Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Red (10/01/09)
- TITLE: The Gift on Charcoal Mountain
By Francy Judge
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“Wake up Jomari.” She rolls her older brother back and forth until he groans.
“Okay, okay, Anna-baby…I’ll get up.”
“I’m not a baby; I’m nine today. You’re only four years older than me. And you told me you had a surprise. Show me…please, please. I could hardly sleep last night.”
“First we eat some noodles.”
“Remember the man who took pictures of us working yesterday?”
“The ghost man?”
Jomari chuckles. “Yah, he did have the lightest hair and skin I’ve ever seen. That ghost man, as you call him, gave me a small package of food.”
“Is that my surprise?”
“No, I found something special for you.”
Jomari pushes the corrugated metal slab open, like a prison door, but they can’t escape the steamy heat. Out of the tarp shelter, the smoke from Manila’s makeshift charcoal factories, where Jomari and Annalyn work everyday, fills their lungs and coats their skin. They dream of Manila’s fresh coastal air. Of lifting the grey veil that shrouds the blue sky. But for now they hunt for wood in garbage dumps to make charcoal, the only way they can survive.
“Here. Happy birthday.”
“I love, love, love it!” Annalyn climbs on the plush ruby red armchair and jumps, higher and higher. “Watch me reach the stars!” The old springs squeak with every jump–music to Annalyn. Muted bounces rise to high-pitched leaps, all in a continuous rhythm. Her rhythm. “I knew I’d be a princess today!”
“It’s just like the one you always dream about.”
“It is…even better. I couldn’t jump on the throne in my dream. Thank you.”
Annalyn doesn’t mind that half of the chair is ripped, showing the brown padding underneath and a few broken springs. It is a treasure–the brightest color on their smoky mountain. Red is joy, and love, and friendship. Red is prestige, honor, and glory. Red is hope.
For the rest of her birthday, Annalyn plays a pirate, searching for buried gold. Each piece of wood found in the garbage heap is another golden nugget added to her sack.
Hours past sunset, the fires are put out, the charcoal is finished, and Jomari trudges across Charcoal Mountain, weak from hunger, his dark eyes blending into his soot covered face. Annalyn is already asleep, curled up on her ruby chair. Jomari kisses her velvet soft cheek. And they dream.
I was inspired to create another story about these poor children in the Philippines after seeing a touching photograph online taken by Hartmut Schwarzbach.
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