Every year the official language school in Malaga (Escuela Oficial de Idiomas - EOI) runs a short story competition for students of English as a foreign language.
Teachers at the school select their top three stories from the entries submitted by students at EOIs around Andalucía. They then invite the editorial team at SUR in English to help decide the winner.
The task was a pleasure once again this year. Writing fiction is an admirable achievement, and writing it in a language that is not your own is even more commendable.
The best ten entries to the competition are published every year in the Malaga EOI's own magazine, Martiricos. Meanwhile, the top three are published here to share with SUR in English readers.
We hope you enjoy them as much as we did.
Carpool, by María del Mar Ruiz Navarro
"Bloody hell! Not again!" -Lizzie sighed. Her phone had died, something she should have got used to, now that using Google Translate and calling Nana's lawyer nonstop were her morning routine. Even though she was 27, Lizzie had never faced bureaucracy before, let alone do paperwork in a country and a language that weren't hers. But after Nana Rose died of coronavirus, that was the only thing she had been doing.
As soon as she could, Lizzie moved to Spain to take care of everything. She knew that was what Nana would have wanted. After all, Nana had left the guesthouse, the money, and even her large collection of eccentric teapots to Lizzie; leaving Pierce, Lizzie's father, and Rue, her half-sister, empty-handed.
Lizzie's father knew he deserved it. Since he remarried, he hadn't seen his mother more than a few hours every year when he would travel to Fuengirola to drop Lizzie at the guesthouse. And the moment Lizzie came of age, not even that. Pierce, Tracy - Lizzie's stepmom -, and Rue used to travel abroad every summer; however, Lizzie begged all year long to go to Spain and stay with Rose.
As a child, she loved being at the guesthouse, cooking with Nana, the karaoke nights, going to the ginormous cash-and-carry and getting lost in its infinite aisles so that Nana had to call her name over the Tannoy... and when Lizzie grew older, she wouldn't miss a few weeks helping out grandma and getting tipsy off Nana's disgusting homemade brandy while singing Tom Jones's songs together every night.
With those tender memories still fresh in her heart and after some family drama with Rue trying to challenge the will, Lizzie was finally in Malaga ready to start a new life in charge of the old guesthouse. And there she was, running in the middle of a downtown street in Malaga, exhausted after dealing with civil servants the whole morning - goddamned Brexit! - and realising her phone had died.
"What am I gonna do?" she thought, "What was the car make? Was it blue or black? The driver's name was Antonio for sure... or maybe Paco?" Lizzie tried desperately to remember as she had found a ride in a carpool app from Malaga to Fuengirola the day before and she was running late. Her happy-go-lucky nature - which made her really lovable and easy-going, but had also caused her a few otherwise easily avoidable problems - had prevented her from taking any notes or even paying much attention when booking the ride.
"Blue, definitely blue... Yay! There it is!" she thought, glad to have found the blue car pulled over with the driver inside checking his phone, probably trying to reach her. He was young, maybe in his late twenties, had dark hair and was wearing a black face mask. Lizzie would have sworn the driver looked older in the app picture, but since she didn't even remember his name, she blamed it on her memory.
"Hola," she waved and smiled through the open near side window "Soy Lizzie, siento que soy tarde. Uhm..." she tried to find the words in Spanish but couldn't. "Do you speak English?" she asked, and without even waiting for the answer, she opened the door, sat down, fastened her seat belt and started telling the young driver the ordeal she had experienced that morning.
Then, she noticed the young man's puzzled face. "Am I speaking too fast? My bad... Let's start over. I'm Lizzie and you are... Antonio?" she tried her luck with the name... and failed.
"Javi," he said.
"Oops!" she replied grinning. "Too many carpools these days... I mess up names, you know," she excused herself. "Thank God you waited!"
"But, I..." the boy tried to say something but Lizzie noticed how late it was and blurted "I think we should probably get going now if we want to get to Fuengirola before lunch time". Lizzie didn't quite understand why he was still staring at her speechless, so she continued "Can I charge my phone, please?" Now, a brief smile could be perceived in the lad's face as he closed his eyes in an amused gesture.
"Yes, yes, charge. Fuengirola, no?" he replied with a grin that was now very clear as his cheeks squinted his eyes and some soft charming wrinkles appeared around the sides of his eyes. "Let's go, then!" he said.
All along the way, Lizzie and the young driver used a hilarious Spanglish to natter about the pandemic, Nana, how Lizzie was seeking a name change for the guesthouse... The boy was certainly good company, she would definitely write a good review! When they finally got to the guesthouse, the boy thanked Lizzie for the lovely chat and gave her his number in a piece of paper saying: "if no battery in your phone again!" Lizzie appreciated the gesture and headed for the guesthouse's back door while attempting to turn on her phone.
And as she was walking in, the deluge of notification sounds coming from her mobile startled her, making her phone fly off and fall right in the middle of the teapot collection, breaking a particularly misshaped clay teapot. While cleaning it up, she noticed some childish writing on one of the pieces. It read "For Nana", it was Lizzie's own writing. Her heart skipped a beat as her memory went back to the moment she gave it to Nana for her birthday, and suddenly understood her grandma's peculiar obsession with teapots.
And while trying to hold back her tears, Lizzie looked at the phone, which wouldn't stop blinking, and gasped to immediately burst into laughter. The notifications were all from Antonio, the actual carpool driver... Yikes! And embarrassed but unable to stop laughing, she finally came out with the new guesthouse name, "The Nutty Teapot" and couldn't help reflecting about what the weird new normal had brought her: an unspeakable pain, but also a new country, a new job and certainly... a new friend!
María del Mar was born in Malaga in 1986. A real foreign language lover, she holds a degree in Translation and Interpretation and has completed her C1 levels in English and French at EOI Malaga. She is also studying Italian. She works as a secondary school teacher in Andalucía and is a lover of Victorian novels, writing, cinema, fashion and coffee. This is the second time she has won the EOIMA Short Story Contest.
The Journey, by Lourdes Vergara Camuña
Soon after dawn, on what should be considered a ritual rather than a daily routine, Pepe was drinking his cup of strong coffee calmly, as he had no need to rush. Unquestionably, one of the perks that retirement has provided him with was the benefit of being the owner and lord of his time.
Having eaten breakfast, he kissed and said goodbye to his beloved wife and left home, determined to seize the day.
It was sunny day, as if something promising were about to happen, far away from worries or infirmity.
On his head, he was wearing his dull grey beret and an axe had been placed inside his shoulder bag. Both of them had been accompanying him for more than fifty years; since those days when he had dedicated himself to cut olive and almond trees down, among another chores, which had allowed him to sustain his large family long ago.
Every now and then, he found going to the countryside to do some tree felling a cheap thrill, which not only did it keep him entertained, but also active.
On that particular spot, surrounded by the trees he had planted and not that distant from that picturesque white-painted village where his home was located, he was able to enjoy himself, feeling at ease and younger than ever, no matter how many wrinkles scored his octogenarian body.
The sun had reached the point of midday, when Pepe decided to give the axe some rest and pampered himself with a loaf of bread and a chunk of cheese. At that moment, a few sparrows approached him, expecting some leftovers.
All of a sudden, he heard a noise and glimpsed something. "Who's there?"- he asked.
"One, two, three, you can't catch me!"- was the answer said in a playful way, next a giggle was heard. As baffled as he was, Pepe was capable of distinguishing a little boy, not older than five, who was running. While dashing after him, Pepe could not help but wonder who that lad was and what he was doing there, all on his own.
That chase proved Pepe that the years do not go by in vain. In spite of being concerned about his health, his legs were not as strong as they used to be; sure the slope, the dirt and the stones were not any help either. Breathless and with his heart pounding, he saw that the nipper had stopped on the top of the hill, awaiting him.
"C'mon! They are waiting for us!" the child yelled. "Who?"- the question was raised in a challenging way. "You'll see"- was the reply. When Pepe managed to get closer to where the boy was, he was beside himself with astonishment. "How bizarre! It isn't possible, is it?"- thought Pepe.
A familiar face was right in front of him, those sparkling coffee-coloured eyes and that wry smile, full of kindness though. Might it be a resemblance? Was the heat playing a dirty trick on him?
Against all odds, Pepe could not be mistaken; the little boy was actually one of his grandchildren, the one who had passed away about two decades ago, beaten by a dreadful illness. Unable to pronounce a word, due to the shock and the unexpectedness of the situation, he did nothing but listen carefully to these tender words: "It's high time we left, grandpa. Your time here is running out". Pepe cuddled his grandson, held his hand firmly and with no trace of fear and no regrets, encouraged by a certain sense of serenity deep inside his soul, he turned back to contemplate the breathtaking view that he had always loved: a landscape full of almond and olive trees. And then, only then, he went on "the journey".
Born in Malaga in 1988, Lourdes took a degree in Business Administration and is currently working in banking. She enjoys learning foreign languages, English and German especially, and reading practically everything, from Victor Hugo to Megan Maxwell. This is the first time she has had her work published.
Usual, by Dominika Nozkiewicz
She woke up early, as on any other day, but didn't jump out of bed with her natural energy, instead kept on snoozing and wondering if she could maybe find another job allowing her to sleep longer and indulge in this very "cosy" and perhaps, from now on, "favourite" piece of furniture, a bed.
Same morning activities again, kitchen, coffee with no sugar and no milk, black and strong, the smell started to make her feel more excited, more than usual. "Weird" crossed her mind but she ignored it and prepared her toast and peanut butter. She's been eating the same food for the last ten years and got used to it but today the taste was more sophisticated, it began to caress her taste buds strangely, almost indecently. She felt somewhat alarmed and shook it off quickly by having her usual cold shower. "At least the shower feels the same," she thought, relieved, when little by little, the drops of water left on her skin, attracted her attention. She found them quite beautiful, shimmering with different colours and flowing slowly over her skin. After a few seconds a strange feeling awoke her from numbness and she heard her own voice saying out loud "What are you doing? You are wasting your time with unnecessary stupidities, there are far more important things to be done," so she quickly got ready, a little bit ashamed of her previous sensations and cracked on with the job for the day. Emails, emails, more emails, then a few meetings and writing some reports, nothing unusual but suddenly she felt this sudden creepy feeling of boredom and annoyance altogether, feeling that nothing had really changed recently and she kept doing exactly the same every day, nothing surprised her anymore and every activity was automatic, repetitive. She killed this feeling quickly with her sharp mind and drank a few glasses of water, convinced it might be caused by dehydration after a night's sleep. "Yes, now things will get back to normal," she sighed, a little bit unnerved by her state of mind this morning which luckily didn't last for too long as she immersed herself in her daily routines, typing emails in a moderate speed, as requested by professionals, making sure to stand up from time to time and have a little walk around her beautiful flat, nicely arranged with all the right things in their right places. She had her own gym where she exercised with her handsome Trainer. Trainer was smiley and happy as usual, shouting encouragingly and motivating her to push up and squat to maintain a healthy body with just the right amount of fat and muscles shaped perfectly. "Hmmm, was Trainer a little bit louder today, happier, or am I just starting to get a headache? I haven't had headaches for ages, not since the new normality."
She sat down at her desk again, focusing her eyes on a screen and trying to work but still she could not find peace and return to her beloved state of insensitivity and non-reaction to unnecessary external stimuli. It kept bothering her, so reluctantly she picked a phone dreading a conversation with a human being, her Doctor. Not because Doctor was rude, quite the opposite, it's just that social interactions tended to wear her down easily plus obviously, were not recommended in abundance. Luckily, it wasn't necessary to speak to people face-to-face anymore, thanks to technology advancements. The same familiar voice greeted her but she could sense a note of concern while she was explaining her symptoms, thinking she would get some prescriptions for vitamin supplements and a few other pills, as usual, and hearing the assurances that there was no need to worry, when suddenly strange words reached her ears. She took a few long deep breaths and kindly asked the Doctor to repeat. "Excuse me," said She, unable to contain her irritation which irritated her even more because letting go of emotions was not normal people's behaviour and, clearly, it was triggered by some nonsense the Doctor was repeating.
"Is it some kind of a joke?" she screamed and bit her tongue quickly after that, aware that she couldn't control her words anymore. "Ms She, I'm terribly sorry but you need to come to my office quickly, right away if possible. We'll have to run some tests, there's a chance that you might be a victim of a new disease but do not panic, I'm sure we can easily cure it. It's a little bit contagious so please be yourself and keep your distance, no smiles, no eye contact, just the usual. We would send an ambulance for you but it's better if you walk alone. Do not take a bus." "Why would I take a bus?" asked She, surprised at this mention of public transport as she started making her way out of the house, slowly putting on gloves, hat and other garments making her less susceptible to germs. While she was walking, deep in her mind, she realised she could not stop her galloping thoughts, she couldn't stop thinking and it seriously worried her. "What is happening, what is wrong with me?" she started running, wanting to get rid of that sickness as quickly as she could, looking down on the ground, when suddenly she bumped into something causing her a little pain. She gazed up annoyed and saw Someone smiling at her. Smiling at her directly, showing teeth. "Oh no, weird. I need to get out of here," thought She but Someone kept smiling and unwillingly her face started moving too, she could feel the corners of her lips lifting upwards. "I'm done," She concluded, still trying to run but suddenly she felt the warmth spreading over her body and was unable to move her legs; actually, she didn't want to move anymore.
"Hello," She said and Someone replied "Hello."
Born in 1989 in Limanowa, Poland, Dominika holds a degree in Indian studies and works as an English teacher in Spain. She is passionate about contemporary Indian writers, dancing, learning foreign languages and yoga, among others. This is the first time she has had her work published.