It’s great having someone actually think about a story that you wrote and how it could be made more poignant, powerful, gooder, or more grammaticarularly written. I could always use a good editor or two.
When I first sent the piece on Fantasy Kingdom to Judy at the Christian Science Monitor, she liked it but thought it was missing something. Why would someone take 20 kids in Bangladesh to an amusement park? I didn’t have an answer. In my original piece, I wrote about the fun we had and about our imbalanced world, but I never answered the question that was the most obvious.
I added the bits about me being a roller coaster enthusiast (roller coasters rule in Ohio) and wrapped it up with an answer to Judy’s question. I sent it back to her that same day and she accepted it. This is one of the favorite things I’ve written in awhile and it wouldn’t be if it weren’t for Judy.
An interesting tidbit of editing: The CSM changed the tense of my story from present to past. I much prefer to write in the present tense and find it interesting that they changed it. I picture some editor’s assistant cussing me as he turns all my say’s into said’s. I don’t mind the changes. I just feel bad for the fella that had to make them. See if you think it makes a difference. Read the present tense version below the cut.
The first time I ever got paid for something I wrote, it was for this. I sent in my story unsolicited. They accepted it. Edited it and sent it back. And by editing here, they made it way worse. Trust me, it was no gem to begin with, but they were making things up that never happened and arranging them in a fashion that, if they had happened, still made no sense. My words aren’t precious, even less so now that I’ve written a lot more of them, and I don’t want anyone thinking I’m some kind of wordsmith lost in the glory of my craft, each stroke of the keyboard one of genius. I weighed my options and politely told them their edit was crap, putting in danger my first writing payday of…(wait for it)…$20. They were reasonable to work with and thankfully, we found some common ground.
I’m sure in publishing circles editors get credit and blame, but to the average reader they don’t. They are a name on a masthead or in the acknowledgments, toiling away behind the scenes, trying to make things not suck.
And really, is there anything more admirable than making things not suck?
The Kings of Fantasy Kingdom
By Kelsey Timmerman
Sixty-seven dollars admits one child for one day to Disney World in Orlando, Florida.
Sixty-seven dollars admits 20 children for one day to Fantasy Kingdom, near Dhaka, Bangladesh.
Now all we have to do is find them.
Behind us are the gates of Fantasy Kingdom, the brightest, cleanest, and most out of place sight in all of Bangladesh. The walls are plastic but look like sandstone. Standing atop them are two very happy cartoon kids – sentinels, looking out to the crowded streets and the surrounding garment factories.
“One girl and one boy would be best,” Ruma says.
Ruma is a 26-year-old Bangladeshi sportswriter. She’s taken the day off to help me with my crazy idea: take as many kids as we can – who live in the park’s shadow, but haven’t been inside – into the amusement park. Riding a rollercoaster is a luxury they’ll likely never know and, as a lifetime rollercoaster junkie, something I hope to change.
“I want 20.”
Ruma approaches three boys. As she talks, they stare at me, before running off to find more kids.
Bangladesh is the most densely populated country in the world – 135 million people live in an area about the size of Iowa. It’s not long before we have a crowd.
We line up the kids shortest to tallest and start passing out tickets. A group of middle-aged men in the back point to an old man. I push my way through the onlookers and hand him a ticket.
Inside the park, there are no lines. We are the line. Our personal ride-operator follows us wherever we go. For our first ride we choose one that I know as “The Spider” from the rural county fairs of my childhood. The kids hoot and holler as it spins.
Our group was somewhat reserved, but “The Spider” changes things. They start acting like kids, all of them, even the old man.
They talk wide-eyed to each other with open mouths and waving arms. I know what they are saying: “Did you see me? I wasn’t holding on.” Or, “Did you try spittin’? I did and…”
The children here aren’t used to being kids. They have responsibilities like jobs.
Habir is a garment worker as are Russell and Zumon. He is only 18, but is a five-year veteran of a factory. He supports his family on $115 per month.
Five of the children are street scavengers. They pick through trash for plastic bottles they might be able to sell.
A nine-year-old girl, the youngest of our group, isn’t wearing shoes or a shirt, but she is wearing earrings. Her hair is parted to the side and held with a clip. Her cousin, ten, has burn scars running from her fingers to her elbow.
Also in our number are two shop keepers, a 14-year-old herbal doctor, four food vendors, two barbers, and the old man.
Mr. Azhar is a father of seven. He has a white beard and whiter teeth. His distinguished face is lined with years of smiles, pains, and labors.
“Who has been here before?” I have Ruma translate.
Only Russell raises his hand.
The average American can afford to pay sixty-seven dollars for their child to visit Disney’s Magic Kingdom. Any Bangladeshi who can afford the three-dollar admission into Fantasy Kingdom is relatively rich.
In Bangladesh, some parents can’t even afford shirts for their daughters. I buy a baby blue one that has “Fantasy Kingdom” written on it for the shirtless girl with the earrings. It costs one dollar.
There are two roller coasters in Fantasy Kingdom. I point to the big one in the distance. The kids cheer. As we march off, the barefoot kids don’t complain about the scalding hot, sun-baked stone. They just skip.
I board the train and take the front car with Mr. Azhar. He eyes the seat belt and is bewildered. I buckle it for him and pull down the leg bar.
He follows my lead and holds up his hands as we ratchet our way up the hill. He drops them at the top, hanging on hard. His head falls to my shoulder as we round a sharp curve. His quiet laughter is in contrast to the high-pitched screams of the kids behind us. By the ride’s end, we are both laughing so hard we have tears in our eyes.
On our way out I read a sign at the gate telling the mythology of Fantasy Kingdom:
“Once upon a time…Prince Ashu and Princess Lia…spent their days in fun and frolic, dancing and playing with the people of their kingdom. But with time, this mysterious kingdom disappeared because the people had forgotten how to smile…Prince Ashu recreated his lost kingdom here so that people would forget their worries and again learn to smile and have fun.”
For some in Bangladesh, sixty-seven dollars is a month’s wage. Maybe I should have done something more practical for the kids with my money. After all, every kid deserves to have shoes and a shirt. But, if while walking by on their way to work or while picking through trash, they look up at the park’s high-arched gate and remember the rollercoaster and how their stomach was in their throat and the wind in their hair, and escape just for a bit, it was money well spent.
We live in a crazy, imbalanced world. It can be depressing to think about. But we all have the right to a little fun.
For a few hours, we were the Kings of Fantasy Kingdom. And we had a blast.