Here is an excerpt of a short story I wrote over a year ago. It was the final project for the Kenyon writing seminar part of the Kenyon-Exeter study abroad program in the UK. The final written piece we had to had to be inspired by our travels and research, and be based in a time period not our own. My visits to the John Soane Museum in London and the Royal Observatory in Greenwich inspired me to write a fiction piece that touched on time. History can seem to freeze in a museum and fascinate visitors and historians. But life still continues. The story takes place in future London where there is greater racial diversity and mixing, some technological advances, and struggles both new and familiar. The main character, Nikhil Stephens, spends time thinking about them all and reacting to life’s twists and turns.
So here is an excerpt of The Memory of Time:
“You’ve got an old soul,” Grandpa Thomas often told me. “Nikhil, you were born in the wrong century. You need the pitch and role of a ship. Or the gait of a horse.”
When I was ten years old, I answered him by asking if I could ride a horse. The only experience I had ever had with horses was from watching an old film with horseback riders racing through Arabian deserts.
Grandpa found a farm in the English countryside that gave horse rides. We took the DLR to Paddington station and then a cross-country train and then a bus, but we finally got there. When I saw how big horses are in real life, I balked. “Grandpa, I’ll fall off. Let’s go back home.”
“What? What happened to your adventurous spirit?”
“I think you had it wrong about me being an old soul, Grandpa.”
He crouched down in front of me and looked me in the eye. “Why don’t you try? If you’re still afraid, we can go home. But it should be pretty safe. People have ridden horses for thousands of years. Police used to ride horses through the streets of London. Did you know that?”
I shook my head. “Weren’t the horses scared of all the cars?”
“The horses were trained to get used to the sounds and smells of people and cities. Horses have learned to trust us, and you have to learn to trust the horse and yourself. You’ll be fine.”
I nodded my head this time, though hesitantly. The man who worked at the farm hefted me up onto the saddle of a dark brown mare and showed me how to hold the reins. “You can pet her if you want.” So I touched the horse’s mane and patted her right shoulder. The horse hair felt soft and warm, but much thicker than any dog or cat I’d petted before.
The farmer took the horse’s lead and walked around in a circle. Grandpa stood on the side and smiled at me. I smiled back. Then I learned how to steer the horse where I wanted her to go. Grandpa Thomas got on a horse too and we went down a grassy trail. After a couple hours I still didn’t want to get down. “You know your bum and legs will be sore, right, Nikhil?” Grandpa said. “We can always come back.”
We went back the next month and then the next year. I wanted to keep going, but it was expensive. Then, grandpa got more tired. He didn’t take me to the museums or parks as much anymore either. I went with mum, grandma, or my schoolmates instead. Eventually my parents told me something was wrong with grandpa’s skin, because he didn’t put on suncremes, wear hats, or cover his skin with long sleeves and trousers outside like you were supposed to.
After a while of visiting the doctor a lot and coming back home, he went to stay at the doctor. Grandma Jaya visited him almost every day. I went to visit him sometimes, though I was always startled to seem him looking so old. His voice was raspier, though sometimes he still sang me songs and laughed. He liked listening to me explain the things I was learning in school: atoms, stars, and physics; Shakespeare, J.K. Rowling, and poets; the history of Vikings and world wars.
In my arts and maths class we made basic wristwatches. I gave mine to grandpa to rest on the table next to his hospital bed. We listened to the tick tock. “Love that sound,” he said with a smile. I squeezed his hand and he ruffled my hair. Then I had to go home.
That’s the last time I saw him.