Writing Prompt: The Dying of the Light

My entry for the Creative Writing Ink Image Prompt Competition from w/c 6th October 2016, inspired by this picture:

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The light was dying, and the fire had gone out. Without Brin’s firelighting skills she wouldn’t be able to relight it; she was too little and she didn’t have the skills. The valley looked idyllic now, with its alluring carpet of grass, but come morning it would all be frozen stiff. As would she, if her brother didn’t return. Rowena’s jaw set in determination. She couldn’t just give in. What would her Mama say? And her Papa? She was only five, but she was smart. Everyone said so. Before the flood took them away. She gulped her grief deep down inside and tried to focus. Her empty belly rumbled. In response, she did the only thing she could think of to do: sprang up from her haunches and ran, as far and as fast as her legs could carry her.

Some twenty minutes later, when she reached the towering valley walls, she found a thicket of small trees. Not thinking of the bears that might be lurking there, nor of the fate of her brother (who she knew should have been back hours ago with food for their dinner) Rowena strode purposefully into the thicket and began to gather wood.

When she returned to the camp it was almost dark, but the full moon helped her find her way. She hunkered down over the burnt out embers with the small bits of dry wood and kindling she had found, and set to work. She concentrated hard on setting the sticks at the right angle, carefully arranging the kindling in the crook of the bottom piece of wood she had partially hollowed and laid out, just as she had seen Brin and Papa do many times, but never tried herself. Until now. And now, she knew, failure would almost certainly mean death.

Brin walked slowly across the valley floor, dragging his badly wounded leg behind him. He had, he knew, been lucky in his stand-off with the bear. His wounds would heal – he would survive – but that didn’t make his return to camp any less painful. Or diminish his growing concern about his sister’s welfare. He’d had no choice to leave her, but what would his father have said? “Protect her, Brin, to your dying breath”, were his dying words. And Brin would protect Rowena, of course he would. But to protect her he must also bring her food. Otherwise they would both starve. As he walked he felt the weight of the dead rabbit over his shoulder. Hold on little one, he willed. Hold on.

The smoke reached his nostrils before the light from the flames. He stopped and rubbed his eyes, incredulous. As he grew nearer he could just make out the tiny figure lying beside the fire, wrapped in a small fur. He ran to his sister’s side, scooped her up onto his knee and held her close. She stirred from her slumber, opened her eyes and smiled. “Brin?”

“It’s me, little one,” Brin said, returning his sister’s trusting smile. “Was it really you who got the fire going?”

Rowena nodded. “All by myself,” she said proudly. “Like you and Papa used to do.”

Brin laid the rabbit on the ground and Rowena’s eyes widened. “Well you are cleverer than I even thought possible,” he said. “And, to celebrate, we will have rabbit for dinner tonight.”

It’s the Little Things…

My boyfriend has a theory about me. He says I’m a product of my own environment, which apparently means when faced with challenging situations – like the one in which we met almost four years ago in Borneo – I thrive, but when conditions are less harsh, I struggle. He says sometimes he can’t believe I’ve travelled on my own around India and Indonesia, when only last week I got so anxious about moving to a flat five minutes down the road.

I haven’t been convinced about this theory until today, when I got to work and spent most of the morning fretting because I’d accidentally put some salt crystals in the rinse aid compartment of the dishwasher, and the dimmer switch for the kitchen lights appeared to have broken. After having to get a plumber in to descale the shower head yesterday morning I was loath to tell the landlady there were two new issues to deal with in our first week of residing here. It was bothering me so much, in fact, that I felt that familiar feeling of panic rising up inside me.

Considering this in the context of my boyfriend’s theory, I realise he is absolutely right. When I was in the wilds of Borneo – dealing with giant bugs, floods and lugging 20kg bags of cement up hills whilst also fulfilling the dual roles of communications officer and photographer – I was in my element, with rarely a moment to dwell on the minutiae of daily life. Sure, it was emotionally and physically draining at times, but I didn’t let silly things get me down. I didn’t have time to worry (least of all about a dishwasher – that’s if I had actually had one), I needed to survive; I wanted to excel.

Fast forward four years and here I am, living in a lovely flat in Brussels, with a lovely man and a pretty great job. But with no threat of danger and no great challenges to occupy my time, the little things are slowly but surely creeping back in. Whereas a broken light would have barely registered in my consciousness when I was recovering alone from a sickness bug in the remote Himachal Pradesh region of northern India, now it’s enough to set my pulse racing and make me feel sick with dread.

I’m glad to have recognised this tendency because I want to nip it in the bud. Life’s too short to stress about broken appliances, and too precious to waste on negative emotions like worry.  It’s important to keep things in perspective, to sense check whether the thing that’s causing stress will really matter a year from now, which invariably it won’t. So from now on I will try to do just that. One broken appliance at a time…

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Nice idea Boris, but I think I’ll take the tube..

Three months ago when I started my current job in London Bridge it crossed my mind I should consider cycling to work. Not only would it be a good way to fit in some extra exercise, it would also mean avoiding the horrifically busy Northern line in the mornings, which surely had to be a bonus? I wasn’t all that keen on turning up at work drenched in sweat and having to get changed, but thought that ultimately the benefits would outweigh the costs.

But then I started watching people cycling out of Clapham in the mornings, and observed them in their droves when I arrived at London Bridge. And I became hyper sensitive of all the news stories involving cycling accidents. And then I remembered that two of my good friends have had accidents on their bikes in the past two years – one serious, which would have almost certainly killed him had he not been wearing a helmet (which was cleaved in two by the impact – horrific).

Whilst the idea of cycling to and from work and avoiding public transport does appeal (well done on the PR Boris), I’m ultimately not prepared to run (or cycle) the gauntlet when it comes to my safety. I’m the first to admit my road sense isn’t great (when I was nine I cycled around a roundabout the wrong way and nearly gave my mum a heart attack, and whilst I’d like to say I’ve got better since I might just be lying), but even if I was a savvy cyclist it’s the others on the road that are the main danger.

The sheer volume of cyclists on London’s roads during rush hour is terrifying, not to mention the gung ho way in which many of them behave. Only this morning when the pedestrian light was green and I began to cross one cyclist shot right through and nearly knocked me over. Though that’s not to say it’s always the cyclists who behave badly. Car and lorry drivers often exhibit such a flagrant disregard for the lives of cyclists and motorcyclists when driving around London that it’s hardly surprising so many people get knocked off their bikes each year.

On balance, therefore, I’ve decided to stick to the tube for the time being. As much as I hate being face to armpit in a sweaty train carriage, I can at least be confident my brains will stay in my head instead of being splattered on the pavement due to a moment’s carelessness.