Reflections on 2020

As 2020 comes to a close we invited our amazing community of storytellers to write their final story of the year.

We received over a hundred entries from all corners of the globe. From Pakistan to the Philippines, Syria to Singapore, UK to USA, Israel to India our writers came out in force to add their stories to our growing anthology.

We’ve chosen 12 stories to feature on the 12 days leading up to Christmas and we’ll be announcing one stand out story that will be THE FIRST PERSON EVER to have their own story illustrated by Karolinko, our resident illustrator and receive a signed copy of it!

Enjoy the stories below…

My Hope For The Future

 

Next year I hope to sit in a house of ten, cross legged on the wooden floor as we share stories of old and finish assignments, leaving only to open the door for food as I hand the delivery driver our jumble of coins and notes.
I hope to go into the bookstore overlooking the river, and get lost browsing the aisles, and talk to the worker who always reassured with a touch that she is listening to me gush over my favourite book.
I hope to stumble on the exact same doorframe I always do when I enter the crowded lecture hall of my university, just for my friend to extend a hand to reach out and catch me as they always do.
I want to have a drink in a local pub that smells of spilled, stale beer. To hear the laughs and chatter as I walk in, to hug my friends and whisper-shout hello and slide into a booth to kiss the person I love. I hope to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with a stranger at the bar, elbows knocking, talking about the weather of ‘How nice it was this morning, ’ to ‘It’s freezing. Winter is almost here. Have a good night’.
And when it’s time to leave, I hope to stand under an umbrella with those I love. An umbrella barely large enough to cover one of us as we link arms, three thundering hearts, and tumble into the nearest taxi.
I hope for a tomorrow where I don’t regret the things I didn’t do, because I was too busy making up for the lost year and appreciating everything, I always had around me. More than anything, I want 2021 to be a living opportunity for us all to believe in better things.

 

Serena, Durham, United Kingdom

 

 

I Can See The Sun

 

In the winter, I watched from the window in my dorm room. The trees blocked my view of the sun, and so did my tears. I could not see the sun, but I could see the chances at happiness float by and fade away. At night, I would put on my coat and walk to the library, just to see the sunrise. I would sit at my favourite table on the, right next to a huge window. I cried. I listened to music. I did my homework. And soon, I saw an orange ray, bidding me good morning. The sun reached through my library window and told me I would be okay.

In the spring, a pandemic sent me home. When I collected my things and trinkets from my dorm room, I worried, but I rejoiced in my heart. I was confined to my home, where I would finish the semester, staring through windows. There was no going out. There was no seeing my family and my friends, except for on a screen. There was only isolation. I knew I would miss the library window, but the fog finally faded into nothing. I could finally see the sun from my room. And the sun told me to breathe, to live, to find happiness.

In the autumn, I flourished. I put my mind to work, and realised that there is always a way to find the sun’s light. The rain falls down, the wind blows, and the fog blocks the view. But from my window, I look for the light, even when the world seems to burn. And as winter approaches again, I will continue to watch for the sunrise. A new day and a new year is coming soon. Never again will anything block my view.

 

Kristen, Hope Mills, USA

 

 

My Days

 

So many days spent in laughter,
so many days passed by in smiles.
Would I ever get this back?
these days when time stretched for miles.
January was a beautiful beginning,
I felt myself in tune with everyone.
Felt a little bit nervous with all the exam thinking,
but I was glad to have a hand to hold on.
February breezed by,
a beautiful story in itself.
Got to see my close ones just in time,
before the world took leave of itself.
March held hands with me,
as new ways to communicate were thought of.
Wished for classes to start again,
just to see our friends laugh.
April and I tried to find a rhythm to match,
a lot of memories were burnt.
Family came before anything else,
and our happiness was a nice lesson learnt.
June came and so did summer,
a smile was on every tanned face.
I broke my head—not because of pressure—but the stairs,
it felt like a music video in the best way.
July July, the time just flew,
it was a breath of fresh air from the dusty desk and screen.
So many days of badminton were played,
but nothing beat an ice-cream.
August came and so did the heat,
a couple crime shows were finished in those days.
Found myself writing more and more,
it was my own little tunnel for escape.
September refused to let go of the sun,
even after the equinox passed.
Now it was a little boring shooing flies into the garden,
and the sweat was enough for a permanent memory to last.
Lady October arrived in her festive grandeur,
days were spent decorating our home,
There were these important 9 days and another day of the lights,
to be celebrated to find the light within ourselves, alone.
November was a little elegant beauty,
she chose her days to give and take the rains.
So much of cake gone in seconds, or was it weeks?
well, it was enough to numb that little pain.
December drizzles began daily,
finally got around to “winter time”.
Poetry poured from within,
I was proud that it was mine.
Pandemic days turned to weeks,
weeks into months, and these 12 months made the whole year.
I tried kindness and dodged many fights,
for holding up any walls,
wasn’t protective, t’was just fear.
If anything, that this time taught me,
was to be kind and to others and find little things to make you happy.
Because this year was a wild ride on everything and everyone,
I hope that when you read this, you are safe and sound.
With that, I wish to write this year away,
even if it does have a few more days.
And as you wish at 11:59,
I wish your wish comes true along with mine.

 

Vaijayanthi, Chennai, India

 

A Carousel of Snacks

 

Small people don’t pause to contemplate how time slows down.
They just frown,
Asking; “where are the snacks?”
No bags to be packed,
No P. E KITS, just Wicks and his 123 days of burpees,
Lurched me into a circuit of 1 hour walks and foraging talks in an attempt to wing home-learning,
Whilst burning the candle at both ends, via zoom,
Avoiding the doom of stats and Piers Morgan’s rants at bemused and dishevelled MP’s.

But the small faces attempt some maths and colour graphs to show the effects of climate change,
Which seemed to be the big question before March,
When the train halted, and we waited to re-start……

Friends wanted virtual quizzes and garden chats in sixes,
Where bubbles mix,
And everyone just needed a hug.
Chug, chug, chug went the family train,
No grandparents to cuddle,
But plenty of puddles to jump in as we tried to liberate our screen filled brains to hear the birds,
See the sky,
Feel the still.

And amidst all this,
Pandemic – abyss,
We see those small faces change,
Eyes wide open and unphased,
Despite the endless days of hand washing and masked shopping,
They light up each day.
For them, it’s been a strange sort of holiday,
Without the flights,
Or foreign sights of the big wide world,
But content,
With the world from their window,
Drawn in crayon,
Dated with their name on,
July 2020.

Happy they’ve been hauled up indoors,
Given rapturous applause to their 467th play of the day as they say;
“Mum!”
“Dad!”
“Have we anymore snacks?”

 

Tori, Hertfordshire, United Kingdom

 

 

There’s An Issue I’d Like To Discuss With The Mastermind

 

I’m having complicated feelings about the recent events.

I complain about how lonely I am
Although I hate the idea of going out
Meeting anyone
Interested in me
Invested in me
Cared for me
I despise the circumstances
I feel caged up
Between these four walls with no windows
Suffocating inside and out
I’m venomous
Because I poison myself while I’m still breathing
I can’t focus on anything
Because there’s nothing worth my attention
I’m in constant battle
With my own mind and subconscious
I was on the verge of giving up.

What if I started journaling?
I never thought that writing about my feelings
Or ideas
Would liberate me from my never-ending suffering
Doomed future haunted by the questionable actions
And vicious cycle of 1001 versions of the mistake I made
Every single time someone with a shady past approached me
I welcome them in my life
Instead of running away faster than the speed light.

I’ve been watching queer drama series and foreign films
I would relate to the instances as an outsider
Who feels like the odd piece in the society they live in
I always wonder why the puzzle piece was chosen
As a symbol for people with autism
Why people felt awkward about being called autistic
When in reality it feels more isolating and discriminating
To be called a person with special needs.
They say that I have hero complex
That peculiarity is my superpower
They say that autism is just a label
They say that I should act like my age
They say that I shouldn’t worry too much
That perfection is overrated
They say I overthink everything

They say it’s time for me to grow up
Get over the things that hold me down.

They said that I was the one lagging behind
That I should have known better
They said I wasn’t good enough
Brave enough
They said I lacked the social skills
The connection
The intimacy
They said I was never going to be a part of their world
Those people were my coaches
My classmates
My friends
My teachers
My co-workers
My lovers
My partners
People I considered my family

I’m not hurt
I don’t know where those people are,
I really don’t care what they are up to

All I know is that I’m stronger
I’m wiser
And I’m ready to head butt this year to the curb

 

Deniz, Istanbul, Turkey

 

 

A Message From Mum

 

Dear Yuri,

I was frightened of 2020 not because of the pandemic but because I was going to lose someone very important to me; my mum. She was dying and had been given end of life care, she had dementia and heart failure. To watch someone you love deteriorate and suffer was unbearable, but I wanted to care for her, so I had to acknowledge them. To say it was difficult was an understatement, but the most difficult thing I had to learn was to accept help. It has always been hard for me to ask for it, I think I never needed it and I would just carry on, but the truth was I needed it. My family were the first to help me understand I couldn’t do it alone and that they too wanted to look after mum, then came the nurses and carers bringing medical assistance. In June this year mum peacefully passed away, at home and with all of us with her. I will take with me from 2020 compassion, and to care for everyone I love, for strangers yet to be friends and for myself. I thank everyone for their kindness and understanding but most of all mum, she taught me through that difficult time we all needed support, that there are caring, kind people who will share your journey, who will pick you up and take the strain. Fear creates anger and anger causes pain, but caring shows love and love brings hope. As we welcome 2021, I hope it will be a year to listen to each other, to not to be afraid to ask and to show each other that we care, if we do this then I think we can all begin to heal.

 

Sue, Barrow-in-Furness, United Kingdom

 

 

Festivals of Light

 

They took down the lanterns for the Mid-Autumn Festival to make way for the fairy lights. On the street outside my window, they flicker promises of light in darkness. In this bleak midwinter, we are in 30-degree heat and 6, 750 miles from home, which we visited this year only via video-call. I turn away from the window. No longer beside a fireplace, the tree is rooted on the balcony where it glows against the night. Diwali diyas are still out on the shelf, ready to be relit soon. Someone has put glitter and baubles on the potted palm by the television. In the kitchen, I box my Jamie-Oliver-make-ahead-gravy and put it in the freezer. It sits next to pre-sliced oranges for mulled wine. It’s Mary Berry’s stuffing tomorrow, according to the list on the fridge. Winter warmers in 85% humidity.

At the winter solstice, the ancient Celts danced in the glow of burning yule logs and offered mistletoe as an evergreen blessing. Viking children would dry their frosty boots, fill them with straw and leave them by the fireside for Odin and his horse as they thundered across the longest night of the year. We burned torches and wassailed to stave off the darkness.

I turn off the lights and unplug the tree, picking up Lockdown Lounge Workouts to stow in the present cupboard. Was it a good idea for a gift? Would it energise festive isolation or extinguish hope for the new year? On the balcony, I take in the balmy air under a starless city sky. This month, we shall eat, drink and be merry before our sparkling tree. At the solstice, I shall lean out into the night to leave a mooncake on the windowsill for Old Man Winter in case he travels this far.

 

Kate, Singapore

 

Lost and Found

 

Outside of my window, steam rising diffuses into the morning air, like spirits still dancing after an all-night party.
The sunset dazzled and blazed, left a fire burning somewhere between the rooftops and heaven
I spent some time thinking about whether that place was land or sky.
Everything is blurred now.
Like when you stood with your back against the tree, and I couldn’t tell where your arms met the trunk and wondered if that’s how it should have been all along.
Or when I saw a white cloud reflected in your eye, like the cloud left by breath on a window or the bubble hovering on the glass of a shaken snow globe, showering flecks of life onto our cathedral minds.

I am perhaps like many, lost. But that happened when we decided to define ourselves by what we do not how we feel.

Sometimes I wish I was just the sum of all my parts, functional geometric shapes. Science and flesh. No thoughts. But even shapes have their identity crisis: The isosceles star, abacus, pendulum are not without their expectations to deliver, to adapt and remain constant.

Nothing in existence is without reason.

Look how we take a tree from the ground, dress it in twinkling lights and miniature, coloured globes and place wrapped up gifts of mystery at its feet. Gaze at it with awe and comfort, often without realising it represents our place in the universe and our values.

If we were so lost, we wouldn’t turn lights on at night, fill our bellies full of food and listen to the same song twice.

Our past definitions of ourselves and our lives may have been blurred but those moments of joy and connection are sharp. The Dalai Lama said the meaning of life is to be happy and useful. It might not be that simple right now, but it will be. And while we wait for one of those carriages to arrive at the platform and carry us away,

Find things to enjoy and admire,
like tinsel under tree light,
and let those things define us.

Alice, London, United Kingdom

 

Underneath The Sunbeams

 

These four walls.

“These four walls are killing me, ” I used think. I believed that these four walls wanted me to disappear. These four walls whispered to me, “you are not welcome here, ” and then shouted “Stay!” when I would try to leave. I would stay and then hear “there is no home in this place that numbs you.” These four walls told me that my art didn’t matter. These four walls told me that the writing on the walls were true. Unworthy. Faggot. Not enough. Depressed. Liar.

When 2020 revealed that I’d be within these four walls, guaranteed, I took down the dark blue curtains that shut me out from sunlight and seeing the moon.

These four walls and a window.

The morning following, my body took me out of bed at 7:30am est. I got to see the sunlight illuminate my bedroom. On these four walls, I saw something that I’ve never seen before. Underneath the sunbeams were the usual words, and underneath them all (much smaller) were names and dates I’ve never seen. I saw my name. I saw yours.

I saw people and memories that taught me not to believe in myself.

Subconsciously, when I took the curtain down, I’ve decided not to hide anymore. I still turn out the light and light a candle when I dance in my bedroom to Break Up Song by Little Mix so the neighbours don’t see, but I have been braver than ever. I have been brave enough to meet myself in the darkest corners of this bedroom. Little by little, I am carrying these meetings with my true self outside.

In the year 2020, in the middle of a global pandemic, I came face-to-face with myself, what’s underneath the sunbeams, and the corners.

Darrell, New York, USA

Thawing

 

2020 was the year that the world stopped moving. I watched people empty from the vibrant cobbled pavements, retreating into their sterilised havens with their mountains of toilet paper to barricade against the ‘invisible enemy’. A mythological entity that nourishes on what it intrinsically means to be human feels like a transformation of our social virtues from a dystopian fiction – our friends, our family, they are now our greatest threats rather than our comforts.

Isolated and desperately touch starved, I longed for the past. I craved and yearned as time dripped through a leaking faucet for the laughter of my friends, for a hug from my boyfriend; for anyone at all. The only company I had was my own psyche, a depraved tyrant that ruled unanimously over my body. I decided to plot a coup, to rid her and her vitriolic words of self-hatred that had pulsed through me for years. I decided to learn my skin, my body and my insecurities. Now while I breathe tightly and prod and poke at my new shell like a rehoused snail, I realise that while I can never unbecome my own mind, I can unlearn her exacting eye.

I learnt to appreciate my body for its persistence, no matter what I put it through it has one unrelenting goal: survival. She is complex and mystifying, a walking biological enigma that scientists and philosophers have been trying to decode for centuries. I take for granted the many intricate processes that allow me to conduct the simplest aspects of living, and those that I am passionate about. One day, my skin will sag and my face will be painted in the lines of the life I had lead, and I will wish I could live in the shell I have now. I am thawing.

Jasmine, Bristol, United Kingdom

An Ode to Chaos

 

Dear Yuri,

It is 8 December 2020 and I am writing this letter to you on an old studio terrace overlooking Islington’s last Victorian Square. 

It is day ‘something-something’ of lockdown and beyond a Maastricht Blue sky lies a riot of limbs, crosshatched in plaid. The moon – completing its fail-safe cycle – mocks our extraneous worries below, as we bemoan another ‘unprecedented this’ and ‘unprecedented that’; the vocabulary of disaster abloom in our hashtags and reposts.

The human world hurtles towards its ultimate destination, stoned on its appetite for destruction, and meanwhile, in the far corners of the universe, the supreme being gestates new life to replace us when we’re gone.

The suddenness of our disposability hits me hard, but I keep scrolling to pass the time, leaving behind a trail of likes and comments like a flower girl on her digital nave.

Sash windows and chamfered panels cast their unhallowed lights onto the square outside, as middle-class families venerate their Coca-Cola Christmases over prayer-mats of privilege.

Under the awning of Georgian street lamps lies a tribe of lonely teenagers puffing out fragile Ensō circles, one revolution after another: a mutiny of smoke disrupting the night.

We swallow Christ’s birthday like a measure of Xanax, but what’s there to take when it’s done?

As I look up to the night sky, I can’t help but wonder about chaos: the original, unadulterated, pulse of the universe. We build our walls, draw our lines and establish our boundaries, and yet even inside this great, bureaucratic fortress, the chaos seeps in.

I open the window and flirt with the cold air, reminding myself of mortality.

The earth continues on its waltzer-fast axis, casting its Catherine-wheel glow in the darkness, and as it continues to gyrate, I let myself go: atoned with chaos.

James, London, United Kingdom

 

Life As I Know It

 

This year has been really challenging for each of us. It took a lot from us, however it definitely gave us something in return. The world from my window has certainly changed during 2020. It has become smaller and more isolated, consequently it has become too fragile. Fragility might be a suitable description for this world. The pandemic has shown how vulnerable human beings are. It has tremendously shifted our view of life. Life used to be busier, however it all shut down in a sudden.

Quietness took over and emptiness was the master of all. Empty squares and empty streets were the most noticeable transformation. At the time emptiness dominated outdoors, chaos took over inside. People became very occupied with their own thoughts. Being at home all the time paved the way for the inner mess to show up. Struggles took place everywhere, whether it was inner self or between two partners or members of the same family. The stillness arose the tranquil volcano, it made people aware of their own problems. Several people figured out that they cannot stand to be locked down with their partners in the same place.

Observing all of this got me to realise how grateful I am for having a family that loves and cares about me. I have learnt the importance of keeping this family union solid and safe. On the other hand, it depicted the bless of having a shelter to spend the rough days in. This situation gave me the chance to be thankful for all I have and even more for what I do not have as well. Although the memory of 2020 could be helpful, we should learn to move on and hope for a better future. So, I hope 2021 would carry goodness to all people on Earth.

Jihan, Aleppo, Syria

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