Just because people couldn’t gather together in 2020 doesn’t mean that they didn’t have stories to share. This year the Yorkton Arts Council’s Story Slam event went virtual, with five local storytellers submitting their story virtually.
This year’s judges - Michelle Goulden, Marj Dech, Calvin Daniels, Amber Harvey and Tricia Friesen Reed - each scored the submitted stories and in the end came up with one winner. That winner was C.V. Sastry with his tale Escape from Manhole.
This week we will be reprinting the submitted stories. To listen to them tell their story visit yorktonarts.ca.
Stranded, seeking temporary refuge in the common area of an apartment building, I was soaking in the beauty of nature’s fury. The monsoon in India doesn’t appear all at once. Rather, it builds up over a couple of days of “pre-monsoon showers”. Its actual arrival is announced by an intense period of heavy rain, cracking thunder and plenty of lightning. It definitely seemed that today was that day. The constant onslaught of tiny raindrops was creating many small ecosystems in front of me while raising the pleasant petrichor after hitting the ground. Huddled strangers came together under roofed shelters, vehicles splashed huge waves on unsuspecting pedestrians, kids jumped in mud puddles and some people were simply scrambling to get to their final destination. From my perspective as a twelve-year-old boy, a sudden heavy downpour meant a messy playground to play soccer in the evening. I wondered whether all parents will send their kids to play today.
“Want to bet my boat will go all the way to the open manhole? “asked Amit, interrupting my thoughts. I grinned as I looked at his paper boat, nicely crafted by my friend, but heavily mismatched against the tempest it will face on the ten feet it would have to cover to reach the open manhole. Amit was one year younger than me and he still had a lot to learn. In the first few seconds of it setting sail, his boat was battered by the raindrops and the swift current of the water did the rest of the damage and capsized it. My grin turned into a smile as I claimed victory on this bet. Amit looked on to his sunken boat, which still was getting sucked towards the drain, quite disappointed with the outcome of this bet.
The rain stopped as abruptly as it began. As neighbours, we both always walked the same way back home together from the bus stop. We knew all the small temporary islands created by the rain, where we would jump to keep our shoes from getting soaked and the slippery slopes where we had to tread extra carefully to keep us from falling. And mainly, we knew to be aware of the infamous manholes which were often left open for reason best known only to the Municipal workers.
While Amit was busy narrating how the boat would have survived if he had kept the base a bit broader, I was keenly observing the people around us. There was something about them that did not seem right. They were smiling. And their smile was not the nice infectious kind, but the one with a more malicious evil feeling to it. “What are they smiling about?” I pondered. And then, I saw it. A young boy, maybe five years old, had fallen in an open manhole and was holding on to his dear life by pressing his arms against its side. He was barely hanging on as huge gushes of water was flowing in, trying to swallow the kid and disappear with him to the other side. He looked dazed, confused and all the while he was struggling, he was crying. Not crying for help, just crying.
In that moment, I saw humanity at its most vulnerable in that child. I also saw humanity at its worst in those onlookers who were thinking of this as something to be enjoyed. And then it struck me. I was one of them. Amit was the first to react…just a second before I sprang into action. We rushed to the boy’s aid; which meant going knee-deep into the flowing muddy waters. I thought to myself, “I would have a lot of explaining to do back home about my soiled uniform, but I will think of a reasonable excuse later”. As we both pulled him out, I asked “Are you ok?” I was hoping that he will tell us where he lived or maybe mutter a thanks to us. Instead, he just took off…he just ran away.
“Unbelievable” Amit said, as he saw everyone moving on with their daily life as if nothing had happened. I realized that for all my wisdom and knowledge, Amit had still emerged as the hero in this story. We simply smiled and chatted as we went on towards home. I had just witnessed humanity at its best.
Year - 2016
My life journey has brought me to Yorkton. As I drive in, I hear on the radio about a young girl who went missing. I observe people coping with drug issues in this city which I now call home. Struck in the open manholes of life, left open by people with intentions best known only to them; I observe people getting sucked in by the gushes of evil forces. Will I be on time to lend a hand? This time, I will react before anyone else does and let someone else see humanity at its best. I will become the hero in someone’s story .