What is Happiness?
Arrowtown School student is only 12 but wrote the winning entry in the junior section of the Mirror Lakes and Central Otago short story competition with this entry, ‘What is happiness?’
Old picnic benches dot the small field. I pick one at random and sit, not caring if it’s dirty. It doesn’t matter anyway, not now.
A single oak stands in the middle of the field, blocking my view of the small town where I live. Good. I don’t want to see it anymore.
A cold, autumn breeze brushes past me, causing a few of the oak’s dying leaves to flutter to the ground. I let it wash away the memories, good and bad, leaving me with a blank mind, blank like a fresh piece of paper.
Laughter floats across to me, breaking the silence. I look up and brush my lank hair out of my face. A small child appears on top of the hill, chased by a boy and followed by their parents.
The bench I have chosen is hidden from their view behind a small bush, so they don’t see me. The adults choose a faded yellow table, set out their lunch, call the young girl and boy over, and start eating. I watch them talk together, grinning and chatting. A happy family.
Something starts boiling inside me. I feel … envious. I want to march over to them, shout at them, demand why they are so happy when my whole world has crumbled around me.
I was going to. But the girl lets out a high pitched laugh. When I hear the sound, a cold, blue sea seems to wash over me, putting out the violet fire burning inside my aching chest. I can’t ruin her happiness. I choke on a sob. I will not cry.
So I watch as they finish their lunch and pack up. I think they’ll leave, I want them to leave, but they don’t. The children start playing hide and seek. The girl is counting, while the boy covers himself with the oak’s fallen leaves. When the girl finishes counting, she runs around, peering under picnic tables. Finally, she reaches the boy, although she can’t see him. Yet.
With a startling yell, the boy
jumps out of the leaves. He grabs the girl, who shrieks happily, and pulls her down. I watch their parents, arms around each other, smiling as their children tussle.
Finally, the sun starts to set, staining the sky red, like blood. The parents call their children over. Eventually they are ready to leave, and the father has the boy resting on his hip so he can’t run away and hide within the oak’s boughs. He’s done it twice already.
I watch as they move down towards the town.
Standing up, I don’t notice my joints screech in protest from sitting all day.
I’m watching the girl. She is sitting on the crest of the hill, picking flowers. I step forwards and a branch cracks underneath my foot.
The girl looks up. I expect her to run away, to scream… but she just laughs. A gurgling laugh that only a child with no guilt, no worries, no doubts can achieve.
I stand still as she ambles up to me. For a moment, she looks at me, her head cocked to the side. Then she puts her hand out, curious. I feel her tiny fingers latch onto the hem of my top.
I hear her mum calling. ‘‘Evie!’’ Evie gives me one last smile and runs towards her family.
Taking my time, I follow. I watch as the lights start flickering
on in town, forcing the gathering darkness away.
A thought occurs to me. One that I would not have found in my blank, empty mind had the little girl and her family not been up here today.
I may not have known my father, he disappeared when I was a child, my mother may have died, and I may be living in a children’s home, where no one cares about me much, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be happy.
Happiness is something everyone should have, whether they’re a little girl with her family, or someone who has lost everything she loves.
Happiness is the piece of the puzzle that had been missing for me. The young girl had somehow helped me realise that hiding from the world in a small, lonely field doesn’t help me.
Suddenly, I want to be happy. I need to be happy.
My mother, just before she died, told me not to cry. But I will cry, many times, but now I know what is possible. I know I can be happy.
❚ Next week we will publish the second placed entry in the senior competition: by Zora Thomas, of Queenstown. The Mirror will continue publishing the top three stories in the senior and junior competitions over the next few weeks.
Winner of the Mirror Lakes and Central Otago Junior Short Story competition, Sophie May, of Arrowtown.