Main Prize (Wadadli Pen 2021) – Second Placed Ashley-Whitney Joshua

Ashley-Whitney Joshua, 19, F, ‘Hiraeth’ (Fiction)

About the Author – Ashley-Whitney, 19, spent her entire childhood devouring book after book. She still reads a lot, but now, writes just as much, using anything and everything as a prompt. She previously submitted to Wadadli Pen at 15, in 2017. She attended the Antigua Girls High School and has since completed an associates degree in culinary arts. She is currently working towards becoming a dietician and/or kinesiologist (whichever comes first).

About ‘Hiraeth’: Ashley-Whitney’s story is about a young woman escaping a less than ideal situation and ending up far from home in a place she never would have expected, then finding herself feeling regret for the home she lost. She explains, “The title ‘Hiraeth’ means, The feeling of longing for a home that no longer exists, or never was. In terms of inspiration, I had just finished raiding my Nana’s bookshelf when I received a call from my irate Godmother demanding to know why I haven’t entered this competition. After not giving a very valid excuse, I was sent the necessary information, and was told to ‘start writing’. I didn’t really need a prompt for this story, thinking back. All I needed was a name for the main character, then the words began to spill out and before I knew it, I was well past 1000 words.” Ashley-Whitney also wrote on her entry form at the time of submission how much she enjoyed writing the story, and requested feedback to improve her writing even if the story didn’t qualify for a prize. Well, it has and she has also earned spots in a couple of workshops to continue to work on her writing.

*

‘Hiraeth’

Emilia opened her eyes and looked around, confused for a minute, as was her routine, every day, since she packed her bags 6 months ago and fled Antigua. Mind blank, she sat up and thought, “what is that incessant beeping?” Looking around groggily, trying to pinpoint the sound, her eyes fell upon her source of annoyance. “My alarm,” she thought while rolling her eyes then froze, suddenly the beeping became insignificant as the events of the previous months flooded her memory. “Well, there goes my moments of ignorant bliss,” Em thought, while dragging herself out of bed and turning off the noise. As she walked passed her window towards her bathroom, she caught a glimpse of the sky outside. It was just 6 minutes past 7 and while she could hear the world waking up and coming to life outside, the sky was still very dark. Yet another stark difference between Antigua and Vancouver. The sun would have been shining in all its Caribbean glory by 6:30 despite being in the middle of January. Here, the sun, when it made the decision to show its face, was simply a decoration; especially at this time of year. Standing in front of the sink, she looked in the mirror, her eyes tracing the now fading scars that scattered her upper body and shuddered. She closed her eyes tightly and chased away the imaginary heat that had settled itself on her shoulders, stretched heartily and began her day.

Donning her mask and stepping out of her apartment building, she made her way down the icy sidewalk to the neighbourhood coffee shop, ‘Nani’s’ in anticipation of what the barista had in store for her today. “Nani’s,” she laughed to herself, “if someone back home only heard th-” she quickly cut herself off, “it wasn’t home anymore,” she reminded herself. Walking in, the upbeat old lady that reminded her of her Grandmother already had a steaming cup with her name on it waiting on the counter. Since she came in a few months ago and asked the lady to ‘surprise her,’ Nani, as she was known, has had a new flavor waiting for her every single day without fail. Today, it was a mango and ‘feevagrass’ latte, the scent making her think of home again. After paying and thanking Nani, she sipped and walked the rest of the way to the dance studio where she worked as a Cultural Dance instructor and began to prepare for her first class. Today, she was teaching African folk, so she tied on her waist wrap, pulled up her drum playlist and waited for her students to arrive. In the middle of teaching her class, she paused to drink some water as her throat was beginning to ache. “These white women have no damn sense of rhythm!” she exclaimed in her head. It was hard enough getting them to keep their distance and loosen up in the beginning but getting them to move in time with the music was an entire nightmare! Looking around at her students, her class mainly consisted of wealthy housewives who either had nothing better to do or wanted to, somehow, regain the attention of their disinterested husbands. “A disinterested husband,” she thought, “must be nice.” Without wanting to remember what drove her to leave her home, she continued her classes throughout the day, still, by the time she got home, the memories replayed in her head like a movie until, after a long hot shower, she laid in bed and allowed herself to remember…

…It never rained that much in Antigua. It was supposed to be ‘isle of sand, sun and sea,’ so when Emilia, left home without an umbrella (as usual!) she never would have guessed that she’d end up under a bus shed, nearly knee deep in dirty flood water. She only needed to get to her car which was parked at least two minutes away, but the rain, traffic and rising water ‘looked at her and laughed.’ Fuming, she only noticed the car that pulled up in front of her when she heard its horn. Looking through the rolled down window, she noticed the handsome familiar face of the customer that visited the small bakery she worked at earlier today and smiled. Thinking back on it now, she should have swam through the flood waters instead of getting into his car that night. And after bringing her home that night and taking her to her car the next morning, it set into motion the events that would shape the next two years of her life: A whirlwind of dates, trips, meeting each other’s families, then a proposal that came not long after. Thinking about it, she cursed herself for her naiveté, because who was even THAT perfect? So, she married him, with her mother’s insistence, and all she wanted, was to be the perfect housewife to the perfect husband and that she was, until he began to change. It started with heated interrogations after she ran simple errands, then he was screaming at her over simple things. “He’s stressed at work,” she remembers telling her best friend Jazz. But her friend wasn’t convinced; no, not when her husband’s “stress” had to be hidden with heavy concealer and eye makeup. He soon put an end to their friendship though, especially after her second miscarriage; and instead of blaming his fists, both he and her mother blamed her and stupidly she believed it. A while after, it was as though he had beaten the sense into her because the next day, she was on a plane to Vancouver with as much of his money that she could carry. Why there? No clue. It wasn’t the tropical paradise she’d known and it was a far cry from where she thought she’d be. “But I’m not a victim anymore” she said to herself. And with that, she closed her eyes and for the first time in ages, as she drifted to sleep, she smiled.

This story was edited by the author, post-judging, prior to posting. It is one of the winning entries in the 2021 Wadadli Youth Pen Prize Challenge. Please respect each writer’s copyright.

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