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Creative Nonfiction Inspirational People of Color

My everlasting passion for writing never failed me and it never struggled to show in my stories. I’d write about silly fantasies a person could only dream of; fiction just stood out to me as yellow does in a grey-scale painting. My writing history traces back to my four-year-old self. I couldn’t tell you what I’d write about, but you can bet it didn’t make much sense. Regardless, my family always said I had great potential, even when I would write mindlessly with no planning as I did at four. But I wouldn’t just write about fable ideas my brain conjured up, I also found joy in writing about my home, the Philippines. 

I lived comfortably in the quiet Filipino countryside. I’d be surrounded by fields and farms for acres of land and could fall asleep to the peaceful chirp of crickets every night. The air was crisp and fresh, yet warm. It was free of pollution and illness. When you’d breathe, you could feel the oxygen reach every blood vessel, like it were an injection. The Philippines was my home. Some of my favourite things to do, were to lay on my porch in the embracing summer and soak in the sun through my open pores while watching the crows flash their wings at any potential threat nearby as they cawed loudly in the blue skies. Crows are usually seen as pests that disrupt farms and animals, but I see them as misunderstood sweethearts. With an icy drink at hand and my notebook and pen, I’d write. Meaningless words filled every page of that notebook. Unfinished stories, story plans, ideas and words to improve my vocabulary. My writing may have been good, but it wasn’t going anywhere and it affected me. I often wondered to myself if I was wasting my talent. I wasn’t sure how much longer I could bare staring at the messy words now engraved into the pages of that notebook when they could be used to help publish a successful book. To be fair on myself, there weren’t many easy ways I could get my stories out into the public, not ways to help me in the future anyways, so you can imagine my shock when a gold-worded red flyer on my school’s corkboard read,

‘Writing competition! The winner earns £5000 and a FULL scholarship at the University of Cambridge, England.’

I glared at the flyer, hung up by a safety pin in this wasteland of a school in the middle of a near-empty countryside in the Philippines. Though it seemed unimaginable, like it were one of my stories, it felt like the opportunity of a lifetime I just had to partake in. This writing competition was made for me to win and I wasn’t going to disappoint. My eyes frantically scanned the page, looking for any additional information. Nothing else important showed other than a two-month deadline that was set and the website to submit my story to. Suddenly, I felt a wave of giddiness like a child. I was excited about something and this, in turn, gave me the motivation I needed to write the best story I’ve ever written. For the two months I had, I pushed everything aside for this competition. I was probably blinded by determination and desperation. My brain was a congealed mess of words and sentences and all I could smell was the scent of old leather and fresh book pages I so loved. I was a bit stressed by this looming pressure, but I think that helped me in the end because all my hard work paid off. 

For weeks I was waiting for the email congratulating me on winning this writing competition that would alter my life forever if I won. The anxiety ate away at me like an uncurable virus and it was all for naught. Because I’d won. The day came when I’d open the email, congratulating me. The words composed into the email didn’t even register in my now word-congealed mushed brain because the tears in my eyes doubled my vision. My family was gathered around me, around the computer and they too cried tears of congratulation and pride, especially my mother.

“My son’s going to become a famous author in England!” She squealed. On the surface, I assumed she was joking, a hyperbole of sorts but deep down I truly felt she meant it. My eyes gleamed with the possibilities of my future I never thought could become my reality, yet suddenly there was a chance. 

I spent my next few days relaxing and lounging around, after all, I believed I’d earned it. During this time, my family and I awaited the call from Cambridge University to discuss the next move. It took a few days but soon they called and I was packing my life up to continue it elsewhere. None of it had hit me until it was the night before I had to leave. I was up until the early hours of the morning, just thinking endless thoughts that kept me wide awake. I sat up and unraveled the thin sheets swaddling my legs to walk across my room and peer out the open window. It overlooked the grassy fields I called home. It overlooked the hilly landscaped village with homes perched on the steep decline. I could see the few lights twinkling amongst the buildings in the early morning hazed sun. I felt the air’s familiar crisp and it gave me a nostalgic feel even though I hadn’t left yet. It was a feeling to remember.

Before I knew it, I was on a flight to England with a pocket of five thousand pounds, a suitcase, a duffle bag and barely knowing any English. I did take it upon myself to learn the basics in my two months of writing but I was far too focused on the writing to learn anything more than the basics. Regardless, I landed at London Heathrow airport and was left to find my way to the University unharmed. The airport was far bigger, much unlike the one I was used to. An overwhelming smell of fresh coffee lingered in the air and invaded my nostrils. It fueled a feeling of a suppressed eagerness to begin my new life, suppressed because I was too blinded by fear and anxiety to be eager. Naturally, my eyes wandered over to the nearby Costa coffee shop where the scent seemed to have originated. The whole shop was packed with happy people, bustling about what I presumed to be the excitement they felt to go on vacation, to get a break from work and life. Seeing others happy and secure was nice, especially knowing I wasn’t as I was completely lost in a foreign country. But at least they were doing well. I found myself wandering aimlessly, gawking at the big signs beckoning intimidating words at me I couldn’t read or understand. I thought it might be a clever idea to ask somebody for help since I was like a lost lamb that longed for a shepherd, only the shepherd was Cambridge University. 

“Hello?” I said, a lump protruding out of my throat. 

“Do you know where to get a train?” 

The girl had a long, pink coat that was made of soft, quilted polyester. It had a white fluffy trim sewn comfortably along the edges and brown glossy buttons that didn’t seem to match the rest of the coat. 

She gave an inflated smile that unearthed her perfectly straight teeth, her mouth moving to form an overly cheerful sentence in her ever-so-sweet voice.

“Of course my lovely! It’s just this way let me take you.”

She gripped my hand like I was her mischievous child and began leading me to a big blue sign that read ‘Underground’. 

“Just that way love.” She pointed. “Where you headed to?”

I hesitated for a moment, unsure if I should give this crazed woman such significant information, but she didn’t look harmful and I didn’t think she would want to follow me all the way to Cambridge anyways, so I told her.

“Cambridge.” I smiled weakly.

“Oh my! That’s quite a ways away.” 

Her scrawny hand met her thin, red lipstick-covered lips in over-exaggeration. This woman wasn’t a person, she was the main character in a fantasy drama play. Her every move was unique and bubbly, it was rather fascinating how so much character could withhold in one singular person.

“I would recommend getting this underground tube to Kings Cross train station in Central, then popping on the National Rail to Cambridge.” Continued the woman. 

I took on the responsibility to remember her words: I didn’t want to be stranded at Heathrow forever. 

“Thank you.” I smiled and gave a subtle bow. Then I was on my way. It took a few hours and several pit stops but I eventually made it to Cambridge University, my newly-found dream. I immediately checked in and they gave me a room free of charge, I presumed it came with my scholarship. I slumped onto the bed, letting the thick covers engulf me; they had a chemical smell to them like they’d just been shipped from a warehouse. I took a moment to let my emotions settle in with my new seemingly quaint environment. I glared in front of me at the plain, blue wall with paint peeling off slightly in the top corners, my eyes soon gaping at the dull birch desk that crumbled at the legs, like an old man with arthritis. 

With nothing to do, and school not starting for another 2 weeks, I spent most of my days and hours locked in my room learning more English. Surprisingly this helped and I understood a lot more than I did previously. My English only improved when I officially started learning about creative writing in the UK. My peers helped me with my vocabulary and my teacher offered me extra lessons to teach me the language. I was soaring in glee. I even began to make friends and we’d go out to parties every week, sometimes even on weekdays, the kind of parties you wake up the next day and ask ‘What happened last night?’ All the while, still drunk. I was living the life I’d only ever dreamt of, the life where I’d have friends, social skills and most of all, confidence. 

Before I knew it, I’d spent four fruitful years at Cambridge University and they were the best years of my life. The days blurred and merged together but in the best way because it all just flew by, like this school was my home and always had been. English air was cooler and stronger, with one single inhalation you felt your lungs expand to great amounts, to the greatest amounts they could go. The feeling it brought felt like an adrenaline rush, like every time I needed motivation I could lean out of my window and breathe, then I would be good as new. England was my home.

It was a Friday on an overcast summer morning. I remember it specifically because of the sycamore tree that stood in view of my window, it stood taller than usual and there were more crows inhabiting it on this particular forenoon. Usually, two or three would be sitting, perched on a branch cawing at any ground movement, but on this day ten crows, yes ten I counted, swarmed the tree like it was their breakfast. I found myself intrigued by the crows, fixated on them and their innocent beauty. They just live, don’t they? No problems and no drama, they just survive and do what's best for them. If only we humans could live as crows do, I think the world would be at peace. I started my day with a breezy morning walk, taking in every sense I could pick up on. Like the swoosh sound my shoes made on the still-wet pavement from the rain the night before. I looped my way around the campus, ending up where I started.

Last night my best friend Tom Lawson invited me to a house party the following day and as usual, I was up for it. He was the person that introduced me to ‘party life’ as he himself was a big party man. He was the guy that would spray cheap champagne on people that didn’t want champagne sprayed on them, yet somehow, nobody disliked him for it. But I was thrilled about this party as it was the biggest of the year. A large number of young adults celebrating summer with alcohol and friends, who wouldn’t be excited about that? I swung my backpack over one shoulder and left for school, ready to get the day over and done with before it even started.

 In English, every student was assigned last week to write a final creative writing piece before we finished Uni and left to enter the real world; today was the day we began writing. So of course my head was down. I had chosen to write about my life journey so far, unlike the fiction category I was always inclined to choose. Call me narcissistic but I was proud of building this foundation in a new, alien-like country for myself. Before moving to England I knew nothing about it, I barely knew the language and to say I Iearned as much as I had, I was exhilarated for myself. Though it did make me realise how little Filipino I had spoken since I came here, I said a few words at some parties when annoying drunk people asked me to speak in my native language, but nothing proper. I hadn’t even noticed this before but now it was clear as day. I didn’t want my roots to have disconnected from me in any way because I loved them. I loved where I came from. I was ashamed to admit I had let it get so bad, how could I ever show my face to my family again if I couldn’t speak their language? What would they think of my new life? How long had it been since I spoke to them?

This spiral of thought, in turn, disturbed my brain and I was no longer able to continue writing. I packed my bags and left the lecture hall with no warning, though I don’t think my teacher noticed. I marched back to my room and slumped down at the end of my bed. It was like the last four years only just hit me, I hadn’t spoken to my family in three. How could I have let this happen? How does a person neglect their family like that? I was so arrogant to realise this world-shattering reality. It was official, my fears of becoming disconnected from my roots had come true and there was no use denying it anymore. At that moment, all I wanted was to lay on my porch as I once did, absorb the sun as I once did and watch the crows as I once did. I’d never felt such disconnect and sadness, especially because I thought nothing could come between me and my home. I was drowned in my new life, so much that I never cared to remember the beauty of my original life. My mother tongue, my native language no longer lay with me, so what was I going to do about it? The obvious answer would be to call my parents, check on them and apologise, but who knew if they wanted to hear a word from me after three years of neglect? 

I picked up the receiver of an old black telephone that sat on my desk and dialed the house number that belonged to my family. How was I able to remember their phone number but not them? I tried to hesitate, but I knew if I hesitated too long I’d put the receiver down and never look at the phone again so I pressed the dial with not much thought. 

One ring, I counted

Two rings, I counted 

Three ri- “Hello?”

I paused a moment as I thought my heart was going to give way. I noticed the distinct voice to be my mother. Why did it have to be her to answer? I was ashamed to breathe a word to her.

“Mum?” I winced, holding back forceful tears. She took a moment like she’d forgotten me too.

“Nathaniel!” She belted.

“It’s me!” I cried, “I’m so sorry Mum I meant to keep in touch I did, I’m sorry!” I said in a frantic voice that sounded as if I was trying to convince her of a lie. Because I was. I didn’t try to keep in touch and I knew it, I forgot her and I couldn’t say those words aloud: it would become too real. 

“Oh, Nate. I know you didn’t my boy, I’m not upset and neither is the rest of your family. We all love you and understand you work hard, that’s the reason you won the writing competition in the first place, you worked hard.” Her soft voice sounded like a sweet lullaby. 

I smiled a weak smile, with my brows furrowed and cheeks wet with unprovoked tears.

“But I can no longer speak your language, I don’t belong in the Philippines anymore.” I said.

“You don’t belong anywhere. Nobody does. Losing your language isn’t a bad thing, it just shows how far you’ve come and how independent you are.” My mother said. 

Her words were strong and meaningful. They stuck with me like a loyal dog even until now when I’m writing this. Maybe watching your mother language slip from your tongue isn’t the happiest moment in your life, but it leaves plenty of room for a new journey that suits you better and who’s to say you can’t be proud of your origins alongside moving to an unfamiliar country? Just live like a crow.

December 22, 2022 18:04

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2 comments

Wendy Kaminski
15:11 Dec 25, 2022

This was truly lovely, Ella! I thoroughly enjoyed the ride with this narrator, and the mother's kindness at the end was so heartwarming!

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Ella Bennett
11:32 Dec 26, 2022

Thank you :)

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RBE | Illustration — We made a writing app for you | 2023-02

We made a writing app for you

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