Highly Commended Story - Junior Category
“Nail Soup” by Umama Ansari, The City School Gulshan Junior D, Pakistan, is the Highly Commended story in the junior category of the second biannual Short Story Contest 2018.
One winter evening, just as the sun was going down, a beggar knocked at the door of a cottage and asked for shelter.
‘Oh, all right,’ grumbled the old woman who lived in the cottage. ‘Don’t expect any food, though, because my cupboard’s as bare as a baby’s bottom. The beggar sat by the weak fire feeling cold and hungry. Then he had an idea. Smiling, he took an old nail from his pocket. ‘This, here’s a magic nail,’ he said. ‘Last night it made the best nail soup I have ever tasted. ‘Nail soup? I’ve never heard anything so stupid in all my born days,’ said the woman with a scowl. ‘It’s true,’ the beggar continued, ‘All I did was boiled it on a saucepan. Do you want to try some?’Although the old woman was not convinced, she decided she would play along. ‘Go on then’, she said. ‘But you’ll have to show me how to do it. ‘Right, first we need a saucepan half full of water,’ said the beggar. The old woman brought one, and the tramp put it on the stove. Then he dropped in a nail and said, ‘Nail we trust all your rust, will make a tasty soup for us.’
Then he sat down and waited. After a while the woman became curious and peeked into the pot. ‘Last night I added some salt and pepper. It made an ordinary soup,’ said the beggar. So the old woman went to her cupboard, got some salt and pepper and put it in the pot. After a few more minutes, she looked in the pot again. ‘Pity you don’t have any food,’ said the beggar stroking his chin. ‘A single onion would make a soup, very good. ‘I’m sure I will find one,’ said the woman, her curiosity growing stronger. She went and looked in her cupboard. As she opened the door the beggar saw that inside the shelves were groaning under the weight of all kinds of food. ‘Why, you mean old thing,’ thought the beggar. He stood for a while, silently stirring the onion in the soup. Then he said, ‘Shame you don’t have any carrots and potatoes to go with the onion, or a parsnip. They would make a very good soup extremely good.’ The woman was now feeling pretty hungry, and she disappeared again into cupboard. She emerged with an armful of fresh vegetables, which she peeled and chopped. The beggar put them into the pot. ‘This is coming along nicely,’ said the beggar, ‘but I tell you what,’ ‘What? asked the woman, her tummy rumbling like distant thunder. ‘Some tender, lean meat would make an extremely good soup, amazingly good. ‘The woman fairly ran to the cupboard and came back with huge pieces of steak, which she cut up and gave to the beggar to pop into the pot. By now, the soup was beginning to smell delicious. The beggar said, ‘pity to have to eat such an amazingly good soup at such a boring table. I always think food tastes better when a table is properly laid, don’t you?’ ‘Of course,’ said the woman. Not wanting to spoil the soup, she brought her best table cloth and spread it on the table. Then she got out china soup bowls and shiny silver spoons and even some candle in them. The beggar stirs the soup for a bit longer. Then he said, “shame you have no food in the house because some bread would make an amazingly good soup, simple super” again the woman ran to the cupboard, this time brining a loaf of bread that she has baked that morning. Finally, the beggar sighed and shook his head. “What’s the matter?” asked the woman, her mouth watering at the smell of the soup. ‘I was just thinking that it’s a pity we can’t have any drink with the soup, drink would make a …’. But the woman wasn’t listening. ‘I am sure I‘ve got some somewhere.’ she said rushing into her cellar. She brought back a fine-looking old bottle and two of her best glasses. ‘Now I think the soup is ready’ said the beggar carefully removing the nail and putting it back in his pocket.
Then they sat down at the table and had an absolute feast. After she had finished the old woman declared it was the best soup she had tasted. Then she offered the beggar cheese apple pie and chocolates to thank him. Then they told each other stories and jokes until the candles had burned themselves out.
The old woman gave her bed to the beggar to sleep in ‘while she dozed off in her chair and there are no pieces for guessing what they dream about Simple Superb nail soup.