Thursday, September 16, 2010

Commonwealth Short Story Competition 2010

When I opened up my e-mail and found a message telling me that I had received a Highly Commended in the Commonwealth Short Story Competition I had to work hard to stop myself jumping up and down with excitement (we had guests here...)! I mean, sure, I wasn't the overall winner, and sure, I wasn't even a regional winner, and sure, it's not like someone was saying "Can I publish your novel?", but STILL. I wanted to shriek out, "SOMEONE LIKES MY WRITING!!!".

You can see the full list of winners on the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association website. This was my humble entry...

Thembi's Bicycle

The taxi swerves to a halt in front of the entrance and a young man jumps lightly out from the front passenger side. He swiftly slides the back door open; passengers spill hastily from the vehicle. Ma Gugu, her handbag clutched tightly under her arm, shuffles her way to the front of the taxi and steps heavily onto the ground. The door whooshes closed behind her and the taxi is gone, the thumping of its music a memory in her ears.

She slowly climbs the stairs that lead to the entrance of the gaudy casino, one hand to her wrinkled brow to shield her face from the unrelenting sun. A couple pushes their way out of the rotating door; Ma Gugu steps into their vacated pie slice of space and moves with it, welcoming the cool air as she enters the building.

The smell of cigarette smoke hangs in the air. Ma Gugu has never been a smoker herself and the persistent haze used to catch in her throat and made her choke. But now it draws her back here as surely as the alluring thought of winning does.

Flashing lights and the clang of falling coins greet her as she reaches the casino floor. The once bright carpet is dull with age and the pile has been trodden flat, but she doesn’t see this anymore. Instead her eyes are seeking out her favourite machines. Most of them are available; the casino is never full on a Monday morning.

She seats herself at the nearest one, her swollen feet dangling high above the ground. Her hands shake slightly as she inserts a crisp new note into the slot; it is sucked greedily out of sight in one swift movement.

Her fingers move with familiarity over the slightly greasy buttons as she chooses the number of lines and the bet per line. A small sigh escapes her lips as she settles into a comfortable rhythm of pushing the ‘repeat spin’ button and watching the colourful cherries and sevens fly by.

If she wins today she and Thembi will be able to eat well for the rest of the month, and perhaps there will even be enough to buy Thembi that bicycle she wants so badly. Ma Gugu thinks of her little granddaughter playing at home with Gladys, the neighbour. Gladys wouldn’t approve if she knew Ma Gugu was gambling with the grant money.

But Ma Gugu won’t lose this time. It won’t be like that morning she got carried away and lost everything. She remembers the nights they went hungry that month, remembers the guilt she felt looking into Thembi’s trusting eyes. But she is more careful now.

Her money is disappearing and this machine has yielded none of its wealth. She moves to another one of her favourites. She has only pushed the spin button four times before her machine suddenly starts singing loudly at her. She watches in delight as the numbers on her screen go up and up. Before long a person appears at her side, pushes a few buttons, writes a cheque.

As she waits in line at the cashier Ma Gugu feels pleased with herself. She collects her winnings and hugs her handbag close as she lumbers towards the exit. But then she hesitates. There is enough money in her purse for food for the month and to buy the medicine she really should be taking for her feet, but what about Thembi’s bicycle? It only takes a moment to decide and then she turns, a small smile lifting her lips, back towards the machines.


Quinn said...


The story rings too true for me. I never had a gambling problem, but the guy I lived with in Canada did. He pretty much lost all his money at casinos and kept going back even though it meant we wouldn't have money to eat.

The only good thing was, I stayed home and wrote my first novel while he was out.

Anyway, congrats!

Rachel Morgan said...

Thanks :-)


Sally (aka Fairy Godmother) said...

This is a great start to a wonderful future career. When you win the Nobel Prize for Literature, you can think back to the highly commended Commonwealth.

Rachel Morgan said...

Ha ha ha! You have to say nice things like that because you're my fairy godmother! But thank you so much anyway :-)

Rachael Harrie said...

Hey, well done you!!! I can see your big grin from here :)

Rachel Morgan said...

Oh yeah, the grin doesn't stop! Imagine if I get an actual book published one day - the grin will be too wide for my face!

Anonymous said...

Love your description, well done!

Jax said...

Congrats Rachel! You should be very chuffed with yourself :):) Looking forward to your first novel!

Megan K. Bickel said...

Wonderful story! I was totally taken into the world as I read. Excellent job! Glad to have found you via "the crusade"!

RaShelle said...

Great story Rachel!!!

Lesley said...

Excellent short story Rachel!:) The story leaves you with an unsettling, disquieted feeling... very well done.