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Can We Be Penpals – 3

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It’s highy recommended to read prequel to this story here

‘It drives me crazy…’, The letter continued.

‘..at times, this feeling of not being understood, of being unable to reach. The walls then begin to feel claustrophobic a moment; the next, they seem to go on forever, drawing out the sense of being the only living soul. Then, the room seems to return to its original dimensions. I hear merry voices, laughing and giggling. And I try to open the door, to join them, but the door doesn’t budge. I panic. And then, I blink, returning back to my own room, the window of which overlooks not the land, but the street. Those feelings ebb but never die. 

I’m still fearful and self-doubting I have won but small victories. The important ones are but a mammoth of a battle. 

I need to get rid of them once and for all, at whatever cost. After all, growth doesn’t mean anything if the seeds of fear are buried deep within. And hence, I need to eradicate the self-destructive poison of self-doubt and fear. Only then will the shackles break and the demons be banished. 

Call it an exorcism, a rebirth or a beginning of an incredible journey, regardless, it needs to be done, sooner. 

It’s not much of a living when I am frustrated most times and on the paths of self-harm the other times.

See you then, on the other side.

Truly,

Someone, finally courageous enough.’

Vasanth couldn’t understand, he simply couldn’t fathom the meaning. Had it been from someone else he would have ruled it out as absurd.  But not now. By now, he had learned to look between the lines, to understand more than the words conveyed. And yet, he couldn’t; not with this one. The words felt ominous, even desperate on the paper as he read them over and over again until he knew them by heart. 

He penned down a response, in all the words he could employ to draw out a brighter, more hopeful life for the reader; His sneaky way, as means of saying ‘no’ to whatever destructive thoughts gripped the sender. By afternoon, the response was posted. 

This brought in a small fraction of relief for him, but not all, he was still concerned, afraid the damage was already done before his letter could reach. 

One morning, after several days, Tia asked, “You have been looking uneasy all week Vasanth, is everything alright?”

Vasanth looked up at her, his fingers moving along the rim of the cup. He could see in her eyes the concern she had over his behaviour lately. A pang of guilt sprung up from somewhere within 

“Sorry..it’s nothing”, he replied.

And yet, he could feel her gaze upon him. He took a deep breath and decided to tell her the truth. He removed the letter from his pocket and passed it to her. He carried it along with him. In what hopes or for what reasons, we might never know

Tia took it from him, eyeing it suspiciously, before unfolding the paper and beginning to read it.

“Exorcism? Rebirth? What’s going on?” She asked minutes later, confusion clear on her face.

“Those are just metaphors…. think…I hope”, Vasanth replied. Tia looked at him, waiting for him to explain. 

He sighed as he replied, “Usually, there are a lot of metaphors and comparisons. But that’s not the point..”, he stopped, then he asked, “Doesn’t it seem ominous to you?”

Tia glanced at the letter and then nodded. “Ominous might be a strong word. But it’s left me unsettled, that’s for sure. Did you get a reply?”

“No. I replied the very same day. I should have had the reply at least by Friday. But it will be one week tomorrow since last Friday and I can’t help but feel worried. I know it’s illogical but I can’t help it. I walked by the address twice in the last two days. But I couldn’t make myself walk inside the shop. I was…”

“Afraid?”, Tia said softly, pitying Vasanth.

He nodded.

“In that case, would you be afraid even if I accompanied you?”

“No. You’ll do that?”, He asked eagerly. 

“Yes”, Tia smiled. “Let’s go.”

Mrs Murti’s shop had just opened. Her youngest granddaughter, Ruhi, a teenager, was reading the morning newspaper behind the counter when the jingling of the bells caused by the opening of the door made her abandon her paper, walk out front. 

“Welcome! How can I help you?”, she asked cheerfully. 

Vasanth, surprised to see Ruhi, looked around himself, words failing him in his endeavour to explain the cause behind his agitation and visit. He had asked Tia to wait outside out of some conceptions of the embarrassment. But now he wished she was here, answering the questions of this girl, who had now proceeded to ask what crockery he needed. 

“I…um…I was looking for..”, he stammered suddenly realising that he had no name for the person about whose wellbeing he was worried about. He was aware of the girl’s eyes on him, curious they were. He removed the letter from his pocket and in an equally quick moment replaced it back.

“Never mind. It was a mistake”. His face reddened as he turned towards the door. 

No sooner had he walked further than two steps, that something dawned on Ruhi. 

“Wait!” She called. 

Vasanth turned around, eyes questioning. 

“Just wait. Please. I’ll be back” she said earnestly as she rushed off through the door behind the counter, calling “Dadi-maa!”, into what could be only assumed to be Mrs Murti’s residence. 

“What’s going on?”, Tia asked, having arrived by Vasanth’s side after hearing Ruhi calling for Dadi-maa at the top of her voice. 

Vasanth filled her in with what had happened so far, which wasn’t much so they passed the time by looking at the shelves, waiting for Ruhi to return.

Mrs Murti or as she was to her granddaughters, Dadi-maa, smiled at Tia as she walked in. Tia had been one of her frequent customers and the two shared a friendly relation. Then, she scrutinized Vasanth from head to toe, before smiling at him. 

It was her, who spoke first. 

“I was starting to wonder if you’d show up. But at last, here you are.”

She said, taking his hand in hers. “I am happy to see you, Vasanth”, she said, affectionately patting his hand, before moving away. 

“Thank you …I..”, Vasanth stammered. While Tia looked from Vasanth to Mrs Murti and back again at him.

“Ruhi”, Mrs Murti said with a nod. 

Ruhi extended her hand towards Vasanth, a black leather-bound journal in her hand. 

“Take it”, Mrs Murti encouraged. “It belongs to my oldest daughter. She left it for you. I’m sure you know her.”

Still puzzled, Vasanth opened the journal to its first page. 

A familiar handwriting greeted him. A name was scrawled on the page, in a firm hand that ironically wrote in a messy font; the letters, sometimes tilting to the left and then at times, to the right. 

‘Shangun’, it read. 

“Shagun”, Vasanth murmured, the words felt strange and foreign to him; a difficult task to associate this new name to the hand that had crafted the messy font. 

“I believe she wrote to you”. 

Vasanth nodded. No one spoke until Vasanth managed to look up and ask, “But where is …Shagun? Has something bad..”, he couldn’t fathom what might have happened. 

“She’s alright”, assured Mrs Murti. “Turn to the next page”.

Vasanth did as told. The words written were to the effect as follows-

“For so long, I have hidden in the background. Never wanting to be the centre of anything. Locked myself up amongst the pages of some book as I daydreamed about the world; always doubting myself. 

But now, I have finally confessed my downfalls and started to accept them. There is no lock now. But the door is still shut tight. And I am leaving in a self-imposed isolation that at times feels of solitude and at times of loneliness. 

I feel a jumble of emotions and thoughts in me; of hatred and compassion; of optimism and pessimism; all growing and spreading, morphing and withering away. Am I then a wild expanse of land where weeds grow just as strong as the tree or am I that expanse where the tree is struggling to be superior to the weeds? I don’t know. 

And so I have decided to go on a self-prescribed journey; an attempt to discover myself as well as the world I so firmly avoided and yet continued to Desire. 

I am going where the road will lead, where the heart might seek and where I won’t stay as long as the time required to receive a letter. 

So, trusting my feeling about you and knowing that you might come home looking for me. I am leaving you my journal, hoping it answers your questions until I return.

So long then, stranger 

Truly…”

The word ‘Someone’ at the subscription of the letter was struck through; instead, this time it was signed off as Shagun. 

After a minute or so Vasanth asked, “She’s really gone then?” He closed the journal and gripped it such that his knuckles turned white 

Mrs Murti nodded, a sad smile had begun to tug the corners of her wrinkled face.

“Are you going to read it?”Tia asked after they had left the shop to return back to Joey’s. 

Vasanth, who was continuing to walk by her side, simply looked up towards the sky, instead of answering her.

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