Tall Tales, Short Stories writing competition – Highly Commended: Jian Hui Mo
Jian Hui Mo completed Emily Ruth Ford’s short story ‘Please Be Good To Me‘
Sami stood for a time in thought. She tried to picture the simple route leading to the airport trains, but found herself focusing instead on the old lady’s face. A placid, confiding smile was fixed, upon it. At first glance the expression seemed perfectly normal, but after a while, Sami could see that the smile did not show thankfulness, only blank ignorance. There seemed no understanding in her eyes, and the more she considered, Sami felt that no matter what she said, the woman would nod gladly and go on her way. Her thoughts were interrupted as the other spoke again.
‘To tell you the truth, I can’t seem to find my husband – I’ve lost him somewhere,’ she said, the expression shifting to mild disturbance, ‘He seems to have gone far away.’
Sami sighed. ‘Perhaps you’d like to go home,’ she said – then, feeling guilt at the idea of allowing this old woman to attempt her lonely journey alone, ‘I guess I could come with you. Is it far?’
Soon the two of them were sitting in silence, carried swiftly away from the chaos of central London, and east, towards Greenwich. Sami noticed that her companion was scratching her hands incessantly. The skin was already raw and bleeding. Sami reached into her handbag, fighting sudden disgust.
‘Do you need something to relieve your hands?’
The woman turned to her and smiled. ‘I’m just trying to get something off them,’ she said, but the scratching continued more violently than ever. Sami tried to distract her again. This time she was successful, and struck up a conversation about grandchildren.
‘I have three. Little dears. I’d tell you their names, although… I don’t remember much these days.’
‘Do you see them often?’
‘Well, they come to visit me now and again…’ she tailed off.
Eventually they reached the old lady’s station, and Sami walked with her towards her home. It was a quiet neighbourhood, the only sounds being the distant drone of afar away main road, and the abrasive continuous scratching. They passed a row of terraced houses, each with identical whitewashed walls, tainted with dismal dirt flecks. Stopping at number 12, the old lady drew out a key and they both walked in. Sami was on the point of saying goodbye, but stopped short. The entrance led onto a sitting room, and inside it an old man sat, facing away from them, in an armchair. Several flies flew in circles around him. Sami wondered why he didn’t bat them away. Something seemed wrong with the stillness of his position, the calmness of his gaze, the stillness of his breathing. For the first time, she walked towards him, turned, and looked directly at him. Three bloody knife wounds looked back at her. She gasped and looked round. Her companion stood behind her.
‘Oh yes. I remember now. We had an argument, and I had to make him quiet down a bit. Will you help me clean up, dear?’
Highly Commended: Jian Hui Mo, aged 14
Tall Tales, Short Stories celebrates 20 years of the V.S. Pritchett Prize, the great range of the short story form, and what is possible when we use other writers as inspiration. Our anthology contains the first 500 words of winning entries to the Prize and of stories from judges over the past 20 years. Our Tall Tales, Short Stories competition asked those aged 14-18 to finish one of the stories with a new ending of their own.