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The Paper Ship
She tried to hide her flickering feet, they were different. All the others were dressed sharply with their feelings, thoughts completely hidden under their intentionally chosen black suits . Her pink shoes did not seem right among four other large, bright-black ones. Her shoes desired to escape, to hide and yell and disappear because they did not belong. She felt dizzy, isolated, maybe too colorful, maybe too unqualified. She was in search of a smiling face, a scent of excitement, or a welcoming face. She could not find any. What happened to all her thirteen year old friends? Where were the playful children that she used to know? They were once again transformed into fierce competitors, highly motivated that they lacked emotion or expression. Their hair was tied from the back, stretched so tightly that their skulls were almost visible. They were all wearing the same black pants, the same black shirts and leather gloves for some reason. It was hard to tell whether they were excited or not, they did not smile or talk to each other.
The room had two rows of seats, all plastic tables and chairs, lined geometrically. The concrete walls looked like grey monsters that were about to swallow her pink shoes. She found the perfect seat for herself at the darkest seat in the corner of the room and sat down, imagining that she was now unseen. She looked at the burgundy stop watch on the table and imagined all the times that it counted down crucial seconds for loud arguments, complicated calculations, sweating minds and blurry thoughts. She saw the hard covered black notebook on the front desk, imagined the names buried in it. Pages and pages of names, never recognized or mattered unless they came with strong numbers. The black book brought them there, she knew. The desire to get in it, and to have a great score right next to their names was their only aim. She thought about how great the book would smell if she had completely burned it down. Would her friends be relieved because all the other big scored were destroyed, or would they turn their backs on her just because their chance of getting in to it was destroyed. She fell asleep.
instant challenge, a worldwide known competition for young adults. The kids are supposed to enter a small room, and when a challenge presents itself, they are supposed to find a creative solution. She wondered in her sleep, what are the black clothes for?
A disappointed whisper woke her up.
"Are you out of your mind! The challengers will be here in any minute. We worked so hard for this, please wake up and change your shoes!" her closest friend's lips trembled.
The bitter warning woke her up. Unwillingly she tied her hair back, and tried to remain in the darkest corner so her shoes remained unnoticed.
Soon the behemoth metal door slowly opened, and the challengers entered the room. She searched for kindness in their eyes, could not find any. They were also hypnotized by formality. Their rigid suits were never welcoming.
" Okay, here is how it goes." one of the challengers began to shout.
"A tray full of different materials will soon enter the room. Also you will be given a large plastic bath tub full of water and a fan. You will be asked to build a ship that will float." the challenger instructed.
A gigantic bath tub was placed right in the middle of the room. As it was filled with water, she could see the reflections of her friends who surrounded the bath tub. The pouring water made their reflections seem like their faces were combined. As the water trembled, all their faces looked like they emerged in to one black monster. As she sat on the back seat, she stared at the blue plastic bath tub and wondered: why blue? She found the challengers efforts of making a plastic useless object seem like an ocean amusing.
It was time for the stopwatch to starts ticking! The tray had plastic cups, rubber bands, wooden sticks, tapes, gloves, bottles, balloons. Their voices were raised. Arguments began. One of them started to analyze all the objects and handled the calculations of their densities. While another kid argued that the direction of the wind created by the fan would best support a large ship built from balloons at the top. Another one yelled and screamed her ideas on the design and color of the ship. She was still sitting down, watching what her friends turned in to, shocked, appalled. Aimless young minds, yelling at each other, over a plastic ship. What would happen if the ship had floated and sailed? Would it reach anywhere? As she tried to close her eyes and pretend like she was not there, she recognized a sheet of paper, abandoned in the corner of the tray. A paper would melt in water, sink and disappear, why would anyone want to use it.
Realizing that no one had noticed her not participating the competition, she associated herself with the lonely sheet of paper. She stood up and did not care whether anyone saw her pink shoes or not, she wanted that paper.
A ridiculously large ship was built by her sweating and trembling friends. They had thirty seconds remaining until the end of the challenge. Standing together, they were sure that their marvelous creation would float. They were proud. Maybe four seconds ago they yelled at each other as loud as they could, but now they were friends again.
As she held the paper, she thought about the all the days she sat on the back, corner seat in the emotionless classrooms. All the ticking stopwatches that counted down "crucial" seconds that did not matter to her. She recalled all the exams that turned her understanding friends in to fierce competitors who were ready to strangle each other. She recalled an ordinary school day in sixth grade, when she was forced to take a math exam and folded the empty exam paper in to a paper ship. While her classmates looked at her with disappointment, she went outside and enjoyed the sunny day. She remembered how she felt when she celebrated her escape.
Last fifteen seconds, the stopwatch clearly showed. The monstrous ship was placed on the water, and at that instant, with all hopeful eyes on it, it sunk. Now the black clothes were not strong enough to hide their emotions. The hopelessness and the disappointment burst out of their eyes and transformed in to tears. Last eleven seconds, last ten seconds.
She realized that while deep buried in memories, she turned the sheet of paper in front of her to a tiny ship. She felt drawn towards the bath tub, wanting to give the seemingly insignificant ship a chance to prove itself. Despite the screaming and hateful sentences thrown at her by her "friends", she places her ship on the water. It floated. It sailed. It survived.
As the stopwatch showed zero, they exited the room. The hatred in their eyes was palpable.
"You ruined it. You destroyed our future. Now just go away!" they yelled.
She did not care.
Two days later, it was announced that their "team" won the third place throughout the world, among eight thousand competitors. Now, she was a hero among her friends for being a practical thinker who created the paper ship. For winning the competition she was a star.
She did not speak to any of her "teammates" ever again.