around, causing my hair to tangle with the fabric. My mother would make me stop to tidy myself up, but when she wasn’t around, I enjoyed being a madcap.
I had to pick up the pace if I wanted to arrive on time. Even though I was out of breath, I was glad I could make it. The orange orb rose as redeemer; it chased the darkness away slowly—the colours confluent on the sky. The heat of the sun gradually touched my cheeks; it made me smile. No matter how unsure I would feel, the sun would always rise and perform with its colours.
I heard heavy steps coming from behind me. I turned around just to come to face with my brother. He was probably sent after me since my family disapproved of my stroll at dawn. I must admit, since I heard about the girl who was kidnapped from another clan, I got uncertain. The news did hold me back from roaming the desert alone, but now that the fear has subsided in my community, my eagerness to see the sunrise has returned.
He had no intention in interfering with my morning routine. Maybe he also saw the beauty of this land. I tried to catch a glimpse of him without being obvious. The blue scarf around his head matched his eyes perfectly. The colour of my eyes was like the dry wood, but his was like the night. They say that “the eyes are the window to the soul,” yet I never knew what was going on with him. He is a riddle to me, curious like the barren land.
A plane flew by, leaving an exhaust trail which slowly melted into the blue sky. The machine looked old, and we could hear its roaring engine. I wonder what the desert would look like from above. How magical is the human brain; it brings alive all kinds of ideas. Conquering the impossible. I admired people who venture everything at all odds. I have been told many times to calm my imagination down, but if I would do it, I would risk losing a part of myself.
“How wonderful it must be to fly one of those,” I said.
“Flying means travelling. Travelling means leaving. You cannot leave your family behind,” my brother replied.
“I would return,” I argued. For him the future seemed so clear. For me it seemed like endless possibilities.
“You have a duty here to your people. To your family.”
I wish he wouldn’t make me feel so guilty about wanting to see a little bit more. I wish I didn’t have to let this inner fire die away.
The Forgotten Portrait
It was staring at me blankly. A portrait of a former me. The laughter-lines under her eyes and this ray of hope in her eyes, it gave me a fright. This was me? It couldn’t be. That girl, me, in the mirror lost everything. And there’s no chance to get back her former self; she wished to erase all these little moments that made her this gray creature crawling on the ground – because she doesn’t know how to get up anymore.
I’m shivering. Then crying.
I feel like talking to this portrait in front of me.
“Dear you, myself, listen. You’re up to some trouble. You have to be strong. You’ll have to leave some sh*t behind. And that’s okay, it’s life, right? You’ll need to build your own home while your origins are turning against you. It’s your testing. And also a door to step out of your past. Remember, if you’ll be holding onto the faded, you’re going to stick to the ground – incapable.” I’m shivering again.
I’m breathing. Then trying to get up.
My first step is to get rid of all the mail in front of my door; it’s only stopping me from leaving. Second, I’m grabbing the number to peace. I’m ordering the perpetual.
I’m stepping over the war zone. Then unloading my weapons.
Sometimes we simply need to be reminded of our uneven odyssey everybody has to wander. May it be a forgotten photo album. Because the moment we see in these pictures how much we’ve already grown – with the good and the bad – we’re realizing the purpose behind it. Behind every portrait lies an exposing reality of ours.