Helen Rye
October 2016 First Prize

One in Twenty-Three

by Helen Rye

Our land was beautiful. You should have seen the cherry blossom in the springtime, the foot of our mountain was clothed in it. And the sweetness of the figs in autumn – there is nothing like it anywhere.

Figs were our country’s first gift to the world. Anzuki, Halabi, Bouksati, Oubied - such poetry there is in the names, and in the soft, ripened flesh you could taste the warmth of the sun that falls on the land of my grandfather’s fathers.

We burnt the trees to keep our child from dying of cold, the winter after the power went down. My husband wept as he carried the branches from the orchard, but the snows were coming and we had nothing left to burn.

He spared one.

The last fruit was ripe on its branches and the leaves had almost gone, the day the rebels took him away.

I took my son to my sister in the city, but then the bombs came. They fell on the library. On the marketplace. On the internet café at the corner of the next street. On the hospital. On the people who were fleeing from the hospital.

Our lives compressed to the twelve-metre span of this boat.

I called my son Ocean, because once I loved the sea. Now our land lies scorched and turned toward the earth, and ten thousand have fallen like leaves beneath these waters.

Did you know that the fig is not really a fruit? No, it is a flower that has turned in on itself, so that all of the beauty and goodness lies hidden on the inside. All the colour that could in another life have become bright petals is wrapped in darkness, away from the world. But it is in there.

It is in there.

About the Author

helen-ryeHelen Rye lives in Norwich, where she juggles part-time work with parenting and writing. She has benefited from tutoring by some of the absurdly talented writers who live in the city. Her first piece of flash fiction was shortlisted for the 2015 Bridport Prize. She is writing a novel, very slowly, and the occasional picture-book text.

She has loved writing since she was a child but returned to it only relatively recently via workplaces including a physics lab, a needle exchange and a theatre company.

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