Junior 2nd Prize Winning Story
“The Last One Standing” by Ishaan Bhaduri, Basis Independent Fremont, USA, is the Second Prize winning story in the junior category of the first biannual Short Story Contest 2020.
Ishaan is a budding writer and a 5th grader at Basis Independent Fremont. Since the time he could grab a book, Ishaan has been a voracious reader. Not just satisfied with reading Harry Potter and the likes, he has lately ventured into autobiographies like “Healing Hearts” and “I am Malala”, which, of course, were his inspiration for the theme of the story in this contest. When not reading or writing, Ishaan can be seen at his ice skating rink, biking along the wonderful trails in Northern California, or penciling new car designs. He is still making up his mind whether to be a car designer or a writer when he grows up. Only time will tell…
The Last One Standing
Another hope. Another home. Another hope for a home. A family had just come through the gates.
“Will it be me? Will it be me today that gets a home?” I would always think with excitement. The family would look at me, and the other trees, nudging each other, whispering into each other’s ears. They would walk all around the dirt lot, inspecting, judging, and almost criticizing our looks. I would stand at my tallest, hoping they would notice me, hoping that, that day, that moment, was mine.
But no. The family would pick another tree. One which was greener, bushier, and straighter. They would leave me crestfallen, jealous even. Why am I so ugly? Why did I grow crooked? It is not my fault that my roots were in the mountain’s shadow and I twisted to seek the sun. Aren’t we all trees supposed to do that? Day after day, night after night, I have waited patiently for a kindred soul to look at me and see my beauty. To give me a chance to bring joy to a child, a family, and bask in the warmth of love.
It’s Christmas Eve and time to close the tree lot. The owner looks around, satisfied that he has sold all his trees, and suddenly his eyes fall on me. One crooked Christmas tree in a corner. The last one standing. Unceremoniously, he throws me near the trash bins and drives away. As I wait for the garbage truck to come and haul me away, I feel lonely, sad, and helpless. For days we trees had laughed and dreamt about the love and happiness we would bring into homes we go. Was I not destined for that? Was I born only to die worthless? A blanket of sadness shrouds me as I wait for the final moments of my short, worthless life.
But wait. I feel a nudge. I see tiny hands going through my branches, feeling around. Who is this? I see bare feet. Dirty hands. Whoever-this-is turns me around so I can see him.
He is a young boy, wrapped in a threadbare, once-colorful blanket. He looks at me with his dirty face, half hidden under matted, uncombed hair. The boy holds the dirty blanket close to him, his only protection against the bitter winter cold. He didn’t look like other people I had encountered, people wrapped in scarves and sweaters and gloves and boots. But he. He was barefoot, dirty, and looked as if he hadn’t taken a shower in days, no, months. As he looks at me, his eyes widen and a smile lights up his face. Still holding the raggedy blanket, he picks my trunk and slowly drags me across footpaths and roads to who-knows-where.
The next thing I know, I am standing upright in the middle of a small patch of land next to the highway. There are bright blue tarps hanging over plastic rods, covering scanty belongings. I can see chairs, picture frames, and a few dirty tables. A kid-sized bike, another chair, an exposed mattress. Some tents, a baby stroller, a shopping cart, and empty soda cans litter the very sod on which I stand. The boy runs around to gather others who emerge from under the tarps. I realize that this is a homeless encampment. My heart aches, but I am not sure if it is because of the conditions or the fact that I found a home.
Everyone gathers around, touching me, marveling at my leaves, my strong, crooked trunk. They stare at me, jaws slack and eyes wide. Then, suddenly, as if he remembered something, the boy’s eyes dart to the ground and he picks up an empty, crushed soda can and stuffs it between my branches. Others in the crowd catch on and start putting ‘stuff’ on my branches. I get covered in empty milk cartons, plastic bags, food containers, a license plate, a few shoelaces acting as streamers, and even a garden hose. I may not have the prettiest ornaments like other Christmas trees, but I sure have the most love from people who the world has cast aside.
When my branches can hold no more, a tall, plumpish woman steps back. “Well, it’s the least we could do,” she says. “Benjamin, could you light the fire, dearie? It’s your turn tonight,” she says to the little boy. Benjamin rummages through his meager belongings and comes back with a pack of matches. He couches over a hole in the ground and deftly lights a fire. Soon, it feels warm as the fire casts a soft glow amidst a pitch-black, cold night. More people join the gathering by the fire. Each of them takes out a little something to eat. A small piece of bread, a can of beans, a small bowl of soup from a nearby soup kitchen. This is not a Christmas meal in a rich man’s house, but for all of them it felt so. One man says aloud, “Thank you God, for blessing us with this tree and this food. Thank you for helping us through the winter and thank you for helping us through our hard times. Amen.” “Amen,” everybody echoes. They eat slowly. Eyes closed, savoring every bite, basking in the warmth of the fire, the presence of friends in hard times, and looked on by a crooked Christmas tree.
It’s time for everyone to retire. Benjamin goes to his tarp and comes back with his raggedy blanket and a tattered mattress. He curls up next to my trunk and I soon hear the contented breathing of a young happy child. I feel bliss. As I looked from Benjamin to the embers and to the stars, I realize that every life has a purpose, even though we may not realize what our purpose is as we face hardships. We must have faith. We are here to serve our own purposes on Earth. I had found mine.