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?’

Central Otago Mirror - - CELEBRATING OUR WRITING TALENT - More Moun­tains,

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.

DEB­BIE JAMIESON

Win­ner of the Mir­ror Lakes and Cen­tral Otago Ju­nior Short Story com­pe­ti­tion, So­phie May, of Arrowtown.

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