Content Maker’s Award Most Powerful Expression: Going it Alone
We’re delighted to announce the winners of our Content Maker’s Award, the theme was ‘going it alone’. Our final winner is Monica, who won Most Powerful Expression.
I’m a 3rd year English with Creative Writing student at the University of Aberdeen. I’ll be completing my Master of Arts next year and hopefully entering the world of work in content creation. This summer I’m enrolling in an internship in Lisbon, my hometown, in a creative firm. I’m more than excited to begin this new stage of my life. In the meantime, I intend to keep up with my writing. I’ve been writing for years and my passion for it hasn’t withered. My stories are friends that never leave. They help me make sense of myself and the world around me. Nothing is impossible when I’m writing. At times, I feel I could live solely off of that, like being underwater and never having to come up for air.
In Which You Only Miss the Chances You Don’t Take
I am ready to go to bed and watch Bojack Horseman on Netflix, but there is something happening outside. I walk to the kitchen with my fingers crossed behind my back. I think; please be empty please be empty please be empty. It is. At least of people.
The kitchen of my student accommodation, I’d come to realize, would always be full of all kinds of stuff – dishes, dirty and clean, big recycling bags full of trash, recyclable or not, empty cans of tenants on the table, the desk chair from someone’s bedroom from the last time they had one too many people over.
I make myself a cup of tea, for company, as one does, and look out the window. The voices come from a group of people sharing drinks and conversation in front of the laundromat across from my building. It’s one of those nights. People spill from their flats onto the lawns of Hillhead with cans of Strongbow and bottles of Lambrini and get to know each other.
I decide to join. My mother called hours ago, said I needed to go out more, meet new people, put myself out there. I decide I will. There is a decorative piece behind my bedroom door that says, you only miss the chances you don’t take. I think that can’t be quite right. I’ve missed plenty of the chances I did take. Still, I look in my baggage for something to wear. I haven’t unpacked yet. It makes me sick to even think about it, so I don’t.
Outside, I recognize a girl from my course and no one else at all. They’re all tipsy and chatty. I am neither. Still, I join the conversation.
‘What’s your name?’ they ask.
‘Where do you stay?’
I answer that too.
‘What do you study?’
‘Where are you from?’
Again, I answer. They do the same when I shoot the questions back at them. There is a slight discussion of geography, but I don’t tell them I have no idea where Slovakia is in Europe. The conversation is the same with everyone. I wonder where they got the script from, and whether or not I should get one too. It seems easy enough, the sort of thing people go through when they’re learning a new language.
I keep starting conversations I don’t want to finish. I walk into them and want to leave just as fast, but it’s impossible to do so before they run all their lines.
Eventually, I find myself following a group into New Carnegie, where the higher rent grants students a bedroom less resembling of a jail cell, a private bathroom, a shared kitchen, and a nice little living room. I think if I could afford it, I wouldn’t want to jump on a plane home quite so often.
I realize I am on the outside looking in. If this was a film, I would be an extra, someone there to make it all seem real, while not being real at all. I realize also that I don’t mind. I don’t know what I’m expecting from all of this – something. My sister says I’ll find my people eventually. I think of rolling some stones over, see if they’re under there somewhere. I don’t. I’m not drunk – I’m not even drinking – which I guess makes me a very bad extra.
Eventually, I find myself alone with a guy having trouble with his lines. He’s meant to ask, where do you stay?, and then move on to, what do you study?, but he’s decided to stop there, repeating the question every so often as if he’s forgotten the answer – which I don’t think matters – or as if he’s forgotten he’s even asked it in the first place.
We are deep into the night now and I’m thinking if this really was a film, perhaps then I wouldn’t be an extra, but victim no. 1. I can hear someone scream go away! from the other side of the screen, but mom said, put yourself out there,and here I am – putting myself out there!
‘What’s your flat number?’ he asks now.
I take him in. I’ve done this before, but now I have a new understanding of the situation, and so I do it again. He’s big – not I-can-outrun-you big, but I-can-take-you-down big.
I answer. I regret it right away, but now it’s out there. I think he knows I’m not happy with it because he gives me another chance.
‘What’s your flat number?’ he asks again.
I’m sure he heard me fine the first time, but here we are. I don’t know how to stay quiet, so I tell him again. This is not good. There is a stone sitting in my stomach that doesn’t make for a very good dinner, and my chest feels too tight.
‘What’s your room number?’ he asks now.
I don’t know what to say.
‘I think I’m gonna go now.’ I don’t know if this is good enough, but at this point I don’t care.
‘Oh,’ he says. ‘Me too then.’
I don’t know what to do. I suppose I make for a better victim no. 1 than I do for an extra. I forgot he said he lived in my building. We’ll have to walk back together.
We do it side by side. I put more and more distance between us with every step. When we get to South House, he opens the door but then climbs the stairs behind me. I put one foot in front of the other and carve crescents into the palms of my hands. It has become very hard to breathe.
‘Right,’ he says when we reach his floor. ‘Can I get a hug?’
I think of an episode of Code Black I watched years ago. One of the female characters said no to the advances of a crazy man, and then got stabbed in the parking lot for it. I hug him. His arms close around me and I think he really is big, I-can-take-you-down big.
We pull apart. My chest tightens with each breath and I avoid breathing, as if it’s going to help, as if he doesn’t know I’m standing right in front of him, small, you-can-take-me-down small.
‘Goodnight,’ he says, opening the door to his flat and stepping in.
I don’t answer. I’m too busy turning around and climbing the stairs to my floor instead. I trip on the last step. I don’t look back. I hear the door of his flat close, but my chest is still shrinking, and shrinking, and shrinking, and it doesn’t stop.
I step inside my flat and lock the door behind me. I go into my bedroom and then come out again to check if I locked the front door properly. I did. I lock my bedroom door too, and later get out of bed to check if I did it right. I think of calling my parents, but that’s all it is, a thought. Nothing happens. I fall asleep waiting for something. I don’t know what.
Why we loved this piece:
Really captivating storytelling. A great examination of the horror that can be found in ordinary situations (that men often don’t experience) and how we test our own boundaries, often too hard, when we start university. It’s an insight into what happens at a time when we push ourselves out of our comfort zones, the constant questions – when is too far? What will happen, should I be doing this? Is it risky? It reveals the tipping point between exciting and dangerous. Loved it.