‘It’s been a joy and a privilege to read all the entries to Altrincham Word Fest’s historical short story competition for schools during lockdown. At a time when many of us were barely able to concentrate, it’s so impressive that the students were able to research and put together such wonderful, sensitive stories; it was truly moving to read them during our own challenging moment in history. I congratulate each and every one of the young writers who entered.’ – Carolyn O’Brien, author of ‘The Song of Peterloo’ and our head judge for the competition.
Second Place Years 9-10 Category – Yvonne Gao
‘The Loss of What Could Have Been’ by Yvonne Gao
Not all boys will have the same level of intellect as their peers. It is only to be expected that there are clever boys and there are boys who do not pay attention at all. Alan Turing, however, was both. His teachers noticed his constant state of absent-mindedness and did not spare any efforts to remind the boy he was in a lesson. Alan’s lack of interest to his lessons and his general apathy towards humanities only sought to frustrate his teachers further when every essay he completed returned with alarmingly high marks. A “genius”, he was described as, by some teachers. A “swot”, he was dubbed by everyone else. Everyone except Christopher.
Alan Turing and Christopher Morcom had a mutual understanding between them. A common interest. While Turing’s mind remained unfocused and miles away during lessons, it was very much present during his conversations with Christopher. The two boys found acknowledgment within one another and a shared curiosity for all the things yet to be discovered. Time did not fly by as they sat underneath the twisted oak in the corner of the yard together, sinewy branches warping downwards to shelter them from the sun. Rather, it walked past, marvelling at the how complacent they looked, revelling in each other’s company. It was with this friendship that Alan found himself waltzing through his days at Sherborne School.
“It’s like this, you see?” Lifting his eyes to focus on the boy in front of him, Alan felt a smile spread across his face as he met Christopher’s puzzled expression. He had spent a whole morning showing Christopher his new theory. Despite the time spent on the subject, it didn’t seem like they had made much progress. “Wait, do tell me again Alan. I think I’m understanding.” Brows creased in concentration, the manner of Christopher’s speech held too much sincerity for Alan to deny him his request. “Alright, I will.”
Flushing up his entire body and through his limbs, a shiver settled in the pit of Alan’s stomach. Now, it seemed that he was awfully aware of his surroundings. Blades of grass mocked him, swaying in the chilly January draught and leaning into its neighbour as it did so. Such irony that a plant should have more courage than him. He was also aware how far Christopher had leaned over to study the notebook in his hands. Breath catching in his throat, Alan cut off his exhale of air for the fear it might reach Christopher’s ear and tell him of every notion that crossed Alan’s mind. It would be humiliating to have anyone spectate on his thoughts, like a punch in the gut. It would only worsen the blow if it was Christopher.
Over the course of their friendship, Alan had realised how much he relied on the boy beside him to deliver him from his solitude. Alan knew every quirk of Christopher’s and how his jaw twitched when he was irritated. In turn, Christopher could recognise the glint in Alan’s eyes when he pounced upon a theory in work and could map out each and every one of the moles on his left arm. Truly, it was a thing to be admired. Years of friendship had done these two boys well and they were constant companions through every summer and winter.
As they grew taller and broader, limbs tugging upwards and features changing, their ideas of the world, too, began to shape. Christopher was becoming as charming as ever: a handsomely sculpted face and a pair of earnest eyes were arranged pleasantly with a general air of good cheer. It was true that his mannerisms shone through in his face as, when he smiled, he beamed.
Alan, however, was much more reserved than his companion. He did not possess the same charm as Christopher yet held something far more indescribable. He was neither surly nor disagreeable yet something about him that warded people off. Awkward. Perhaps that was it. But when he was with Christopher, his demeanour showed no trace of these traits. It seemed that Christopher was the only person who held the key to the chest which was Alan.
Sadly, the best things in life do not last.
Alan awoke on Friday 7th February as usual. There was a chill in the room and he unconsciously twitched from the cold. Wrapping his slender arms around himself, he sat up in his bed before sliding off the side and getting dressed. It was not until he entered his first lesson that he was hit with a pang of loss. Three rows behind his, Christopher’s desk had been emptied out, leaving behind only a husk of what was once there. Possibilities plagued Alan’s mind and he sat down, mind whirring madly to find an explanation. Throughout the day, he was listless, not once turning to face the blackboard. Instead, he stared out of the window at the path leading up to the school and hoped he would see Christopher sprinting up the gravel with his books. Six days dragged past and Alan’s mind was sucked of all colour: a plane of monochrome.
No teacher commented on Alan’s disinterest and it did not strike him why until he was called to the headmaster’s office.
Seated in the high-backed wooden chair of the office, Alan felt the foundations of his very being crumble as he took in the information. The headmaster invited him in and, with a grave mask of sympathy, broke the news of Christopher’s death. Tuberculosis. All it took was six days and the sole light of Alan’s existence had been extinguished. A plethora of well-meant inquisitions followed, asking of their friendship. Yet, carrying the numbness and disbelief, Alan could not bring himself to admit their bond. He sat silently, head hung low. It was not until the office door shut behind him that his fortitude shattered and his heart cried out in pain. He did not grieve for what was, but for
what could have been.