Third Prize Short Story 2004
The Birdwakers by Kai, China/California, Age 13
"Ladies and gentlemen! Welcome to the school's 15th Annual Talent Show!" Mr. Lu the host cried. "Tonight, young performers from grades 4-6 will occupy the floor."
Onwards, Mr. Lu read out the order of performers. "... fifth will be Mr. Kai Kang on flute accompanied by his friend Mr. William Mattson as vocalist in their piece, The Birdwakers!"
That was all Will and I cared for. Already, we were nervous as could be. All of a sudden, Will started to smile. The look of suppressed nervousness started to fade. Then, he leaned over and whispered in my ear. "Kai, I just had a recollection about the beginning of our friendship."
That started me thinking, and soon, memories of our past surfaced. At the beginning of the school year, I was new to Angeles Elementary. I had no friends; the other fourth graders never saw me as one of them, mostly because I'm Chinese. William especially despised me, at every opportunity, he would taunt me. Other kids would then join in. My life at that point was at the kindest, miserable.
Music was the only refuge I could find. For when my hands hold the flute, and my lips parted to blow, all my worries evaporate. My heart reaches out to the music, letting it nourish the emotional wounds. My entire being would be fused with the sound, nothing I would know, nothing would I sense, but the music. Still, I was always alone. That is, until a fateful afternoon, when I carried my flute with me into the fields beyond my home. There, in the green, flat meadow, I stood facing the sinking sun. As a soft breeze played about my hair, I closed my eyes, and blew. The melody was sweet and soft, like a bird's. My grandfather used to go out in the morning and wake the birds with it. I felt myself carried away from the scene, floating towards the sunset. Then all of a sudden, a voice sang out along my melody. I turned and looked, William, tall and smiling, accompanied my song. Thus, began our friendship.
Afterwards, we discussed many topics. We grew to know more of each other, our families, our culture, William even tried learning Chinese. Each day, we would go out to the meadow and practice music. His deep, strong baritone matched perfectly my sweet tunes.
"Next up is Mr. Kai Kang and Mr. William Mattson." Mr. Lu's voice interrupted my wondering thoughts. William and I stepped out from the curtains, and onto the stage. Again, the nervous tension in the air gripped me. However, the look of determination on Will's face encouraged me. We began, the pure, rich flute note trembled in the air, but then, Will's singing backed it up. The perfect synthesis of music began. The soft, sweet melody of the flute was lifted up by William's deep voice. The two sounds separated, making the music lively and cheerful, waking the birds. As we approached the centerpiece of the music, again the flute and the voice blended. Now, the notes were melancholy, but still with a beautiful tone to it. Finally, the music slowed and softened, as if luring birds back to sleep for the night. We bowed, to tremendous applause. The entire room thundered with it.
After a few other performers had returned to the back stage, the winners were announced. Third place went to Serenady for her piano piece. As second place was being announced, I prayed to God. Surely William had deserved a second place. Just then, Mr. Lu boomed out. "Second place goes to... Steven and his dish spinning!"
My heart sank. I turned and started walking towards the back exit. "What had gone wrong!" I thought, "We didn't even win second, after all that hard work." There were tears of anger in my eyes. "Of course I'm just a China boy, how could I win? Nobody cares how good I am." I told myself, as I retrieved my flute.
"I do," a quiet voice said. It was William. "Here." With that, he held out to me the first place medal. It glowed in his hand, beautiful, shining with pride and exhilaration. "We're waiting for you." Mr. Lu came out of the shadows. Will and I carried the medal to the stage. We raised our arms, and the realization finally dawned on me. I stared out at the crowd as Mr. Lu pushed me in front of him. They were cheering. My classmates ran out and patted me on the back.
Mr. Lu took William's and my hands and raised them in the air once more. "To the Birdwakers!" he cried. "To the Birdwakers!" roared the crowd.
Kai on life between cultures: The hardest thing for me in balancing two cultures is finding friends and people that you can really trust. There's not that many discrimination acts anymore, (there still are a few) but normally if you look on any campus, you'll see that most people tends to stick to their own races. It's hard to really get to know someone in that environment. The best thing about being an immigrant is this feeling of success. Like if you climb Mount Everest, this intense feeling of victory just bursts forth. Knowing you can survive in different parts of the world toughens your resolve. It gives you a feeling of confidence nothing else can give you. Though it does hurt to leave friends behind.