My Short Stories

The Violin Man

By Nora Vasconcelos

That winter morning the sunny sky gave everybody in the city the illusion that it’d be a warm day. But it was nothing more than that, just an illusion. The chilly wind that came from everywhere managed to cool people’s bones until the point it was unbearable to walk on the streets for more than just a few minutes.

“If only it snowed,” I said aloud, not worrying about the crowd that walked by my side in a hurry, after the train services had been cancelled due to technical problems.

Once again, the metro had failed. That had left me with 20 minutes to get to my office on Madero street. It should be enough time to walk from Hidalgo station to the Palace of Fine Arts station, crossing all the way from Reforma Avenue to the Eje Central Avenue, through the Alameda park.

It was the beginning of February, Saint Valentine’s day was close and the central park of Mexico city looked very colorful. Heart-shaped balloon vendors approached every one, the same as those who were trying to convince couples to buy rose bouquets, to celebrate the special day.

It would have been nice and charming if only I’d had time to buy that cup of coffee that was offered to me when I left the subway station, then I could have walked, warm and relaxed, across the park.

With that option out of reach now, I crossed my arms, pressing them against my coat, and continued walking, a bit faster this time.

It was then that I saw him, seated on a bench, holding a violin case that looked as frayed as his clothes. The man was asleep. Or at least, it seemed so. Nor the noise of the cars passing by Juarez Avenue, nor the constant murmur of people walking hastily around him, nothing seemed to disturb him.

“Was he dead?” I suddenly wondered.

The question came along with some anguish. I observed him for a few seconds. Then I saw him breathing. He looked quiet, serene, as if his sleep were a comfortable one.

Then, I realized that he was trembling. His body was responding to the intense cold weather.

If I had bought that coffee, I’d have given it to him.

For a few moments I didn’t know what to do. I still had five more minutes to get to my office. “Should I call someone? A police officer, may be? Should I wake him up? May be he was waiting for someone else to come…”

On the spur of the moment, I took my coat off and put it on him, gently, covering him from his shoulders up to his knees, with his violin covered as well, with the wooden fabric.

A chilly wind came around. It was time for me to go. Rubbing my hands, I felt relief when I saw my office building a few steps from where I was.

As soon as I entered the office, the warmth coming from the heater and the smell of fresh coffee made me feel well again.

A minute later, the incident in the park became a memory, at least for the hours I spent there, processing, one after the other, the insurance forms that had accumulated on my desk the previous day.

At five o’clock, it was time for me to go back home. My feet pointed toward the subway station. It should be open by then. However, a chilly wind that made me shiver for a few seconds reminded me that I had given my coat away to the violin man. Curiosity arouse, and I went back to the park. “Would he still be there?”

It wasn’t that I wanted my coat back. No way! I had given it to him and I was happy with that. In fact, I was intrigued by this man.

Five minutes later, I arrived to the place where I had seen him that morning. But he wasn’t there. I turned around, unable to locate him anywhere.

I sat on the bench for a few seconds to decide what to do, I could either return to the Palace of Fine Arts station, or walk all the way across the Alameda up to Hidalgo station. Perhaps I could find him somewhere in the park.

The cold weather made me opt for the shortest path.

When I was about to leave, I turned my face back as some pigeons started to fly very close to me. The violin man was there! I had found him!

About three meters away I could see him, standing with one end of his violin held by his left hand, allowing the rest of the instrument rest on his left shoulder, while his right arm rose and fell with a certain pace.

Certain pride came onto my smile when, in the distance, I recognized my coat on him, while he played his violin.

As I approached the man, I had to get through many people who were there, observing him. But for some reason, as I got closer, I wasn’t able to hear any music coming from his violin. Had he ceased to play?

Seconds later, I saw his face clearly for the first time. His skin, dry and wrinkled, concealed his youth, he should be no more than 35 years old. His frayed suit and his off-white shirt looked old, and his violin, which he played so passionately, was missing all its strings!

While I was trying to understand what had happened to him. The violinist ended his act.

People applauded. He took a bow and placed his violin back into its case and started to walk.

I thought I should follow him, but the weather told me that it was time to continue my journey. The evening sky had turned grey and cloudy.

Five minutes later I was inside the metro station.

If I had not walked to the Alameda to see the violin man, I would have avoided the rush hour. But by then, it was difficult to move among so many people, and even more difficult to enter the subway cars.

However, the warmth of the crowd felt good, and in a short time the heat had returned to my body.

As the train advanced slowly, dozens of people inside push everybody, over and over again, trying to get, at least, a little empty space to move and breathe freely.

Of course I was uncomfortable, but my mind kept bringing back all the memories of that man, playing his violin with no strings, and how he, with an instrument that produced no sound, managed to convey a sweet melody that everybody around could listen, not with their ears, but with their hearts.

“To whom he was playing with such deep sentiment? What had happen to him that he ended up like this, abandoned in the streets, wearing a suit and playing a violin without strings?”

All these questions hunted me not only on my way home, but all the night as well.

The next morning, the metro service didn’t report any problems, so I arrive at the office fifteen minutes before my check in time.

While I was having my coffee, I told my colleagues the story of the violin man. Touched by it, we all thought that we could put some money together to buy this man some new strings. For sure, somewhere around the city center we would be able to find them.

A quick search on the internet showed us a place to go, and we bought them during lunch time.

The time seemed to pass slower than usual, until the office hours were over.

As soon as it was five o’clock, I left the building and went straight to the place where I had found the violinist the previous day.

I sighed with relief when I saw him there, in the exact same place, playing the same tune with no music that he had played the previous day for a different audience.

This time I was warm and happy, wearing an old fashion coat I had kept in my wardrobe, for any use I could find for it. It looked a bit overworn, but it was warm all the same.

When the performance ended, and the people around left, I approached the man. To my surprise, he spoke to me first:

“Thank you for your coat,” he said.

Speechless, I gave him the violin strings. “My co-workers and I thought you’d like to have them.”

With the present in his hands, the man sighed deeply.

He remained silent for some moments. Then he set his brown eyes on the fountain that was a few meters away from there, right in front of the bench in which I had seen him for the first time.

A minute later, he said to me:

Licencia Creative Commons

– – – – – –

Who is taking the books?

By Nora Vasconcelos

That winter morning the sunny sky gave everybody in the city the illusion that it’d be a warm day. But it was nothing more than that, just an illusion. The chilly wind that came from everywhere managed to cool people’s bones until the point it was unbearable to walk on the streets for more than just a few minutes.

“If only it snowed,” I said aloud, not worrying about the crowd that walked by my side in a hurry, after the train services had been cancelled due to technical problems.

Once again, the metro had failed. That had left me with 20 minutes to get to my office on Madero street. It should be enough time to walk from Hidalgo station to the Palace of Fine Arts station, crossing all the way from Reforma Avenue to the Eje Central Avenue, through the Alameda park.

It was the beginning of February, Saint Valentine’s day was close and the central park of Mexico city looked very colorful. Heart-shaped balloon vendors approached every one, the same as those who were trying to convince couples to buy rose bouquets, to celebrate the special day.

It would have been nice and charming if only I’d had time to buy that cup of coffee that was offered to me when I left the subway station, then I could have walked, warm and relaxed, across the park.

With that option out of reach now, I crossed my arms, pressing them against my coat, and continued walking, a bit faster this time.

It was then that I saw him, seated on a bench, holding a violin case that looked as frayed as his clothes. The man was asleep. Or at least, it seemed so. Nor the noise of the cars passing by Juarez Avenue, nor the constant murmur of people walking hastily around him, nothing seemed to disturb him.

“Was he dead?” I suddenly wondered.

The question came along with some anguish. I observed him for a few seconds. Then I saw him breathing. He looked quiet, serene, as if his sleep were a comfortable one.

Then, I realized that he was trembling. His body was responding to the intense cold weather.

If I had bought that coffee, I’d have given it to him.

For a few moments I didn’t know what to do. I still had five more minutes to get to my office. “Should I call someone? A police officer, may be? Should I wake him up? May be he was waiting for someone else to come…”

On the spur of the moment, I took my coat off and put it on him, gently, covering him from his shoulders up to his knees, with his violin covered as well, with the wooden fabric.

A chilly wind came around. It was time for me to go. Rubbing my hands, I felt relief when I saw my office building a few steps from where I was.

As soon as I entered the office, the warmth coming from the heater and the smell of fresh coffee made me feel well again.

A minute later, the incident in the park became a memory, at least for the hours I spent there, processing, one after the other, the insurance forms that had accumulated on my desk the previous day.

At five o’clock, it was time for me to go back home. My feet pointed toward the subway station. It should be open by then. However, a chilly wind that made me shiver for a few seconds reminded me that I had given my coat away to the violin man. Curiosity arouse, and I went back to the park. “Would he still be there?”

It wasn’t that I wanted my coat back. No way! I had given it to him and I was happy with that. In fact, I was intrigued by this man.

Five minutes later, I arrived to the place where I had seen him that morning. But he wasn’t there. I turned around, unable to locate him anywhere.

I sat on the bench for a few seconds to decide what to do, I could either return to the Palace of Fine Arts station, or walk all the way across the Alameda up to Hidalgo station. Perhaps I could find him somewhere in the park.

The cold weather made me opt for the shortest path.

When I was about to leave, I turned my face back as some pigeons started to fly very close to me. The violin man was there! I had found him!

About three meters away I could see him, standing with one end of his violin held by his left hand, allowing the rest of the instrument rest on his left shoulder, while his right arm rose and fell with a certain pace.

Certain pride came onto my smile when, in the distance, I recognized my coat on him, while he played his violin.

As I approached the man, I had to get through many people who were there, observing him. But for some reason, as I got closer, I wasn’t able to hear any music coming from his violin. Had he ceased to play?

Seconds later, I saw his face clearly for the first time. His skin, dry and wrinkled, concealed his youth, he should be no more than 35 years old. His frayed suit and his off-white shirt looked old, and his violin, which he played so passionately, was missing all its strings!

While I was trying to understand what had happened to him. The violinist ended his act.

People applauded. He took a bow and placed his violin back into its case and started to walk.

I thought I should follow him, but the weather told me that it was time to continue my journey. The evening sky had turned grey and cloudy.

Five minutes later I was inside the metro station.

If I had not walked to the Alameda to see the violin man, I would have avoided the rush hour. But by then, it was difficult to move among so many people, and even more difficult to enter the subway cars.

However, the warmth of the crowd felt good, and in a short time the heat had returned to my body.

As the train advanced slowly, dozens of people inside push everybody, over and over again, trying to get, at least, a little empty space to move and breathe freely.

Of course I was uncomfortable, but my mind kept bringing back all the memories of that man, playing his violin with no strings, and how he, with an instrument that produced no sound, managed to convey a sweet melody that everybody around could listen, not with their ears, but with their hearts.

“To whom he was playing with such deep sentiment? What had happen to him that he ended up like this, abandoned in the streets, wearing a suit and playing a violin without strings?”

All these questions hunted me not only on my way home, but all the night as well.

The next morning, the metro service didn’t report any problems, so I arrive at the office fifteen minutes before my check in time.

While I was having my coffee, I told my colleagues the story of the violin man. Touched by it, we all thought that we could put some money together to buy this man some new strings. For sure, somewhere around the city center we would be able to find them.

A quick search on the internet showed us a place to go, and we bought them during lunch time.

The time seemed to pass slower than usual, until the office hours were over.

As soon as it was five o’clock, I left the building and went straight to the place where I had found the violinist the previous day.

I sighed with relief when I saw him there, in the exact same place, playing the same tune with no music that he had played the previous day for a different audience.

This time I was warm and happy, wearing an old fashion coat I had kept in my wardrobe, for any use I could find for it. It looked a bit overworn, but it was warm all the same.

When the performance ended, and the people around left, I approached the man. To my surprise, he spoke to me first:

“Thank you for your coat,” he said.

Speechless, I gave him the violin strings. “My co-workers and I thought you’d like to have them.”

With the present in his hands, the man sighed deeply.

He remained silent for some moments. Then he set his brown eyes on the fountain that was a few meters away from there, right in front of the bench in which I had seen him for the first time.

A minute later, he said to me:

Licencia Creative Commons

– – – – – – –

Rats invations

By Nora Vasconcelos

The ones who were lucky, skipped town. But they were the less. The rest of the people were still stuck in the city, ruled by the giant rats.

On April 13th, two days after the rats showed everyone what they were capable of, the local authorities made a deal with them. They would have everything they wanted: food, wealth, property and the management of the Port, which would give them the total control of the economy of the city. All of it in exchange for them to stop threatening the people of Lagos.

The conquest had succeeded before their deadline, which had been set for January 1st, 2016.

For about a month, there were no major incidents. People started to heal and the rats focused on taking over the strategic places and positions in the city.

Jeher, the leader of all the giant rats settled in a huge mansion facing the lagoon. Every day, with his enormous teeth he bit the fresh meals that were brought by ten servants, all of them people who weren’t allowed to look at him, so they had to walk with their heads down.

The rat enjoyed insulting them, showing up his power, feeling always sure that now that his kind had controlled the city, no human would ever be able to remove them from their comfortable life.

Holding his food with one hand, Jeher liked to play, holding his big tail with his other hand. This seemed to scare his servants more than any other gesture, apart from showing them his big teeth.

He liked power, power that he had got not because he was the most intelligent or hardworking one, but because he had bullied everyone all his life, even when he was a regular tiny rat running across the sewer lines across the city.

Not only humans feared him, but also the other rats. Since he had become this colossal rat that found the way to grow thousands of times his normal size, everybody around had lost part of their bodies due to the attacks made by this rat that found pleasure hurting other beings, just for the sake of it.

His second in command, Leax, had bought all her way to power, paying Jeher so he wouldn’t hurt her, on the contrary he would take her all the way up. Together they bullied everyone, and if someone dared to complain they would get rid of them, either sending them to faraway dirty manholes, where food was scarce and weather conditions would punish them badly, or making them work unspeakable tasks. Rats feared them the same as the humans did.

By August 15th, all the cargo shipments that arrived to the port were controlled by the rats. All the incoming merchandise was processed and storaged, so they kept the most valuable goods and the most exquisite food. The left overs were sold to the people in the city who had to line up for long hours before getting a putrid piece of meat and some moldy bread.

For the rest of the world, the horror that caused the story covered by the international media had passed. What became breaking news and took over the TV shows at some point, turned into an old story filed in the archive. Rats ruling a city was just another tragedy the world had got used to.

At least it seemed so to the people of Lagos who had lost all hope. They had seen all the international media leave months ago and no one else had come ever since. All the promises of help from foreign powers and friendly nations had remained as good-will acts, sometimes only performed to get a bigger space on the news.

And the rats felt happy about that.

What nobody knew was that somewhere faraway, a young man in Mexico had been working really hard to find a solution, or at least some sort of relief.

Concerned for the faith of the people of Lagos and horrified by the power that the rats had gained so easily, he spent all his spare time working in his little apartment on a series of experiments that could diminish the strength of the rodents.

Pedro was aware that poison hadn’t worked, so he designed different plans. Some of them sounded simple, some impossible, but he didn’t discard any idea. At least in the planning stage.

As the days passed by, more walls in his house were covered with notebook pages full of diagrams, equations, drawings and paragraphs. Paper cups with left overs of dry coffee were all around the place, and maps of Nigeria could be seen over the tables around the apartment with small notes and arrows drawn in different colours.

But desperation caught up with him. None of his ideas would solve the problem. After all these months, Pedro was finally giving up. Exhaustion caught up with him, and he fell asleep right where he was, covered by a pile of dirty clothes and newspapers.

Suddenly, something unexpected happened, the solution came to him in his sleep, as clear as if he were awake. But, could it be done? He wondered, still half asleep.

Afraid he would lose this idea, Pedro forced himself to wake up. It was time to implement his plan.

Jotting down all his thoughts along with formulas and lists of items that he would need, Pedro showed then no signs of fatigue. He had to act fast, before the rats could cause more damage.

One week later, Pedro was in Lagos. A backpack hanging on his left shoulder, a metal briefcase in his right hand.

As soon as he settled down at an abandoned hangar, he set all his equipment, but he still had some doubts. Was this a real solution? He questioned himself, over and over.

That same day, Jeher was particularly bored. Since the rats had domesticated the humans, so they would do all the work for them, the fun had severely diminished. May be it was time to move ahead with their plans to conquer other cities. After all, it had been quite easy, and his richness and power would be then infinite. He didn’t have to conquer the entire world, just some critical places. Then, he’d ruled everyone on this planet!

But all this thinking had made him hungry, so he ordered some snacks from his special reserve. A few minutes later, a human servant brought a backpack full of little kittens.

It had been brought by some Mexican guy who dared to come to the city, taking advantage of the almost non-existing fares charged by the few airlines that had kept flying to Lagos.

The present –the young man had said– was in exchange for the rats to let him do some scientific work in one of the abandoned areas of the airport, because his experiments were so unusual that he had already been rejected in other countries. As Jeher had no interest in science, he allowed Pedro to do whatever he wished.

Relaxing in the garden, the rat picked up one of the little kittens with his big claws, and as he was taking it to his mouth, something happened…

In a matter of seconds the little kitten changed its size, and it kept increasing it until it became impossible for Jeher to hold it anymore. The kitten, bigger than an elephant, landed all its weight over the rat …The last thing the evil rodent saw was the huge interior of the cat’s pink mouth.

Minutes later, the rest of the kittens started to pop up, growing as big as the first one, then they began to chase the rats all around the city. It took them no more than two hours to end the rats empire.

The few ones that weren’t eaten by the felines, Leax among them, ran away toward the bay, so scare of the cats that they forgot that the waters of the lagoon had been polluted with their own garbage. They died even before they drowned.

The humans couldn’t believe it! This horrifying episode had ended, but they were so traumatised by the whole experience that they weren’t sure how they would go on with their lives. May be they didn’t have the strength anymore, but they thanked Pedro anyway.

How did you do it? An old man managed to ask.

I found the way to alter the genes of these cats, so they would become huge just with the tiniest contact with the giant rats, then I left the rest to their natural instincts. Pedro answered, happy because his idea had work.

But, what are we going to do with the big cats now? The same old man asked.

That, my good friend, is something I still have to figure out… Pedro said, looking at the horizon were the enormous felines were taking a nap, after their big feast.

Licencia Creative Commons

– – –  – – – –

An Unexpected Journey

By Nora Vasconcelos

It was six months since Tom, Sam and Charlie had designed a plan that would take them to fly over the main archaeological zones that were well preserved in the Yucatan Peninsula.

The idea had started as a school project when their literature teacher asked them to write an essay describing the most fantastic journey they could ever imagine.

Working in small groups, some of the boys and girls wrote stories about traveling to India, others described detailed trips to South America, and there were some groups that even imagined time travels to the past or the future as well as space journeys to faraway galaxies.

For the three friends their ideal trip was one that would take them to see part of their own country from above. Spending time flying in a balloon seemed to them a much exciting idea than just taking a plane.

Their essay was cheered up by their teachers and classmates, and it was then when a what if? came to their minds, after all How difficult could it be? …Apart from learning how to fly a balloon, borrowing one, getting all the provisions and designing a viable route…

With some help from their schoolmates and the support of their parents, Tom, Sam and Charlie found the way to transform their wish into a plan. Friends and family helped them make some ‘noise’ on Social Media and not so long after the project had started a balloon company that offered touristic services throughout Mexico said that they would sponsor them. The trip was scheduled for the school break, that would give them some time to prepare everything.

Learning how to control the balloon was the most difficult part. None of them had ever been in one before and as thrilled as they were, they had to admit that the very first time when the guide handed them the control, they felt butterflies in their stomachs. But they trained hard, weekend after weekend until every one of them got the gist of it.

Today, this plan was about to become a reality. The official launching day, set for July 15, started at 5:00am when they all gathered at a private runway that was small for commercial planes but big enough for small jets and of course, aerostats.

The travellers, who had arrived to the hangars at 4am, spent the minutes before their departure placing all the supplies inside the huge basket. Packages containing food and water were side by side with all sort of gear, clothes and several small fuel tanks. A map and a sophisticated GPS equipment would accompany them in their hot air balloon trip as well.

The brilliant tones of the balloon shinned as the sunrays went through its fabric. Shadows coloured in red and yellow framed the figures of the three explorers who were concentrated in finalizing all the preparations before getting into the basket.

Teachers, classmates, reporters and even some local politicians gathered around little by little.

At 5:55am, they hugged goodbye their parents, siblings and friends, and smiled, one more time, for the press. Five minutes later, the big balloon, all filled with hot air, started to separate from the pavement, meter by meter until the distance between them and the world below made everything look very small.

A blue sky and a soft breeze coming from the sea delivered the promise of a gentle flight all the way from Campeche city to the archeological zone of Uxmal.

The three friends had decided to fly alone, and not because they wanted to prove anything, they sure would have appreciated having the company of a balloon expert, but taking into consideration the length of their trip, it was wiser to take advantage of the extra storage space to get more supplies and some additional safety equipment.

The winds favoured them once they reached the desirable altitude, then they headed for Uxmal, enjoying a view they had only imagined before. The intense green of the forest was only interrupted by some small villages built in the middle of nowhere. Everything looked so tiny from where they were!

Their cell phone had not signal at that point but they kept on taking photos that they would upload on their Social media accounts as soon as they were able to get some bars.

About and hour and a half later, their hearts skipped a beat when they saw not so far away the top of the Uxmal pyramid. All their dreams were finally coming true and even when they were seeing it with their own eyes, it was hard for them to believe it was true.

As the balloon moved along the area, they couldn’t decide if this ancient site was more impressive from the land or from the skies. What they were certain of was that the view was truly beautiful.

Taking as many pictures as they could, they barely spoke for some time after they had passed the historical zone. Their smiles were doing all the talking then.

Their first stop would be close to the town of Kabah, where they could rest for a while and after that they would try to start sharing their experiences with the rest of the world. A few hours later, they would fly all the way up to Chichen Itza, a little east from where they were now.

Descending into the meadow was easy, and there their sleeping bags allowed them to get some sleep as the excitement and tiredness of the day had started to catch up on them. Smiles again, where all over their faces.

At different times, Tom, Sam and Charlie worked on their digital updates taking advantage of the good signal that their phones were getting from the town close by. Although, they didn’t spend much time doing that as they wanted to be well rested for the next leg of their trip.

The following morning, the same as the previous day, the balloon went up to the air at 6am. The clouds blocking the sunshine gave them some sort of relief as the heat started to increase once they had reached the forest again.

Throughout the jungle some small pyramids could be seen, the same as small towns and villages. The wind, a bit stronger than the day before was helping them get a faster rhythm, which allowed them to arrive to Chichen Itza a little earlier than expected.

Once again, the view from the top was magnificent, the Mayan pyramid and the observatory offered a spectacular view. And it remained spectacular until they landed nearby for the second time. Their hearts seemed to grow out of the excitement. After that, if everything continued according to plan, the next day they would reach Tulum, in the Quitana Roo coast.

Would a bit of rain be a bad sign? Should they wait to continue their journey? They considered that this kind of situations were normal because the weather was supposed to change unexpectedly since it was hurricane season, so, once again, at 6am their colourful balloon headed up to the sky for which it’d be the longest flight of their trip.

As they were traveling south-east, almost an hour after they had departed, they got the bad feeling that the weather would get worst. Now they were sure that they should land, but everything below was a dense forest that would damage the structure of the balloon, so they had no choice but to continue. Lucky for them, the winds, quite strong now, were in their favor.

A little later, they felt relieved when they started to catch glances of the unique sky-blue sea that characterised the beaches that went all the way from Cancun to Tulum. They were getting really close now to their destination and they were very happy about it.

But the storm made the balloon take an unwanted turn! Now they weren’t heading for Tulum anymore, they were going to the opposite direction, away from the shore. Soon they saw from above a big island which should be Cozumel, not only because of its size but because some cruise ships were docked near its pristine beaches.

The balloon continue flying away from the shores and the clear waters became darker, then a sudden storm caused the balloon to deflate and in a matter of seconds, they faced a free fall all the way down to where uneasy waves seemed eager to take them into the deep ocean.

As the basket pulled them inside the high tide, their life jackets lifted them towards the sea surface. With their eyes filled with salt water, they still were able to see that they were far far away from the shore. What could they do?

“Look!” Tom managed to yell.

Then his two friends saw what he was pointing at…

Was it real or just a hallucination?

A cargo ship with a big green and white flag painted on one side and a Nigeria logo written with big lettering on the other side appeared on the horizon.

Would they be rescued before they drowned? They wondered.

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