My story ideas were chosen at random, and had to include:
1. A disabled suicide bomber
2. A voice coming from a can of beans
It's fair to say I wasn't delighted by this brief, but when I sat down to think about the possibilities, the following questions helped to stir my creative juices...
What if the bomber drops the can and runs? What happens to the voice inside?
What if he can't open the can?
What if a customs officer confiscates the can?
What if the voice in the can gives him away?
What if he is scared to die?
What if the voice is a ghost from the past?
What if the voice is his conscience?
Having thought about the possibilities of the story, I felt a little less daunted by the brief.
And this is what I wrote...
O is sweating. Like, really sweating. Drenched armpits, face shiny, hands clammy. He didn't think he'd feel this way. The big neon sign tells him the train is being prepared for boarding. He has a ticket, paid for in cash. No seat. No identifying marks. Even his mother wouldn't recognise him behind the dark glasses, with the white stick and stupid old man clothes they made him wear.
He's twenty two for fucks sake.
You'll be fine, they said. Getting your end away with all those virgins, just seconds after... Really? That quick?
But he trusted them. He never liked the way they swore black was white, and the way they seemed to forget that things didn't always turn out the way you expect. But he trusted them.
He grabs his rucksack. Watches people waiting for the train; his train. Families with little kids, an old man with a hunch back just like his granddad, a woman with a dog in her handbag, business men, a nurse with a washed out look on her face and greasy hair, still wearing her uniform...
His heart beats so hard in his chest he's scared it will go off before the rucksack. And then suddenly, pangs of hunger grab him. Is it hunger? It must be. His guts are grumbling, talking out loud, drawing attention to him.
An announcement: "FIVE MINUTES TO BOARDING."
His eyes are everywhere - that's why he wore the dark glasses. But people are still looking at him, or listening. He has to move away. There's a shop. Don't go in shops, they said. No human contact, they said. And he knows he shouldn't, but he stands up and limps towards the Spar.
"THREE MINUTES TO BOARDING."
A kid on a scooter scoots past. Nearly knocks him over. O watches the kid scooting up and down, up and down, and remembers when he had two working legs. They can do miracles with prosthetics now, but what's the point? It'll all be over soon.
Then a woman calls, "Tommy, come here. We're getting on the train in a minute."
And this kid, Tommy, is like clapping and cheering and he's so damn excited. Has he never been on a train? O remember his first time. The way the cows and sheep whizz past. The way you get a table with your seat. The way the ticket man lets you clip your own ticket...
For fuck's sake. Stop thinking.
"TWO MINUTES TO BOARDING."
Stomach still rumbling. Churning. O goes to the shop, buys a can of beans and a can opener. Pays cash. Doesn't make converstaion.
"ONE MINUTE TO BOARDING."
He opens the can, and that's when he hears the cry. He looks up. Thinks, it's the kid, but the kid is gone; queing up at the gate with his mum, and the old man like O's granddad, and the woman with the dog, and the nurse.O looks around. There's no one else close by.
He hears the cry again. O looks at the can. The voice is coming from the can. For fuck's sake. I'm losing it, he thinks. He knows.
Don't do it, says the voice in the can. You have a life to live, a family to raise, dreams...
And O knows that voice. He's heard it before. It's a woman. His mother? His sister? Gran? Or Aunt?
"THE TRAIN AT PLATFORM SIX IS NOW BOARDING."
There is a rush through the gates.
O looks at the can, and knows what he has to do.