Story Contest 2016 #2 Results » Highly Commended - Senior Category
“Rain” by Michelle Lo, is the Highly Commended story in the senior category of the second biannual Short Story Contest 2016.
He hates the rain.
As he runs along the sidewalk, he can hear the splashing of water sloshing through the gutters. His suit and tie are drenched and his tailored coat is dripping with water. He keeps one hand high above his head in a feeble attempt to shield himself, but his clothes are soaked to the bone. His other hand is wrapped around the handle of a silver suitcase, which he keeps close to him in an iron grip.
The rain gets heavier and heavier, and it sounds like a thousand hooves pounding on the ground. The water cascades down from the sky like a turbulent waterfall, and he feels his chances of getting home quickly diminish. His knuckles turn white as he tightens his grasp on the suitcase, and he looks about desperately for a shelter from the storm.
Through the curtain of rainwater trickling into his eyes, he sees the faint outline of a bus stop. He dashes across the river of water that was once a road, runs along the deserted pavement and finally comes to a stop inside the sanctuary of the bus stop. With a sigh of relief, he wipes the water droplets off of his coat and sets his silver suitcase down carefully.
“I hate the rain,” he mutters to himself.
With a start, he realizes that he is not alone. Sitting on the iron bench is an old lady, draped in a damp scarf and a sopping wet sun hat. Her grey hair is dripping with water, but despite her appearance, her face is split into a sunny smile. She looks at him with the curiosity of a young child as she repeats her question.
“Why do you hate the rain?” she enquires calmly. “Rain is beautiful.”
Beautiful? He cannot help the puzzled expression spreading over his features. He has not heard the word beautiful used in a long, long time, and he has never heard it used to describe the rain.
The young banker leans back into his seat and looks at the torrent of water falling steadily from the darkened sky. Everything he sees is a bleak, murky grey.
“How can you say that rain is beautiful?” he asks. “It is just water.”
She blinks and chuckles, as if he has said something extraordinary. “Is a rose just a flower? Is a laugh just a sound? Is the sun just a star?”
“Well, yes,” he says, honest confusion on his face. What else would they be?
The old lady persists. “Roses, laughter, sunshine – you don’t find those beautiful?”
He shook his head. “I don’t find any of those beautiful,” he replies frankly. It is true. His world is not beautiful. His world is dull, monochrome and lifeless. His world is colorless. All that matters to him is his briefcase and its contents.
The old lady hums thoughtfully. “And the money inside your suitcase?” she asks abruptly. “Do you find that beautiful?”
The answer pops into his mind at the speed of light. “Yes,” he blurts out. “Money is beautiful. If I had to name something beautiful in this world, it would be money.”
She sighs, with the air of someone who has heard these words many times before.
“Money is not beautiful,” she tells him. “Feelings are beautiful.”
Feelings? Feelings are not a part of his world. Money is the only thing in his life that makes him feel fulfilled. Everything else fades into the monotony of his colorless world.
“Feelings are nothing,” he says tonelessly. “They don’t do anything for you. Feelings are not beautiful. Rain is not beautiful. Nothing is beautiful.”
She raises an eyebrow. “It is not that nothing in this world is beautiful. It is that you don’t know how to appreciate it. You don’t remember how to feel the beauty of the world anymore.”
Her eyes shine like stars as she gazes at him. Suddenly, he is a small child again, staring into the eyes of someone so much older and wiser than himself. The sensation leaves his heart aching.
She is not staring into his eyes - she is staring into his soul.
“The feeling of joy when you find a person you love… the feeling of happiness when you gasp for breath after laughing too hard… the feeling of excitement when you are with your friends… the feeling of frustration when things don’t go your way… the feeling of regret when you miss an opportunity… Don’t you remember how beautiful those feelings are? Or have you forgotten in your lust for wealth?”
A lump appears in his throat. “And rain? How is rain beautiful?” he manages to ask.
“Rain is beautiful,” the old lady says gently, “because it has the potential for so many feelings by itself. If you are inside a warm, dry house and the rain is falling outside, it can make you feel safe. If you are sleeping as the sound of falling rain sings you to sleep, it can make you feel soothed. Rain makes you feel both happiness and sorrow.
“Rain is so full of emotions at once that money cannot even try to compare.”
The old lady stretches out a hand into the waterfall of rain and closes her eyes in contentment. “Come,” she tells him, smiling encouragingly. “Put your hand out and feel again.”
He extends a trembling hand. He feels the droplets of water fall onto his outstretched palm; he glimpses the beauty hidden in his everyday surroundings; he hears the pitter-patter of raindrops splash onto the ground; he smells the fresh, almost sweet scent of the earth under his feet being watered…
…And for the first time in a long while, he sees a splash of colour in his monochrome world.
A droplet of water rolls down his cheek as he smiles.
The silver briefcase lies beside him, forgotten.