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Deaf Prayers
By Mia Nelson

Ever since I was a very small boy, I've woken up in the Indian sun on my miniscule bedroll and heard my father pray, pray so hard that when he is done sweat pours from his forehead and dribbles onto the soil. Some mornings when the homeless roaster who roams on beggar's corner still hasn't cried his song, I sit with my eyes shut and I listen to what my father pleads for this day. I remember once he spread his arms and simply said, in a tone more worn than the starving rooster's screech, "Help."

When father is done with his pleading, I arise and put corn cakes on the plates from my dead mother's dowry. We sit and eat, trying to fill our mouths with spit because it makes the food last longer. We seldom speak, our minds too focused on eating. When the plates are empty, we walk our separate ways, me towards the street where I play soccer, and my father makes his journey to the cramped temple. He begs for salvation while I lose my right to have any, stealing my lunches from the food carts and kicking my playmates until they bruise. When the sun dips behind the buildings in the rich man's city, just east of our village of mud huts and untouchables, I walk home. For dinner my father eats whatever he was given at the temple and I watch him. When I turned ten he ceased to share the morsels he received for praying. I never blame my father for my hunger, food is scarce and I am only his son because I have nowhere else to go. He has no duty to quench my stomach's endless pleas for food. I sleep.

When I wake up I feel light headed and dizzy. I wander towards the dirt-caked soccer players, but on my way, my knees weaken and crumble under me. I haven't had water for two days, but I have gone longer. I pull myself from the dust, but my efforts go unrewarded. I see spots and then I fall to the ground, all I hear is the rumble of my home and the voices of the poor disappearing, and finally leaving.

I awake to a nurse cradling me out of sleep. I see her sunken cheeks are paler than the moon.

"You have been taken from that filthy town of yours to Chandigarh Children's Hospital."

I shake my head. Is she whispering? I can't hear her. She looks startled and repeats herself. When my head moves back and forth again she runs hurriedly past the lines of other beds and disappears behind a door. I take this time to look around at the white walls. The white bed sheets and the sick children all brown with dirt and years under India's sun. Is my father worried that I haven't returned home, or is he glad that he can eat two corn cakes for breakfast?

When the woman returns she brings a man in a bleached trench coat. He nods and I don't hear what she is telling him. It must be serious or else she wouldn't be wearing such a grim expression. He approaches me, almost as a tiger approaches his prey, calm and alert. He is a doctor, and I must be in Chandigarh, they have doctors and schools and enormous two-story houses. They have water from spouts and are able to swallow it whenever they wish to. Someone must have taken pity on me, sprawled upon the ground in our village. Maybe the man who always turned his head when I was stealing his "samosas" for lunch had taken me here. The doctor snaps his fingers by my ear, but I am only aware of this because I am watching his every move.

The nurse looks solemn, and I wonder why. She writes on a chalkboard, but I can't read. She draws a crude sketch of me without my ears. At first I laugh, but when I don't hear my usually-thunderous roar of a giggle, I begin to realize what this all means. I can't hear and I won't be able to ever again. How will I know when the soccer ball is being kicked to me? How will I ever hear my father's prayers, and jolt awake from the scream of the rooster? How am I to live where the only way to get food as an uneducated child is to beg or pray? I have heard my village's deaf and they sound odd and no one listens because their voices sound mangled and swollen.

The nurse lifts me out the cot and turns me towards the door. I have no illness and cannot be treated. They turn me out into the streets of this foreign place. If my ears could still hear, I am sure there would be restlessness to this city that seemed so pristine from afar, but just as packed with beggars as anywhere. I still have not eaten. They forced me away too soon to consume any of the soup the other patients were eating.

I make my way towards Chandigarh's temple and I feel as though I have transformed into my father. The heavy weight of hunger and pleading is now burdening me as it does him. I see the marble structure and it rises to the level of the sun. I am jostled by the other hungry people, all flocking to the temples to receive the monks' payment to the faithful.

I am inside and I breathe in time with the hundreds of others. It is almost sunset and the emptiness in my ears has heightened my sense of smell. The curry from outside wafts in my nostrils, and I begin to chant. Kneeling, I press my face to the cool marble surface, breathe in the desperate smell of the temple and quietly whisper to any god who will listen, "Help."

"Deaf Prayers" By Mia Nelson | StoryMakers 2012 | Rocky Mountain PBS
StoryMakers 2012

2012 StoryMakers Winners and Finalists

The 2012 Winners and Finalists are:

6th Grade
1st - Christian Olsen, "Without A Home" - Littleton, Goddard Middle School
2nd - Lydia MacRavey, "Little Bear's Arrow" - Centennial, Home Schooled
3rd - Elizabeth Blackmun, "Lady of the Lake" - Denver, Denver School of the Arts

Finalists
Chloe Applegate, "Rainin's River" - Denver, Denver School of the Arts
Ella Beringer, "The Chase" - Castle Rock, Soaring Hawk
Ashlyn Kofford, "The Life Necklace" - Longmont, Westview Middle School
Drew Sims, "A Little Help" - La Junta, La Junta Intermediate School
William Underhill, "Bernard" - Denver, Denver School of the Arts


7th Grade
1st - Annie Lell, "Blue Moon" - Arvada, Oberon Middle School
2nd - Mia Nelson, "Deaf Prayers"
 - Denver, Denver School of the Arts
3rd - Jake Daniel, "Through the Eyes of a Golf Ball"
 - Grand Junction, Holy Family Catholic School

Finalists

Nash Marez, "Adventure to Milkdud" - Grand Junction, Holy Family Catholic School 
Gillian Palazzini, 
"Through the Eyes of the Insane" - Merino, Home Schooled 
Clarice Reiner, 
"The Song of a Second" - Arvada, Oberon Middle School 
Britney Sarazen, "
Bullied to Bully" - Fort Lupton, Quest Academy 
Sydney Taylor,
 "Xanthe Soto, Girl Genius: Wind Power" - Denver, Homeschooled


8th Grade
1st - Erin Mallory, "Tricking the Sheep" - Windsor, Saint Joseph's Catholic School
2nd - McKinley Mueller, "Seven Days 'Til Heaven" - Ridgway, Ridgway Secondary School
3rd - Sydney Lewark, "Flying" - Denver, Denver Waldorf School

Finalists
Kinsey Brashears, "Elena Smith" - Fort Morgan, Fort Morgan Middle School
Torryn Elliot
, "The Adventures of Cedric" - Granby, East Grand Middle School
Abigail Weeks
, "Simplicity" - Centennial, West Middle School
Claire Wineman
, "The Conversion" - Denver, Denver School of the Arts
Margaux Woellner
, "The Maligned Hedgehog" - Englewood, West Middle School


Parent Testimonial

"I wanted to thank you for the Rocky Mountain PBS StoryMakers program. My daughter took part in the competition and was a runner up for the 8th grade group. The whole process was so thrilling for her to be part of. When we were at the studio for the celebration in January, she told us she felt like a movie star. She loved learning to record her story and download illustrations, but most of all I think she loved the fact that so many people were involved in the whole process, and that most were involved through volunteering. 

She was so inspired... Our children need to feel important in order to succeed, and every small step counts. This support needs to be more than just parents and teachers. When our children see other adults and important people involved in their futures, it paints a bigger picture for them. Thank you for painting part of this bigger picture." 


-The Bretts, Eaton, Co.


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