I remember you like a trapped bird tries to forget its cage after it flies to open skies. "Be a rebel to routine. Be the fiery blood of youth."
Your words never ceased flowing from the fountain of inspiration, even when you sounded casual. It was simply impossible to make you look through my mundane eyes inside the world we were struggling to fit in.
Until I discovered your letter in my weather-beaten, reclusive letterbox, I was in no small delusion. I thought I had stacked you away in my mind's drawer like an insignificant ball of threads. One glance at your envelope and you rapidly started unraveling.
My first impulse was to run away and hide in a corner. Just like I darted into Mr Lay's flowerpots after you had caught my furtive glances. You were a naked, red carnation making my heart explode.
You have always undone me. With your predictable unpredictability. Your subtle and effortless charm. But it's more than a decade since we drifted apart. Why do you emerge out of the blue?
I am no longer young and warm-blooded. And you are water under the bridge. Yet you turn me into a giddy teenager lost in thoughts.
As I decide to take your letter inside, the wintry willow in my garden nods absentmindedly. On a free day, you would never find me out of bed this early. I am usually drunk as a horse stuck inside some nightmarish hangover. Or tucked under the sheets, imagining a thousand different shades on the bedroom's peeling alabaster.
Talk about instinct.
Nobody writes letters to me. Unless it's the bank or a cake emergency. Can you not keep our lives off each other after everything we went through?
My fearful fingers snap open the envelope. They place your note carefully upon the table like a priceless and vulnerable piece of antique. My skin burns with longing although my heart is a frosty lake. I take large drags of espresso before I plunge into your bittersweet tapestry of words.
I have kept the sunshine we caught in a jam jar more safely than our stormy nights.
You want me to shed tears from get-go, isn't it? You wish to savor my sadness and failure at forgetting or forgiving you. I skim through your cursive alphabets. Time has lengthened the tails of your y's and swallowed the dots of your i's. But no one can accuse you of being prosaic even when you write for a mundane wallflower like me.
Oh! Three photographs from our greener years. What are you playing at?
Next to your candid, gap-toothed smile and curly hair, I seem like a cat caught off guard. Probably our first snap together. You would know better. I blazed my diaries.
There is no way I could uproot this one from memory. You never saw the sapling we are planting in the picture mature into the droopy willow outside my cabin, watching over my empty hours. I have mud smeared across my shirt. You look spotless, like bright daylight.
The third picture is a knife through the heart. Or do you intend to see if I still bleed with longing?
I walk out halfway on your letter to the door and make my way across the linen-white road. I run in circles under the bleak sky cracking up with thunder. Not a soul in sight. You refuse to wash away from my mind. I resign myself to a cold stone bench which must be accustomed to the sobs and secrets of many strangers. Snowy pines surround me, try to read my thoughts.
You have deluged me under dark clouds so easily. Like a veteran magician's sleight of hand. Except that once your spell is over, I will have to stitch back my life with lonely threads. You would go back to your other half and your kids.
I shouldn't be skipping brunch for you or behaving like a puppy hungry for affection. It's a good thing this is a sleepy town with hardly any prying eyes. I shouldn't break my contract with closure from you. I should be able to pass you by like a detached hermit. I brush away my tears and firmly tie my hair before covering them under the hood of my sweatshirt. I am resolved I shall put you away once I am done reading your words.
Back in my room, I take a bite off a croissant and let the crumbs settle on the pages. If I truly expect to get over you, I must learn to be careless with your gifts. As I finish my meal, a sentence jolts me out of indifference.
Doctors tell me my boy won't make it past his eleventh birthday. I want you...
Before I can read any further I hear sharp thumps on the door. It takes a few seconds for me to realize I have bit my tongue. I press it against the palate to stop the bleeding as I turn the door knob.
Burly Nick has cake emergency written all over his face.
"It's for the wake next door. Grandpa won't trust anyone else with the plum cake.''
I feel relieved for this intrusion, to be called on a day outside my shift. My tears of curiosity will be shed later on your grieving. I quietly follow Nick to the bakery where I have been earning my bread for almost four years now. It's his modest heirloom and my safety net I bumped into after years of odd, dead-end jobs.
Cream Dreams is usually closed on Fridays. But it eagerly opens its arms to anyone in times of need. I inform Nick that I won't be needing any extra help and head to the storage room to change into my baking clothes.
I sanitize the tabletop before mixing flour, baking powder, eggs and salt in a bowl. Dry fruits, candied ginger and orange peels are not a problem since plum cake is a staple we serve every day. Once my batter is ready, I pour it into two loaf tins lined with butter paper and let them bake inside the oven.
I sometimes wonder if I fell for baking because you craved for my baked bread. Or because when I mould dough, the worries in my mind recede like sea waves. Either way it calms my racing thoughts. Do you also compose poems to still your turbulence?
You were nothing like the times we have left behind long ago. Your taste in music and books was pretty much ahead of its times. Or far behind. Never contemporary. "The present spoon-feeds us its notions of being. There is clarity in the past and hope in the future."
How can I forget these lines that first shot you towards unprecedented glory? The world was coming under your feet. I was getting more and more blurry.
I have not once reproached you for going after fame like a hawk. Your words are crafted to be worshiped. I prefer anonymity and remoteness from the public gaze. Much like this unknown town. It hasn't changed much. It is still the derelict old man without any proper bookstores or hangout places. Just humble cottages fenced in by wild hedgerows. An idyllic sanctuary for any poet or a loner without ambition.
It's almost time.
Before taking the hot tins out of the oven, I check them with testers. They come out clean and fill the air with a warm, appetizing aroma. As I start glazing them with jam, I think of your kisses on my neck. Your stubble pricking my pale cheeks. I dread going back to your letter. Why am I pulled in two different directions?
I look out of the small window at the horizon. The sky is losing the little light it has. Before I can decide anything, I find myself baking some buns to complement the cake. You see baking is like an act of forgetting. After our inevitable separation, it is a rare day when I haven't turned to leavening dough. It keeps me contented in my invisibility, gives me a purpose. You dreamed big things for me. For the both of us. And I always fell short.
Nick comes in and his face lights up with approval. As I take the warm buns out of the oven, he checks to see if the cake has cooled down.
''I will wrap everything up as soon as they cool down. You should get home. I sense an incoming snowstorm.''
I hurry through the sleets of snow beating against these godforsaken roads. My cottage is at a stone's throw away. In my head I am already beside your letter, biting my nails and pulling out my hair. The street lights come up and flicker like fireflies.
Before I start hyperventilating with anxiety and worry, I barge into my home. The dense snow falling outside makes sure there won't be interruptions anymore.
Part of me chides the ominous hour when I found your letter. I wish I could turn back time and go back to sleep. I settle down on my chair and take a deep breath before taking a dive into your letter again.
I want you to know there hasn't been a day in my life when you have been absent from my thoughts. After you left me I have composed nothing but mediocrity. The ink of imagination and passion without you is like dry sand.
I should have been more courageous and stood up for the both of us. Instead I let you slip away. But you must know in your bones if I am a poet, you are my poems. It's the season of leaving. I came clean to my wife and she refuses to come back. And now my son is slowly growing distant from my life as well. I beg you...
You silly fool! You mad poet!
You. You. You.
You make me feel inexplicable. My body shakes like a leaf and my heart shrivels like a dead carnation.
I swallow your final words, forcing my eyes not to well up. Are you really looking for my return? Or are you looking for a crying shoulder?
I restlessly look through your note for a date. The town post office takes ages to deliver mails. As I get frantic I find another smaller note inside the envelope. How could I have missed it?
It isn't handwritten and appears official. I quietly read out what it says.
Mr Kafka Lay has named you among his nominees for his estate. He has also left behind his writing studio in your name, along with a manuscript of unpublished poems. It is presumed that this letter was written in a state of delirium a few days before Mr Kafka Lay ended his life. He wanted it to be delivered confidentially but his suicide changes things. We look forward to contacting you in person and expect your help in putting the pieces of his biography together.
Higgins and Co.
Solicitor and Publisher
Oh Kafka! Why would you blow away like this? You are the indomitable sun. How can you refuse to shine?
Snowstorm. Blackout. Snowstorm.
You are my open sky with endless possibilities. Warm bread melting in my mouth. Heartbreaking poems trapped in a closet...
We should have ignored Mr Lay when he remarked boys don't gift each other diamond rings.