That day, Una asked me ever so nicely- looking at me with those coy, puppy dog eyes. "Granny dearest...my teacher wants you to write a letter to the girl you were when you were twenty years old. You write such good stories, granny. So nice. You will write it, won't you?
Another fluttering of those eyelashes. I was saying yes, nodding and kissing her before I had even registered what she was talking about. Una artfully slipped away with a big smile on her face. I beamed.
A few awkward moments later, a dull realization of what I had gotten my sorry self mixed up in - hit me. Pondering over what exactly she had wheedled me into, I found myself cursing my foolish brain.
Writing a letter is one thing- considering my policy of never putting down intimate words to paper; but writing to my twenty year old self? Anathema maranatha. Sure, I could gloss over, lie, and conjure up a sickly sweet rainbows and unicorns story - but then- it would be a poorly written piece. Writings meant to just impress are always lacking in something, I felt. I write fairly well, if I do say so myself, and my pride cannot stand a poorly produced piece by my own hand.
And also, who in the world asks kids to make their grandmas write school assignments? The new fangled ideas teachers have these days! Preposterous.
This assignment was due on Monday. Well. I still have a whole weekend to plot a way out of this. Surely, a lot can happen over a weekend?
I can probably make Una ask her grandfather to take over the job.
No, wait. I’ll personally bully him to take up the job. Not a bad idea. Not a bad idea at all. But then...well. Unfortunately for me and fortunately for him, I only know him all too well. He would rather cook and wash dishes for the rest of his days than write a single word.
Or maybe, I could write a completely fake letter which passes even the critical scrutiny of my author's pride. Even better, the school teacher cancels the assignment. She resigns. She gets sacked. She gets the flu. She gets drunk.
Idly, I fantasized for a while, only narrowly resisting the temptation to bump off the teacher in my dreams. Jimmy's occasional barking and Una's chattering were a pleasant, gentle buzz in the background as I sat there, lazily staring at a huge cloud shaped like a staircase to Olympus. At peace and blissfully lost in my world of daydreams.
Then HE appeared. The man of my dreams.
I mean, my husband. Looking very excited.
"My girl, I hear you are going to do an... ahem- an assignment for Una? Really? Are you sure you remember how to write proper letters? The ones in envelopes, with stamps and stuff?"
“No...” I wailed. “I mean, yes, obviously I know how to write a letter, but this...” I stopped. Was he smirking?
“Do you really write letters? You never wrote me even one, ever", he said, his eyes dancing. I stared at him.
This letter assignment (assigned to me!) was no doubt the highlight of Hector's day, considering how monotonous our days are- barring the occasional appearances of Una. Knowing me and my policy regarding personal writings, he probably hoped to watch me indulge in a dramatic performance, fit for the theatre. Would I write it or would I not? That is the question, as Hamlet would say. And he wanted the front row seat.
Well, here’s my chance to shine, then.
“Why don’t you write it then, if you have only so much faith in me?”, I huffed.
“Oh, I have faith. Just wondered whether you did?”, he said, looking at me keenly.
Probably it was my unlucky day. Probably I had suddenly turned naive overnight. Maybe I ate too much at lunch. Or perhaps, it’s just that there were greater forces at play. Whatever the reason, I fell right into his trap, and foolishly proceeded to proclaim:
"I'll write the most perfect letter to my twenty year old self. Just you wait and see!"
They did say pride comes before a fall.
He grinned widely like the Cheshire cat.
I stared at him for a while. Then he said,
“Well, what are you waiting for?”
“Why not? Do you think- oh ho...Look, I’m never going to do it, you know.”
My paltry hopes fading into dust, I said, “Well, get me a pen and a paper, then.”
Still grinning , he reached into his pocket; brought up the wretched stationery and threw it at me, to catch. I just let it fall, frowning at him.
So. He has come prepared. Very well.
Hector settled himself beside me, casually resting his chin on his palm, and looked up at me, smiling- as I picked up the paper and pen.
Is he going to sit and watch me write the whole letter? I see. He wants to read the damn thing.
Okay, Hector. Let’s play this game, then.
I pointedly turned my back to him and sullenly stared at the blank paper. But then, memories... as sharp as a knife’s blade, streaked across my mind. I started writing.
I stopped. How should I even address myself? Ridiculous question. Even as I mulled over it, I felt incredibly foolish.
But my mind was still vaguely playing Hector's recent 'My girl' greeting in the background; so I crossed the 'dear' out and wrote:
My dear girl,
How are you? I think okay, if I remember correctly. Sure, you were the personification of cheer to the outside world, but inside- a confused, scared mess. I know. It will be alright.
You are now in the brink of a lot of significant events in your life. In your career, in your life. Let me tell you- there are quite a number of storms to weather...again. Sometimes you will feel like you just want it all to stop. But I know, and you will eventually come to realise this as well- that you are one very wry creature and that even when - 'the funds are low and the debts are high'- to quote a famous poem, you will want to go on.
Because, at the core of your being, you are made up of stories- stories of adventure, humour, wit , love and an eternal interest for the next big escapade. Let me explain.
Some people are made up of ambitions; some of dreams and so on and so forth. They live for such ideals and define their lives by them. The one thing that makes you different- slightly unique, in fact- is that, you, my dear, are made up of stories.
Remember how you’ve always loved stories? They define you. They rule your life. It means you will always want to know what's next. Life gets 'curiouser and curiouser', as Alice says. Even when it seems most tempting- quitting will never be an option for you.
Don't get scared by my talk of quitting, life and such. Take it now, maybe, as an old lady's ramblings, but keep them somewhere in the back of your mind.
They say when one’s days are numbered, each and every thing you see and do becomes more beautiful and precious. You will experience that much, much sooner than most people and you will find your way out of it. Yes, there are fiery depths to cross, but a happiness you won't be able to fathom, is also waiting for you.
In midst of the dreariness of life, my dear girl- there are many, many, many moments of joy. Treasure them. Keep those you love close. Don't let them go, as much as you could. It will all be alright.
There will be times that you can't control. There will be people you cannot fathom. Keep all of this in mind. And most importantly, take care of your health. It's the best gift you will ever have and without it - everything else will seem useless- be it the greatest dream of your life. Trust me, I know. It's not just the old grandma in me speaking.
I will not tell you what exactly is going to happen in your life. You do not need that burden and frankly, it is more easier if you encounter them first-hand. Don't roll your eyes at me. I know I'm right. You will thank me later.
And my dear, you are perfect in yourself. With innumerable faults, yes, but, I tell you- what is left is enough. I mean, as you can see, you've reached my grand old age in a fairly good shape, mentally and physically. It's no small achievement, isn't it?
And so- be kind as ever, keep singing and don't give up laughing. It's the only weapon against its world's madness. It will all be worth it in the end.
Your sixty year old self.
"Done?", asked Hector, looking intently at me. "Show me".
"Oh, come on".
Hector read it quickly. He looked up at me, and I noticed that his eyes seemed to have a sudden gentleness in their glance. My heart sank. I hadn’t meant to make him emotional or anything...
Suddenly his mouth twisted into a pout. "Where am I in this letter? The all important person of your life-"
Emotional , my foot. The cheeky bastard.
"You decided to arrive a bit too late, darling”, I said smoothly.
He raised his eyebrows at that. I saw him slowly picking up the letter.
“You are not going to send this with Una, are you?”, he asked, his eyes fixed to the letter.
“No", I said. I knew I wouldn’t. And he knew that.
“Why did you write it?”, he said finally. He started folding up the paper.
Why was he asking me all this?
“You made me do it,” I lied.
He snorted. He wasn’t buying that.
I watched his fingers, folding up the paper- smaller and smaller. My mind was working furiously.
I had known, in the midst of writing that letter, why I had finally ended up doing it; despite my snobby ‘no personal writings' policy and despite my absurdly feeble outward protests.
I think the greater forces at work had decreed that I had to face my past fears, finally, for one last time. Or perhaps it was me that wanted to look back once again? Maybe. Who knows?
Suddenly, there was a slight movement beside me, and the next thing I knew was that I was pressed tightly against Hector’s chest. It surprised me for a second - then, I wrapped my arms around him as well. He enveloped me even more closely. It was the familiar feeling of being home; being safe.
After a moment or so- he muttered quietly in my ear, “I’m sorry...I didn’t realise...twenty years...of course, that acc- anyway, I should have written it. I’ll write it for her now...Look, there’s no rule that a person has to always write about the stark truth in school assignments, you know...”
For some reason, I giggled at that. Hector continued on, ignoring my ill timed response.
"...but then... you actually wanted to do this, didn’t you?” His voice held a slight tinge of exasperation.
Oh. He knows.
Hector... lives upto his famous namesake. The thoughtful warrior of the Trojan War would have been proud of him.
I raised my eyes. He was frowning. Then-
“Was it painful? Dragging up all those memories, yet again?"
"Not exactly, no." I said slowly. "I did expect it to be, but I guess...time changes things. I still remember how I felt at that time... I still remember the pain- but it is all as if I am watching someone else. It's there, but it’s also not there...I don't know how to explain it to you exactly..."
He brushed his hand over my hair. "It’s okay, it’s alright.” Pause. He looked at the paper in his hand and pocketed it. I didn’t say anything.
“And I came late, is it?”
“It’s not as if you could have helped it, dearest", I whispered, my hands reaching out to his face. He caught hold of them and held it in place.
Ah, Hector... this was complicated for him. They are not his fears, after all. He hadn’t lived with them. They were like foreigners to him; he knows they exist, but that’s the limit of his relationship with them, isn’t it? He volunteers to battle them with me, for my sake, but it is tough, strange and awkward for him.
Where I could triumph, he could not.
He looked up at me. It was as if he were a small boy again.
“It’s gone now? It’s alright now.”
"Yes", I said, finally believing these oft repeated words by him for the very first time. "It's alright now."
And as he leaned down to kiss my forehead, the memories flashed across my mind for a second - the accident, the terrible losses, the taunts, and the tears flowing like a never-ending waterfall. The fear of life itself. But I pushed them out, looked into my husband's eyes, and saw the gaze that I had first seen around thirty years ago. It said, “I love you.”
Maybe, finally- Hector, too, can triumph.