The Colour of Courage

(Winner, The Melbourne Lord Mayor’s Creative Writing Awards for Under 18s, 2014, age 12)

The man walked briskly down the street, his pale grey eyes on the pavement disappearing under his feet. The smart click clack of his shoes was the only sound he heard above the morning clamour. His mind was carefully blank, free of thoughts – he was just another part of the colourless blur that was the city.

The office block peeped out between its two sisters – full of glass windows and steel-grey square stones. Despite the vigilance with which he kept his mind empty, a flicker of despair welled up within him as he gazed up at the towering building.

Or prison, he caught himself thinking.

It took all his willpower to continue walking the neatly paved streets, struggling to squash his traitorous thoughts with the reminder:

“There is no better job for me. This is all I have.”

He paused before the glass doors.

Steeling himself with a breath, he took another step forward.

A single piece of paper fluttered to the ground.

There was nothing out of the ordinary about the paper. It was dog-eared, and a little damp. Nonetheless, the man picked it up, intending to throw it in the nearest bin. Instead, his fingers found indentations on the other side, and he turned the paper over. Spelled out in red ink was a single word:

Courage

The man stared. Then he folded the paper, slipped it into the pocket of his charcoal grey suit and entered the building.

The silver lift glided smoothly, and a dozen silent people shuffled out, briefcases dangling, the man among them. He commenced the daily fight through the sea of people who clogged the thirteenth floor. Between pockets of space, he could see the cubicles of other workers, sitting beneath harsh lighting with no smile nor frown upon their faces.

But the man’s target was a glass-fronted office at the back of the room. He waited at the doorway and stood facing the man behind the desk.

“Yes?” his boss said, a mop of flannel grey hair inching across his face, head bowed in constant writing. His voice spoke of impatience and boredom, with an edge of anger and irritation.

The man didn’t waste time with small talk. He spoke a simple two words:

“I quit.”

He was out the door before his boss could do anything more than raise his head and stare blankly at the retreating figure.

In his own office, the man packed what little possessions he had. He gazed out of the window that framed nothing more than another grey building, and let his thoughts wander.

His future was empty – but not a bleak empty. He had a whole life ahead of him, and for now, there were no plans. It was not a bad thing – he was simply ready to start anew.

His gaze flitted across the dreary buildings, as if searching for something. And, across the street and away a little further, his eyes picked out a park. It was almost indistinguishable from the buildings, the trees dead and bare in the middle of winter, the swings hanging sadly. His eyes would have roamed over it – if not for the stubborn, green shoots struggling up through the stony ground.

The sight affected the man in some deep, indescribable way. He felt like those tiny promises were like him. They made him feel strong. They gave him a new feeling – one that lifted his heart and let sun into his life.

The man’s eyes fell on a pad of paper lying ready on his desk. After a moment’s hesitation, he picked up a pencil and wrote a single word upon it, a word that named this new feeling. He tore the sheet off, opened the window, leaned out and offered it to the sky. Gently, the wind carried it from his hand.

He picked up his briefcase, switched the light off, and left the room.

The paper tumbled through the cold air, twisting around a sharp-cornered building, into another symmetrical street. It spiralled through the bare branches of ash-grey trees and twirled past glossy windows. It was thrown at the ground and wrenched to the sky, until, with a final wild gust, it settled upon the ground.

From the dark of a tiny alley, a grubby homeless girl crept forward. Fingers shaking, she picked up the paper and sounded out the four letters, scribbled in grey lead.

And she looked up at the sky and smiled.

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