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Maths and Physics (1 of 3)

Updated: Jul 2, 2020

The arid landscape swept past, her own private cinema filled with a cast of millions. A metal tube in the heat, not the best place to be, the open carriage windows deliver a little refreshing breeze. The rhythm of the train, hummm, dum-dum-dum, hummm, dum-dum-dum, lulled her to sleep like a lullaby sung by her mother. She dozed and dreamed of children playing in the stream behind the house. Of fresh jupatis hot from the stove and warm butter dripping down her chin, of dal and rice steaming in bowls. Of her mother’s smile and her brother’s laughter.

   When she opened her eyes, they were deep in-country. Farmland stretched to the horizon, with bamboo poles and small irrigation windmills the only constructions.

   “How much further?”, she asked.

   “Only about three hours, my darling,” he said.

   “Will I like it?”

   “Oh, it is very fine. My little Sparrow.”

   “Who will be there?”

   “The entire village will come to greet us I’m sure, ...and my family, of course.”

   “Is there a school?”

   “There will be no time for such things, you will be busy with our family, Inshallah.”

   “You promised Mother and Father I could study.”

   “And you will, child. You will learn how to raise a family and cook the best food. My mother will teach you all you need to know.”

   “I mean about Maths and Physics.”

   “You will learn how much flour to use for the perfect jupatis and how hot the stove must be, this will be your Maths and Physics.”

   “My father wanted more for me, he wanted me to learn from books.”

   “But you have left your Father’s house now child, and you have come to mine. In mine it will all workout for the best. You’ll see my little Angel. What is it they say in that movie you like, ‘It will all be all right in the end. And, if it is not all right, it is not yet the end.’”

     The smoke from the engine blew down the train and into the open carriage windows as the track curved around a lake. The smell of the smoke took her back to earlier, happier times, before her father lost the money. When she and her friends ran to school laughing and shouting in their blue skirts and white blouses with their books over their shoulders tied in little bundles. Such big dreams, to be a scientist, to discover a cure for Malaria, to make a difference. She now realised that with him this would never happen. Father would not have agreed to this match if he had known. Would he?

  “I need the toilet.”

  “Well hurry back, Sparrow, I want you to see the temple ruins that will appear on our left shortly.”

  She got up and squeezed out of the compartment. He was not a bad man. He had bought First-Class tickets for their journey, which made the trip more bearable.

  She approached the toilet door but slipped straight past it to the carriage door. She gazed out, letting the fresh air wash across her face and catch in her headscarf, which blew behind her like a giant ribbon. She felt the train slow as it approached a river bridge. 

   She released the door handle and was gone.

[531 words - task from Cambridge University to write a short story about two people on a train who have just been married and are heading to their honeymoon. In the course of their conversation/ journey one realises they have made a terrible mistake. We read ‘Hills Like White Elephants’ short story by Hemingway before the exercise where he writes a story where there is an elephant in the room but doesn’t say what it is.]

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Unknown member
Jun 26, 2020


Unknown member
Jun 26, 2020

[Sarah currently teaches Creative Writing at ICE on weekend courses, day schools, online courses; and the International Summer Programme. Until 2017 she was Course Director of ICE’s Master’s programme in Creative Writing; she now convenes ICE’s Writers’ Retreats. She teaches fiction, non-fiction, writing for performance and writing for children and also writes in all these genres. Sarah's publications are diverse, including two critically acclaimed biographies, Impostors: Six Kinds of Liar (2000; translated into Korean, Japanese, Czech and Spanish) and A Double Life: a Biography of Charles and Mary Lamb (2003; shortlisted for the Mind Book of the Year award); a children’s book, The Miracle in Bethlehem: A Storyteller’s Tale (2008), a page-to-stage guide, How to Put on a Community Play (2011)…


Unknown member
Jun 26, 2020

Feedback from Dr Sarah Burton @ Cambridge University Institute of Continuing Education:- ‘Andrew, the descriptions here are indeed excellent - I loved them - and I like the story. I also approve of you leaving the ending open for the reader. My view was that she knows enough about maths and physics to calculate that she will probably survive the jump - is this an allowable interpretation? You seemed to suggest it is when you say the title is significant in relation to her actions at the end. I think the story is good enough and strong enough to take a little suggestion too. The relationship between them doesn't really develop - he wants one thing, she wants another. We know…


Unknown member
Jun 26, 2020

I like that the title Maths and Physics has such a part to play in the final line.

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