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Tagore-O.Henry Short Story Contest 2013©

Tagore-O.Henry Short Story online contest was held in 2013, from May to November and was sponsored by Maple Diversity, Canada. The winner got a cash reward of $500 delivered to her doorstep.

This was one of the best events held by FinalDraft and spread wide and far all over the globe. More than 500 applications from poured in from all parts of the world and the judges had a tough time deciding the winner. 

Ten selected stories were published on this website every week for 3-4 days at the most and were then pulled off, to allow the authors to contribute them in other contests if they didn't win this one. 

Finally, one winner was unanimously selected and this story will feature in FinalDraft's website for time unlimited. 

Congratulations to the winner and congratulations to all the participants. You all did a wonderful job. 

We hope to come back with more such contests in the future. 

WINNER!

Kanchenjunga | Shruthi Rao

                   “MOMOS!” Proclaimed a nondescript board above the little door, one that I would have missed had I not been expressly looking for it.

                   I walked through the door and stepped into a spotless, spacious room. To my right, half-a-dozen small, square tables were laid out, covered with cheery red-and-white checked tablecloths.                           The cream-colored walls were bare, except for a tasteful maroon-and-gold wall-cloth at the far right. Morning sunlight, filtered by the clouds, streamed into the room through a couple of large, un-latticed windows. White lace curtains fluttered in the crisp breeze.

                   To the left, was an open kitchen, separated from the seating area by a shiny stainless-steel counter running from wall to wall. The kitchen exuded warmth, and an inviting aroma filled the room. At the far end, a teenage boy prepared momos with practiced fingers. A pleasant, plump Tibetan lady, wearing the complexion of the hills, leaned against the counter, talking to a customer. She looked up as I entered, and gave me a warm, welcoming smile that made her eyes disappear. 

                   “Come, come,” she said, nodding, as if she were inviting me into her home. “Sit down.”

The wooden floor creaked slightly as I walked towards one of the tables.

                  “Veg or non-veg?”

                  “Veg,” I said, and sank into a chair. My hands were cold; I rubbed them together and tried warming them with my breath. My eyes strayed to the wide windows. I was sure they would have offered a fabulous view of the valley if it weren't for the clouds.

                 The woman set a plate of momos on the table. “Are you Dolma?” I asked her.

                 “Yes,” she said, and smiled that smile again, and again her eyes disappeared.“How you know?”

“Ajay Sarkar told me about you.”

                 “Ajay Sarkar?” Dolma frowned and turned to the boy at the counter. “Pasang…” she called, and asked him something in rapid Tibetan. 

                “Ajay Sarkar, Tiku!” said Pasang. He grinned and clicked an invisible camera. I smiled, in spite of myself. That seemed to be such an apt description of Ajay.

                 “Ahhhh Tiku,” said Dolma. “I know… Tall man.  Always doing photo… He do photo of me, of Pasang, he do many photo of my momos. And many, many of Kanchenjunga. He show you?”

I nodded.

              “Tiku fine?”

             It had been four months, but I'd never actually said it to anyone before. 

             “He passed away,” I said. “Accident.”

              It felt strange, saying it aloud – as if I was lying.

             Dolma sucked air in through her mouth. She sat next to me and took my hand. “He good friend?”

I nodded.

            “Special friend?”

             I nodded again.

            She rubbed my hand, and held it protectively between her soft, plump ones.

            She shook her head slowly. “Nobody understand, yes? Everybody comfort parents, brother, sister. Nobody comfort friend. Nobody see friend is sad. Special friend sad nobody understand.”

           You do, Dolma, you do, I thought, and my tears felt hot and heavy. She was the first to legitimize my sorrow, to recognize it. Nobody — not my friends, not my mother — nobody else had said so much with so little. 

            She waited until I dried my tears, pushed a glass of water towards me, and left me to myself.

I drank the water and tried one of the momos. As soon as I put the hot, steaming dumplings into my mouth, I realized why Ajay liked this place so much. I munched, and regained a little of the calm I had felt ever since I came to his favorite town. 

           “One more plate getting ready for you,” said Dolma. I didn't protest.

           She walked up and sat across the table from me, and watched me companionably as I ate. It surprised me how comfortable I was with this woman, a stranger. I was fleetingly conscious that she was much like a momo herself. Round, wholesome and very likeable.

          “These are excellent,” I said, with my mouth full.

           “Tiku ate thousand momos here.”

           I smiled, and glanced at the windows again. 

          “Too many clouds,” she said. “When you reach Darjeeling?”

           “Last evening.”

           “Oh, then you not see Kanchenjunga yet?”

           “No.”

           “And you never see Kanchenjunga before?”

            “No.”

           “Lucky girl.”

           “Eh?”

           “Best moment of your life still to come. First time you see Kanchenjunga — best moment in life. You remember it forever.”

           I liked that sentiment. “But the clouds…?”

          “They go — any time now. You see. Here,” she said as Pasang placed one more plate of momos in front of me. “Eat. You see Kanchenjunga today.”

          Dolma went to attend to another customer who had just come in.

          I ate, thinking of Ajay. Ajay and his Darjeeling and his Kanchenjunga. He hadn't tired of telling me that he couldn't wait to bring me here, to see the Kanchenjunga. But that was not to be. 

          I still couldn't believe he was gone. I wasn't ready to let him go, and get on with my life. I tried, but there had been a constant nagging feeling in my head, the equivalent of someone tugging at my sleeve. Something that wouldn't let me be at peace. I finally realized what it was in the middle of a night two weeks ago. I needed to go to Darjeeling and see the Kanchenjunga. 

         It had already done me good — this mountain air. Clean and clear and crackling crisp. From the moment I arrived, the sight of the locals going about their business with ruddy cheeks and smiling eyes cheered me. My heart felt lighter, and for significant stretches of time, I forgot that I was so miserable.

I sat there, immersed in memories. My thoughts were suddenly interrupted by the alarming sight of Dolma rushing towards me. “Close your eyes, close your eyes!” she said as she reached me, covered my eyes with her left palm, and held my shoulder with her right. She then steered me firmly and gently in the direction of the window.

           A gust of wind hit my face and ruffled my hair. The lace curtains grazed my cheeks.

           “Ready? Look!” Dolma said and removed her hand from my eyes.

           I looked. And staggered backwards. It stood there, the Kanchenjunga, towering above the world — white, imperial, insurmountable. I suddenly felt dwarfed by the mountain's majestic presence. At the same time, an overwhelming lightness pervaded my being and I felt something inside me expanding until I could see nothing else, feel nothing else. It was a state of intense peace, standing there at the window, breathing the cold, pure mountain air and gazing upon that magnificent sight. At that moment, I felt like I could give up everything else and stand there and watch the Kanchenjunga forever.

          Dolma's quiet voice nicked the edge of my consciousness. “Beautiful, yes?”

          My own voice took its own time to become available to my command.

         “Yes,” I whispered. I never thought I could feel this way about anything again.

         “Tiku worship Kanchenjunga. You understand now, yes?”

         “Yes.”

          “You wish he here with you now, yes? Don't worry. He here.” She pressed her palm to her chest.

         “Now, you go back home. Carry Kanchenjunga in heart, Tiku in mind. But back of mind. You still young. Yes?”

          I smiled. And for the first time in months, the smile came from my heart.

***

Real time clicks

Congratulations!!
I forgot to mention "Today Morning" by Jyotsna Jha in the video. It's an incredible story too, Jyotsna. - KC
(Disclaimer: The stories that have been sent to us are assumed to be original as per the original contest guidelines. The website holds no responsibility of any plagiarisation of any form. The winning story will become the property of FinalDraft and cannot be submitted to any other contests in any part of the world. The winner will be communicated via email. All other stories in downloadable form will be deleted soon and removed from the website.) 
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