CSN Sankofa Writing Contest: Stories by Maferima Diaby and Jonathan Edwards!
Students in a writing class led by Dr. Monica Bickerstaff-Riley at The College of Southern Nevada participated in a writing contest this past semester. I had the honor of being one of 3 judges including Karen Roberts Turner. Here are two original stories from the top 2 winners, Maferima and Jonothan. *Also would like to mention the third winner, Sheryln, whose fanfiction story I can't share due to copyright reasons* but all effort in this contest was greatly appreciated! Enjoy!
Selfsgiving By Maferima Diaby
Melody had always been someone who largely kept to herself. Her favorite moments were the ones when she was alone. While also being a true-blooded night owl, during her childhood and teenage years, Melody frequently stayed up well into the A.M. completely immersed in her thoughts. In those times she would imagine how her future as a grown-up would play out. She dreamt of various realities derived from different sources, whether it be scenarios she watched on TV and movies or just instances she would hear and fantasize about. Realities like her living in a college dorm or renting out an apartment with roommates. It could be a studio apartment whilst working a dazzling job in LA or New York. She would even opt for a cozy condo in a smaller town, or maybe even move out of the country to live in Europe for an exciting new lifestyle. In any case, Melody needed to have her own distinct, individual life where she could do anything on her own.
Now a young adult in her early twenties, Melody embraced the "being alone" aspect of her grown life to quite possibly the fullest. She moved from her hometown of Las Vegas to Atlanta, Georgia to pursue a marketing job. It took her four days to drive the almost 2,000-mile trip by herself. Melody lived in a decent-sized apartment near the city, also by herself. Although she fancied the idea of living with other people when she was younger, she didn't want to take the risk of ending up with a roommate that threatened her peace. So, to ensure her domestic tranquility, Melody chose to live alone. Well, not completely alone. She adopted a mature calico cat by the name of Spunk a few months after settling in. Melody had always admired the independent nature of cats and saw them as her spirit animal.
Even though she worked mostly from home, Melody was looking forward to a few extra days off from work in the next coming weeks, due to the holiday season approaching. The first major holiday in line was Thanksgiving. Not wanting to go through the hassle of traveling to and from Vegas at this time, this would be a holiday Melody spent alone, away from family. She thought of Thanksgiving as a righteously fake holiday anyway. It's nothing more than a poor excuse to endure extended family that I don't want to spend time around anyhow. She thought. While Melody loves her family, she's not particularly in the mood to become bombarded by the presence of them in exchange for the comfort she feels when it's just her and Spunk. She received several invitations from some acquaintances in Atlanta to spend Thanksgiving with them, but she gingerly declined them all for similar reasons. Why would she go and spend an entire day with people that she's not even close with, just to be around others and show thanks? Melody was grateful for her blessings on her own without having to show out on some grand turkey dinner.
So, Melody taking a solo stand this year, she decided to spend Thanksgiving alone with Spunk. Besides, she's thankful for herself more than anything, so instead of giving thanks to others, she'll spend this holiday giving thanks to herself.
"I'm going to have a proper Selfsgiving!"
Melody wanted the self-giving to begin early, so on the day before Thanksgiving, she planned to treat herself to a special lunch since most places would be closed for the holiday. With a plethora of delicious, local restaurants to eat out at in Atlanta, Melody wanted to go somewhere she had never tried before to commemorate this pre-Selfsgiving meal. She found a 4 ½ star reviewed Korean barbecue restaurant online and knew that it would be the perfect new experience. She productively finished any work before the fact so she could have the entire day free to herself. She woke up that day feeling refreshed and looking forward to her single lunch date. She even skipped breakfast to save room for the barbecue, fed Spunk, and started getting ready. She kept her outfit simple with some black leggings and a beige cable-knit sweater. She decided to wear no makeup, rocking a bare face, and put her Tiffany blue braids up into a high ponytail. Once ready, she got her blue floral tote bag, said goodbye to Spunk, and was on her way out to her relaxing luncheon.
Melody arrived at Umma's Korean BBQ House on time to make it to her 1:00 p.m. reservation. This place was so popular, it was packed especially during lunchtime. It would have been almost an hour wait if Melody hadn't called in and reserved her party of one ahead of time. She was seated at a comfy booth in the corner of the restaurant by a host who met her with a soft shocked expression when he realized that Melody was eating alone. She was more than used to that interaction by now. Melody had once been embarrassed by such a reaction, but now she sees it as people just being so shocked at how courageous she is for eating alone. Her waiter came shortly after she was seated. They explained how to order the items off the menu and how eating at a Korean barbecue operates.
Melody quickly understood and in no time had her table filled with different kinds of meats, vegetables, side dishes, add-ons, and more that she would have to cook and prepare herself in any way she pleased. This was right up her alley. She wasted no time to dig in. Melody was surrounded by tables of big groups of families and friends noisily chatting and enjoying themselves, but Melody was perfectly content with being on her own.
About halfway into her meal, a man approached the only person eating alone in the restaurant. Melody. She initially thought the waiter was coming to check in with her, but once the man was in front of her, she realized that he probably wasn't an employee at all. He had on something different than the uniform all the servers were wearing. It looked like what a chef would wear but more stylish and professional with cobalt blue accents. His name was written in gold embroidery on the right side of his chest. It read "Dong-Seok" with the name in Korean characters written next to it. Dong-Seok smiled at Melody and asked, "How is everything?" while gesturing to the food in front of her with his hands.
"Great, everything tastes amazing," Melody replied in a tone that would ensure she was 100% satisfied and didn't need anything else.
"Is it your first time here?" asked Dong-Seok.
"Uh-huh, and I am really happy with all the food and service. I'd rate it five stars, for sure," said Melody with clear assurance hoping that her response would please the man enough so that he wouldn't linger any longer.
"I couldn't help but notice," he began hesitantly, "that you are eating all by yourself," Dong-Seok said with a polite face.
Oh, here we go. That's why this random guy came over. He wants to know why this girl is sitting all by herself like a weirdo. "Oh, yeah," Melody said with an awkward laugh, "don't worry, I like eating alone." She swiftly turned her attention back to her food as a way to notify the man that this conversation had reached an end.
Nevertheless, Dong-Seok continued, "Ahh, well, I in no way mean to be rude, but I just find it wrong seeing someone eating alone in my restaurant. That doesn't happen in Umma's House."
My restaurant? So, this man must be the owner. That explains why he came up to talk to me. Still, he doesn't have any right to say that my way of dining is wrong.
"Thanksgiving is tomorrow," Dong-Seok started again. "Do you not have any family or close ones that could have eaten with you this afternoon?"
How dare him? She thought. Why in the world is he disturbing a girl who just wants to eat her meal alone in peace?
"I'll have you know," Melody said this time with a more irritated laugh, "that sometimes a person might not want to eat with any company. Maybe, they would just like to eat a meal without anyone bothering them. Maybe they enjoy eating alone and are better off that way."
Despite Melody's rather sassy remarks, Dong-Seok laughed light-heartedly in response. "Nobody is better off being alone," he said as he sat down across from Melody at her booth. "There's nothing wrong with being alone, but it is far better to have people around when you can."
"Why do you say that?" Melody asked genuinely with a bit of leftover sass.
"Look, 'umma' means 'mom' in Korean," Dong-Seok said while pointing at the restaurant's logo stitch on his sleeve. "I named this place after my mother." Dong-Seok then went on to explain that his mother came to the states by herself to escape the Korean War. She had to leave all her family behind and start a new life in America. His mother loved cooking for others. Anytime she'd met someone new she would invite them to share a meal with her. Even when she barely spoke English, she was able to bond with anyone over food. She even met his father that way. Dong-Seok was born, raised with his mother's way of cooking, and fell in love with the practice of sharing food with others. He told Melody that his mother would host lavish group meals because she said that eating with others is a special moment where people share souls and memories. When she passed away a few years ago, Dong-Seok opened this restaurant in her memory. Now her spirit lives on in a place where hundreds share a meal every day. That's why he had to say something when he saw Melody eating alone. His mother wouldn't have accepted it.
"Wow, I never looked at it that way. I've always liked being alone because… well it was easy. You know what to expect from yourself and you get to have time to yourself, for yourself." Melody told him.
"And that's great, but too much time by yourself can become a problem. You forget that you can share your precious time with others and discover so much more that way. Experiences you couldn't possibly get on your own. That's why Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, and it's one that you should take the opportunity to share with others. You can save time for yourself any other day." Dong-Seok said affectionately.
"I'll…consider giving that a try," said Melody reluctantly.
"Well, we'll be open tomorrow actually, so if you need some people to share a meal with, please come here." Dong-Seok offered.
"Really?" Melody asked shyly. "Thank you." She said with a smile.
"Of course," Dong-Seok said warmly, shaking Melody's hand.
After she left the restaurant, Melody decided to take a walk in the park to think about what Dong-Seok had said to her. She was reflecting on a bench when a familiar woman came up to her.
"Hi, sorry to bother you, but don't I live down the hall from you? I recognize that cool blue hair." the woman says with a dimply smile.
"Yeah…" Melody said recalling the woman's wonderful smile, "we've passed each other a couple of times. Did you just move in? I'm Melody by the way," she said offering to shake the woman's hand.
"I'm Amanda," she said shaking Melody's hand, "and yeah, just last week, at seemingly bad timing too. Thanksgiving's tomorrow and everybody I know is miles away from me." Amanda said with a disappointed tone.
At that moment, Melody wasn't sure if it was simply fate or maybe even a blessing from Dong-Seok's mom, but she knew exactly how she wanted to spend Thanksgiving, and it wasn't by herself. Selfsgiving was canceled.
"Would you like to have lunch together tomorrow?" Melody asked Amanda. "I know a great place that'll be open…"
The Moment He Wasnt Expecting by Jonathan Edwards
John jumped into that old beat-up red Jeep that he'd loved since college and hit the road. Driving that windy route up the mountain to Big Bear had always been John's favorite part of the trip from sunny San Diego. Though the temperature continued to drop the higher he got up the mountain, John always drove with the top off. It was the smell of pine trees and the crisp cool breeze that reminded him of a lifetime of memories.
An only child, John's parents left him the family cabin when they passed away a few years back. Promising to keep up with the family tradition, John continued to go that same weekend in December. The same weekend his family had gone since he had been born. It's always nice getting away from work, and it sure is nice when it snows, but it's just not the same without mom and dad. He thought. Awakened from his thoughts by the tear rolling down his cheek, John shuffled himself, took in a deep inhale of pine, and turned up the radio. Somehow, the soundtrack of White Christmas always calmed him down and made him smile. At thirty-seven, John still remembered the early years when his mom would play the cassette while trimming the Christmas tree with decorations the family made.
Beaver Way, Oh! Here already. John thought while making a left and approaching the cabin. Pulling up and parking the jeep, he'd sit for what felt like years looking up at the cabin. "Year three without mom and dad. Ok, I can do this. Mom, Dad, I love you so much. Let's have some fun!"
With that, John opened the door, grabbed the duffle bag from the passenger seat, got out, and walked to the front door. John's favorite part of being the first person to walk in each year had always been to see everything exactly where it had been for the past 37 years. Mom's crystal vase on the dining table, dad's records lined up by grandpa's record player, and great grandma's knitted blanket hanging over the couch. "Step one: pull back the drapes and open the windows. We need to get this place aired out and decorated in time for the guests to arrive first thing tomorrow."
By the time the sun had set, John was done. He'd transformed the cabin into a winter wonderland and sat with a sense of pride. The fireplace crackled and radiated a special warmth that could only be felt in this cabin and on this weekend. Sipping on dad's aged whiskey, John looked around and smiled while taking it all in. Garland draped from cabin beams, cinnamon danced in the air from candles burning, and a Christmas tree that even Martha Stewart would be envious of. Hitting all the right senses, John felt at home.
"John, we need more spiked cider!" Yelled Carole from the back patio.
The cabin was in a full flutter with the vibrant sound of laughter and conversation. Guests sat around taking in all of John's hard work and enjoyed the holiday-themed drinks and appetizers. Co-workers, relatives, friends new and old all came together to celebrate Christmas with John. He was all smiles since it had been over three years since the walls had heard such joy.
It was Mid-afternoon and the doorbell rang, causing John to wonder who it might be that wasn't already at the party. "Maybe it's the neighbor Calvin. I hope he doesn't think we're being too loud again," John said. Opening the door with his festive ugly sweater and Santa hat on, John dropped his cider to the floor. Glass shattered everywhere and the room fell silent.
"Todd, what are you doing here," John asked with wide eyes. Todd, standing outside on Grandpa's old front door mat held champagne in one hand and flowers in the other. Transitioning from a bright and bold smile, Todd's eyes began to water.
"John, I know you told me you needed time, but I have fallen in love with you and I've come here today... to ask you to be my boyfriend."
Special thanks to Dr. Monica Bickerstaff-Riley for allowing me to be a guest speaker in her class at CSN! #KeepOnWriting