For Children

J.J. Yu

Salmini's Story

Fifth & Sixth Grade Prose Winner

Salmini stared through the misty window of the bus and out into the dreary street. His gaze wandered from person to person as they passed. The bus started to move again, and he pulled out his notebook. The dark green spiral-bound’s cover was worn, and the paper inside was tattered, but Salmini opened to a fresh page. He stared at it. The faint lines were barely visible in the dim light of the bus; the State was supposed to replace them, but since the war had started, all resources went to the soldiers.

After that, there wasn’t much left for any of us, Salmini thought to himself bitterly. There certainly hadn’t been enough for Caroline. And now…now she was gone. He buried his face in his hands, trying to shut out the memories, but it didn’t work. All at once, he was there again. He saw the soldiers dragging Caroline’s lifeless body away from the house. He heard Mama screaming, and felt the soldier’s uniform slipping from his hands as he tried to stop him. He felt the agony of being ripped away from his little sister.

“No! Don’t take her away!” Salmini screamed, pounding his fist on the seat in front of him. The people on the bus ignored him. The tears felt as if they were burning through his eyelids, squeezing their way through. He took a deep breath.

Control…control… he told himself. Think about what Mama used to say. “Pour your soul into your work.” She had worked herself to death. Salmini held a pencil above the page. He stared at it, willing all his thoughts and feelings into the page. Then, it happened. His pencil started to move across the page, at first hesitantly, but then with more speed after the first few lines. He poured his anger at the State, his sadness as losing Caroline and Mama, his overwhelming responsibility to care for Annie, who hated him, and, most of all, his guilt for having lived when the two people he loved the most died. Now he was stuck with Annie, who was brash and aggressive—nothing like the sweet, gentle Caroline.Salmini filled a page with tiny writing. His last page. By the time he got to their old, cramped apartment, he had finished. He tore it out and held it up to the dark, stormy sky.

Funny how all fourteen years of my life could fit on one page, Salmini thought. The wind ripped it from his grip. He watched it flutter away, and smiled.

* * *

Nora Jestari stood outside her house. She closed her eyes and opened her mouth, feeling the first raindrops hit her tongue, just as the elders had in her village. The wind whipped, and scraps of paper blew down the sidewalk. One piece caught her eye. A sheet of notebook paper hit her foot. It was covered in scribbles. She picked it up and began to read: “When I was four, my mother told me something I will remember for the rest of my life...”

When she had finished, her cheeks were wet with tears and rain. Nora didn't know what to do with such beauty. She was holding someone’s life, his or her soul. She couldn’t leave it in her apartment; it would be forgotten. In her village, these decisions would be made by the gods. Suddenly, Nora knew what to do. She held the sheet to the sky, and to the gods. The wind took the page and carried it away, over the buildings to the other side of the city. Nora smiled.

* * *

Tony Linderson stumbled through the fog, cursing under his breath. He tripped, and began to push himself up, when a piece of paper caught his eye. It was lined and covered in writing. Tony fumbled for it, and threw up all over the sidewalk. His mouth burned, and he yearned for water. He staggered into an alley, grasping the paper tightly. Under a small awning, Tony stared at the paper.

The words blurred, and he blinked. He could make out the letters now, and began to read as the wind howled. He finished, then read it again. Acting on impulse, Tony rushed to the bar. He shoved 200 kotas, almost all his savings, at the bartender.

“Type, and all this is yours.” He panted. The bartender stared doubtfully at the money, then took out a grimy PC from under the bar. He typed slowly at first, then faster, and faster. Tony passed the money to the bartender. Then he left, not bothering to take the typed copy.

* * *

John Walters, the bartender at Gorgio’s Pub read the document again. He blinked. “Joseph! Run this to the news office. Slip it under the door.”

* * *

Joseph Lamar ran across the street as fast as he could, not stopping for anyone. He had read the page, and knew why John was sending it: the children’s literature contest. 50,000 kotas for the winner. He glanced at the sheet, noticing the writer’s name: “Salmini Equusi, Age 14.

He ran faster.

* * *

“Someone left this for you. You should read it.” Wanda said to Amanda Sharp. The reporter and young writers’ contest judge looked up.

“Leave it on my desk.” She wondered why Wanda had delivered it herself.

“I really think you should read it. Now.” Amanda had come to trust Wanda, especially in moments like these. The secretary was just as skilled as she, if not more so. She picked it up, and read it from start to finish. She stared at it, and nodded.

* * *

Salmini was at the dingy school when he heard his name on the intercom. It spared no words: “Salmini Equusi. You have won the young writers’ contest. And 50,000 kotas.” He stood, frozen. A moment later, Annie rushed into his classroom and embraced him.

And Salmini knew there was hope.