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Short Story Best Adult Story in the English Language Winner Mae Easter with ‘Kestrel’

A kestrel wheels and glides over the parched gully beyond the garden wall, swooping in a low pass over the sun-bleached wooden furniture, before hovering with focused grace high above the campo. The lonely, eerie sound in the early summer heat provokes a slight unease - tuning into underlying anxieties about the wider world of wars and unrest, as well as those closer to home concerned with borders and Brexit.

Perching on the eaves of my house, which overlooks a short stretch of hilly scrubland before dropping into the sea, is a good vantage point for its morning patrol. I am both honoured and irritated by this; the splendour and spectacle of nature as it hunts impressively in the rough terrain marred by its indiscriminate droppings which now splatter over the back balcony. I look up a cleaning hint for kestrel waste and make a mental note to scrub it with washing-up liquid and hot water once I am motivated and sufficiently caffeinated.

I still haven’t seen it up close. I can hear its shrill cry and if I rush to the doors, I glimpse a shadow as it swoops away – always one step ahead of me – it sweeps across the rocky terrain with an elegant speed – a shadow against the burnt scrub and distant sea; ephemeral if it were not for the all too physical evidence of its existence.

I am hanging out the laundry on the patio at the back of the house instead of the usual spot on the now-occupied (and spattered) balcony, aware more than ever of our concrete imposition into this striking landscape of still (mostly) unspoiled coast, where the hills of the Sierra Carbonera yield to the border town of La Linea before making a dramatic stand again with the Rock of Gibraltar.

This is not the only concession to space we have given to nature this year. We have ceded the outdoor table to a colony of paper wasps, who have set up home underneath one lip. In the front garden, slugs have gorged themselves on the baby lettuce we planted in containers, and it felt better to leave this crop to them and look to preventative measures for the next lot, rather than killing them off, especially as they have decimated the leaves – there would be no recovery. The enormous ant colony on the lemon tree is so fascinating that we have left them to their military-style marches and formations of efficient food-seekers.

We are not universally considerate, though, don’t get the wrong idea. Mosquitoes are murderously pursued with flip-flops or spray cans as they sneak into the house through any means and plague our sleep with their whining dive-bombs. Equally massacred are the cockroaches - these can grow to monstrous sizes and something about their waving antennae causes a revulsion only partially relieved by the disgusting crunch as they are trodden on underfoot. There used to be a local bar where they would literally fall from the ceiling onto the tables and were crawling up the walls. I went once and could not believe that people were eating in there; I cannot imagine what the kitchen was like. We heard from our car mechanic that he had once bitten into his battered fish and pulled a deep-fried antenna from between his teeth. He was offered an extra portion of chips in recompense, to be fair. It was closed down eventually, though someone said for bad debt rather than bad hygiene.

Outside in the street in front of the house, the children discovered that stomping on one of the iron manhole covers at a certain time in the evening would cause flat-backed legions of scuttling roaches of all sizes to flow out of the cracks around the cover and colonise the space like an alien invasion in a horror film.

The kestrel, though, is majestic and presides royally over the campo. In its element, confident and self-assured in its place as a predator, it is a reminder that the world will probably be OK once humanity has burnt itself out. Its obliviousness to and disconnection from the unrest in the human world is both frightening and yet comforting. As its shrill cries become more familiar, they seem less a foreshadowing of doom and more an assertion of rights as it oversees its territory. I am even more pleased it is here when I learn that part of its diet, albeit a small percentage, is made up of cockroaches, which I am sure it enjoys more than our local car mechanic does.

Adjudicators Comments:
‘The kestrel, ever present throughout this story allows for the interweaving of nature and domesticity. The narrator makes full use of the sights and sounds surrounding their house to invoke a sense of wonder at the magnificence of the bird, as well as the tenacity of other creatures who invade our homes. The story is firmly anchored in Gibraltar’s present geographical and political climate and includes anecdotal moments which will ring true for local readers. A skillfully woven narrative that renders the unremarkable garden environment, remarkable.’

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