Tall Tales, Short Stories writing competition – Highly Commended, Anoushka Baluja

Anoushka completed Jacob Ross’ short story ‘A Better Man’:

As the Indian man walked away from his shop and turned a corner, now leaving the entire street deserted, the suffocation of her past life and now her utter loneliness began to take hold. Cold, slender fingers of doubt grasped her neck becoming tighter and tighter by the second. She took a raspy breath in. Her mind swam with fear as she struggled to keep in control. She sat down on the bench inside the bus station, slowly trying to steady her breathing, chanting the same mantra she always did in her head when everything felt just a bit too much to handle, ‘just breathe in and out, in and out’.

Her eyes swept the bus station. The sky was darkening rapidly and now only the dim lights overhead revealed her surroundings. A lone paper McDonalds bag had been carelessly thrown in the corner and faded advertisements were plastered on every inch of the bus station. The stench of rotten food stung her nostrils and her hand wandered towards her phone again. She switched it on a blank screen stared back at her.

Her finger pressed the contacts button and she scrolled down the list, searching for ‘her person’. Who was her person? Who was the person she trusted everything with? The person she talked to at 3am to discuss her achievements, her problems, the random worries that popped into her head. The person she trusted her entire life with. The only person that could get her out of this. Everyone else had a person – Shehu’s was his brother, he was always texting him about everything in his life. She had always kept to herself, preferring to solve problems her own way. As the wind howled around her, pushing the leaves and rubbish further along the street, she began to wonder that maybe, just maybe having a person was more important that she had first realised.

She had to call somebody; she had been waiting for a bus for almost an hour now. These buses were very unreliable; just last week she had to wait over an hour for the 121 on her weekly trip to the city centre – it was supposed to come every 15 minutes. She remembered how noisy this street had been then, the roar of car engines and squealing of young children had caused her to shove her earphones in and turn up her music. She longed for that noise now, for now that noise had been replaced with silence, a painful silence that reminded her of just how alone she was.

She continued scrolling through her contacts list. A name, from the bottom of her contacts list jumped out at her. Her mind began to race. It had been a long time since they talked, since they saw each other in fact. He was definitely not ‘her person’ but it was definitely the closest thing she had, and she needed somebody right now. She needed him.

Impulsively, she pressed the call button and the silence was filled with the sound pf her phone ringing.

Highly Commended: Anoushka Baluja, aged 15

Tall Tales, Short Stories celebrates 20 years of the V.S. Pritchett Prize, the great range of the short story form, and what is possible when we use other writers as inspiration. Our anthology contains the first 500 words of winning entries to the Prize and of stories from judges over the past 20 years. Our Tall Tales, Short Stories competition asks those aged 14-18 to finish one of the stories with a new ending of their own.

Related RSL Fellows

Jacob Ross 2006