Random Tales

The Letter

Samantha picked the letter once more. Maybe the words had changed, her mind said to her heart. The letter contained just three words but their weight was slumping her shoulders and making her tired with each passing second.

‘I am done.’

Ashfaq had left in the morning before she woke up and all she got was this letter. No explanation, no reasoning, nothing. Just a letter with three words. Even a hollow statement of care would have been comforting to her but Ashfaq wasn’t like that. He spoke little and to the point.

‘Anything more is just flub,’ he often said.

Samantha looked at their fight yesterday. Was it that big of a deal? Was he overreacting? Had she crossed some invisible line?

“No, our love can’t be this weak that it can’t stand a single fight,” Samantha said to herself trying to make sense of the situation. Tears start to pour from her eyes.

Urooj came in the room and picked up Samantha. “What happened?” She asked Samantha. She looked at Urooj with glassy eyes.

“Ashfaq left me. How could he leave me, all alone?” Samantha said showing Urooj the letter with three words written on them.

Urooj sighed. She picked up Samantha and helped her sit on a chair.

“Can you believe it? Ashfaq left me because of one small fight.”

“What was the fight about?” Urooj asked Samantha.

“Silly thing. I got drunk last night and acted a bit crazy. He had told me to not drink too much but I still did it. He was mad last night. He took care of me the whole night and then left in the morning. He was so kind. How can he be so cruel? I know it’s my fault but he didn’t give me a chance.”

Urooj cradled Samantha who was crying uncontrollably now.

“Mom. Please calm down.”

“But the letter.”

“Forget about the letter.”

“You’re right. Ashfaq hasn’t taken his clothes and everything except for his phone and wallet were still in the house. In fact, it is technically his house. How can he go from his own house?” Samantha said with some comfort.

Urooj nodded, now, tears glistening her eyes as well.

“He will be back,” Samantha said confidently. Her wrinkled fingers clutching the letter in her hands.

Urooj helped her mom lie down in the bed. She couldn’t get the letter out of Samantha’s hand, as much she tried. Once Samantha dozed off, Urooj came out of the room.

“It’s her third attack in two days,” Urooj said to her brother James who had been in the other room, talking to the lawyer.

“The doctor said that these attacks would go away with time. We have to be patient,” James said hugging his sister.

“She’s not ready to leave the letter.”

“Frankly, I’m surprised that she still had that letter.”

“Yeah. When dad used to say that they kept everything, he wasn’t joking.”

“Yeah. I still wish she had not kept the letter. It takes her back to 35 years ago. And I tried telling her that dad came back after a couple of hours but she doesn’t hear or understand it at all.”

Urooj nodded. Their mom and dad had a fairytale love story. Except for that one day, early in their relationship, when their dad got too frustrated with their mom, the two never left each other’s side. For more than 35 years, they were together, until two days back when their dad passed away.

Urooj and James were sad but their mom was shattered. She was holding on to a meaningless letter, waiting for her boyfriend to come back. A boyfriend who came back and became a husband and a father. James and Urooj looked at their family picture from a few years ago. The four of them were smiling with a small caption –

Samantha, Ashfaq, James, Urooj – the perfect family.

“Miss you, Dad,” Urooj said.

“Miss you, Dad,” James said.

Story Collection - MSPM39

Story 39/39: Repeat

Kunal opened his eyes and looked at the world with marvel. Everything was new, everything alive. He checked his whole body and smiled at its composition. He touched his smiling lips and giggled at the moving facial muscles. He stood up and fell down, stood up again and slowly learned to walk, and walked towards the table in front of him. The table was not huge but it looked good enough for some writing and it had a pen and a paper on it as well. Kunal sat down on the chair and picked the pen.

The pen was blue on the outside and had blue ink as well. Kunal scratched and scribbled with the pen a few lines and realized that he didn’t know anything further. He looked around and saw a couple of books on the right side of the desk. He picked the one closest to him and opened it. There were several scribbles on the pages of the book along with the shapes that those scribbles denoted. Overjoyed, Kunal started turning the pages of that book, learning what each of the scribbles meant and sounded. He kept moving from one book to another as his vocabulary increased. He learned that each of these scribbles can be combined to form words which can be spoken through sounds.

Kunal opened his mouth to make the sound that was expected according to the book. He looked around to find a way to verify and saw an instrument which he promptly switched on. Sounds started to flow from the instrument which consisted of the words that he had learned just now. He started practicing them and within a few hours, he was speaking the language.

“Beautiful,” Kunal said hearing a particular melody and sang along. He picked up the pen again and copied the scribbles from the books. Initially, he failed but soon, he was able to copy them exactly as the book suggested. With joy, he started scribbling down one word after the other. His wild imagination creating characters and beings that he had never heard about or seen but he could feel them in himself and he tried to put each and every one of them on the paper.

One word followed by another word, Kunal continued writing with hand and then looked at his creation. Unimpressed, he tore the paper down and went back to listen to the music and words to learn more about them. He focused on the meaning of the words and then went deeper on what more can they denote. Hours went by and he continued to read, listen, talk, and write. After many torn papers, he looked at a single piece of paper and nodded.

“Perfect. Finally, something that I will enjoy reading tomorrow. Maybe, I will continue the story and see where these characters go.”

Kunal kept the paper gingerly on the table and put his pen on it.

“Act as a paperweight and don’t let this story go anywhere. I’ll meet you tomorrow my little tale,” Kunal said fondly to the piece of paper and went back to bed. He closed his eyes and went deep into slumber.

“He’s asleep,” a voice whispered through a mic and a few people started gathering around the room. A sleeping gas was passed in the room and the door of the room was opened.

A couple, now in their fifties walked slowly towards their son and sat by the bed. The doctor came and sat next to them and started measuring the medicine.

“Is there no way?” the mother asked the doctor, for the hundredth time.

“I wish there was mam. This is the only medicine that keeps him alive.”

“But can it not be given to him every alternate day? Or at least, can we not meet him when he’s awake.”

“You can meet him but he won’t recognize or even understand you, sir. You know that.”

They knew. They tried that initially but the blank eyes that stared at them were more painful than looking at their son from afar. A nurse used another syringe to pass nutrients to Kunal’s body. The food in the room was also replaced with fresh food. Some days, he would recognize that his body needs food, while other times, he would forget about food completely.

“How long? It has been two years doctor.” Kunal’s father asked.

“He’s showing signs of improvement. He is learning the skills faster. But unless his disease goes away completely, we can’t take the risk of stopping.”

Kunal’s parents nodded. Two years ago, their son fainted and didn’t wake up for six months. His brain fluids, which were supposed to relieve him and create long-term memories had started acting in a weird cleaning mode and started eating his brain. On further checkup, it was identified that if this continued for a few more days, he would collapse completely and die.

The only way was an experimental medicine that was to be injected every night when Kunal went to sleep. The fluid would stop eating the brain and feed on the fluids injected. Unfortunately, as a side-effect, his brain would wipe off itself from all the memories. The doctors guessed it was due to a reaction between the medicine and the cranium fluid.

Every morning, he would wake up as a newborn. No pain, no experience, no memories. It was not difficult for him to learn anything as his muscle memory was still there and his brain was still the brain of an adult. According to the doctors, it was also possible that the memory wipe was only superficial and Kunal might recall everything in a few days if his brain wasn’t doing the everyday cleaning.

In the initial days, they would leave the place as it was the last night but Kunal wouldn’t identify anything and would simply tear away the papers before starting afresh. It was hard for him to value the stories until he learned to speak and write which usually happened by late afternoon.

His mom and dad started picking up these stories every night from his desk and kept them as souvenirs – proof that their son was not gone, even if he was far from them. They even published some of them and they had found success – both fame and money. Despite his illness, Kunal was still earning enough money to take care of both himself and his parents. Kunal didn’t understand that or even know that but his parents hoped that one day, this cycle will break and their son will find out that he is a beloved author.

Someday!

The room was cleaned and everyone got out. Kunal’s parents went to sleep at their house which was nearby. The next morning, they were back, looking at their son who was just waking up.

Kunal opened his eyes and looked at the world with marvel.

Story Collection - MSPM39

Story 32/39: Choices

Arpita decided to take a break today. She had been working nonstop for the past three weeks, focusing on launching a new product that her company had decided to launch at the decided time despite multiple changes in the features of the product and even the marketing plan itself. In her boss’ words, they were doing it for the customers. In the words of her colleagues, they were doing it to get their boss a promotion.

“‘Twice the work, half the time, same cost.’ That’s an awful great selling point for him to talk about in his next promotion cycle,” one of her colleagues said.

“Yeah! It’s not like he needs to mention that everyone here worked 20 hours a day to get this thing done,” another colleague added.

Arpita usually tried to ignore these things. While she didn’t disagree with this per se, she didn’t find the gossip doing her any good. Feeling bad about her work will only make her do it less efficiently and those hundred and twenty hours work weeks would increase further. Better to put her head down and finish things as quickly as possible.

Yesterday, the product was finally launched. She was one of the lucky few who got a holiday, primarily because it was her birthday and her boss wanted to show how “caring” he was. Arpita knew this too but not unlike her colleagues, she ignored this as well.

She was lying on her bed since 6 am in the morning. That was her usual time to wake up and despite the break, she was unable to sleep beyond this time. But she was adamant to stay in the bed till at least 9 am.

“Thirty minutes to go,” she said to herself looking at the time. She had been scrolling through Instagram for the past 2.5 hrs and was surprised to see that one of her college friends got married.

“Did I get an invitation?” She wondered for a brief second before getting distracted by another image of another friend who had a kid. She remembered getting a message from him about this. She smiled and liked the photograph. He had always wanted a family.

‘What did I want?’ Arpita wondered.

She was dating. Or was she? She checked the messages from Jay and they hadn’t checked on each other for the last month. The last message was her telling him that she’s busy and will call later. There were a few calls from him after that but she hadn’t picked them.

She called him and got no response. She went to his Instagram and he had posted a photo with a new ‘boo’. She knew that she should feel sad but they had been dating only a few months and it was hard to feel any strong emotion. She installed a dating app, swiped for a few minutes, got bored, uninstalled it, and looked at the time again.

“What! Only five minutes have passed. How?” Arpita exclaimed.

Finally, the 8:59 turned to 9:00 and she jumped off the bed. She got ready and then sat on the bed again. Three years of working like a maniac and then overclocking it further in the past three weeks had left her with zero ideas of what to do with her free time.

“What are my hobbies?” Arpita wondered. She looked around the house and saw paintings she used to draw. She hadn’t tried her hand at one for over a year. There was also a keyboard but she didn’t remember having that.

“Oh yeah! Kyle left this one.”

She felt as if she was looking at her house after a long time. She hadn’t come back before 2 am for years now and most of her weekends were either traveling or at work. The only place which looked familiar was the bathroom where she spent most of the time except for the bed.

‘I can’t even remember my own house. Should I slow down?’ She messaged on her phone to the only person with whom she had some semblance of contact.

‘No.’

The reply came almost as swiftly as possible. She sighed. It wasn’t as if she had expected anything else. However, the message continued.

‘How can you even think that? We are barely out of poverty and are still not in any way capable of any financial hardships. Please don’t tell me you are getting these lousy thoughts due to the movies these days. Focus on your work. Focus on earning money. We, your parents, depend on you. Your younger brothers and sisters depend on you. Banish these thoughts from your mind.’

‘It was just a thought.’ Arpita replied. She had not intended to trigger her mother.

‘Is it because of some guy? You know you can’t marry right now. Not before at least one of your brothers is capable of taking care of us.’

‘Yes, mom. Don’t worry. I’m not getting married.’ Arpita messaged looking around her empty apartment. As if I have time to find anyone, she thought.

‘Yes. That’s my girl. Focus on your work. Focus on earning money. And send some more money to us.’

‘Yes, mom.’

Arpita opened her laptop and sent all the money she had saved for the month. Her salary was due in a couple of days and she could manage the remaining time on her credit cards.

“Now that it’s open, might as well,” Arpita said and started working.

The clock said 9:30 am.

Story Collection - MSPM39

Story 26/39: Care

“You know you can do a lot worse than him.”

Roshni munched on the chips and threw the phone away from her.

“Jeez! What’s wrong with you?” Stephen groaned.

“You’re what’s wrong with me,” Roshni said, both aloud and in her mind.

“You don’t have to be this loud,” Stephen said. “If I could go back, I would.”

“But why do you have to talk to me?” Roshni wailed. “Why can’t you be like a normal inner demon and just torment me without the occasional quips.”

“I’m not doing occasional quips. I’m just helping you to end my life. Do you think I enjoy this chips-laden, mayo-filled, calorie-hogging thing you call a body?” Stephen said.

Roshni was stunned. No one had ever talked to her, about her, like that. Worse, she couldn’t walk away from the situation. Wherever she went, there he was, talking, haunting, abusing her.

“Please go away,” Roshni said, almost in tears.

Stephen fell silent. Roshni went to her bedroom and looked at herself in the mirror. Her picture with Mark was still stuck in one corner of the mirror. She couldn’t believe that the girl looking back at her in the mirror was the same one who was in Mark’s arms. Mark wouldn’t have been able to recognize her now.

“Maybe he would have,” Roshni whimpered. Stephen tut-tuted.

She took her sleeping pills and went to bed. The next morning, she woke up, hoping that the voice would be gone but it was still there, mocking her.

“Get up and do something – exercise, run, anything,” Stephen said even before Roshni had taken her first step out of the bed.

She turned towards Mark’s side of the bed. It had been almost a year now since it was empty. Roshni’s eyes widened and she was suddenly wide awake. It was exactly one year. She checked her phone and Mark’s mom had messaged her.

‘When are you coming?’

‘In an hour.’

‘Hurry up. I need you.’

Roshni replied and got out of the bed as soon as she could. She had just an hour to reach and if she did her best, she would barely make it in time. She did.

“Thank God you are here,” Mark’s mom, Judy, said as soon as Roshni reached.

“Hey, mom,” Roshni said and got to work. It was Mark’s birthday and unfortunately, it was also the day he died last year. After a long fight with cancer, his body succumbed on the day of his birthday. Both Roshni and Judy were broken, even if they were happy that they at least got to celebrate one more birthday with him. This year, they discussed at lengths about what to do on his birthday and whether to celebrate it at all. Finally, they decided to celebrate it. Mark would have wanted that. He was not the rueful type.

It was a quiet gathering, a few old friends, who had known Mark and Roshni for years. After five years of marriage, Mark and Roshni had a lot of common friends.

“Even if no one’s saying anything, you know they are furtively looking at you, asking what went wrong,” Stephen said.

“Shut up!” Roshni whispered, pouring as much anger into it as she could.

“I’m just telling you the truth,” Stephen said.

Roshni focused on the party and after it was over, on the cleaning. She had taken the responsibility to organize everything and she wanted to finish everything before she leaves.

“Why don’t you stay tonight with us?” Judy said hugging Roshni from behind.

“Okay, mom,” Roshni said, her mind still fighting with Stephen.

Roshni finished the cleaning up and sat with Judy and Marcus.

“Thank you, girl. I don’t think we would have survived without you,” Marcus said in a gruff but sincere voice.

“It’s nothing.”

“It’s not nothing. It’s a lot. I was just telling Judy yesterday that once we are gone, everything belongs to you. You are our daughter now.”

Roshni blushed.

“Oh hush! Stop your nonsense. She already knows all that.”

“Then why is she not taking care of herself like she’s taking our care,” Marcus said, bringing the elephant in the room at the forefront in one sweep. Judy looked from Marcus to Roshni.

“You know he’s never tactful Roshni.”

“It’s okay,” Roshni said looking down. Stephen was roaring right now, completing a victory lap. “See! I told you so,” he said to Roshni.

Judy put her hand on Roshni’s.

“But he’s not wrong. You know we love you and it kills us to see you like this. We didn’t want to say anything initially. We wanted to give you your space and grieve, hoping that one day you will get out of this and start taking care of your health. But we can’t see you like this anymore.”

“I know. I want to… I tried…” She started but then stopped. Tried what?

“When was the last time you went on a date?” Marcus asked. Roshni looked at him scandalized. “Never, right.” Marcus continued.

“I don’t think you can get a date now,” Stephen said. Roshni ignored that.

“I have installed apps. I am thinking…” Roshni sputtered.

“When did you get a haircut dear?” Judy asked. Roshni looked at her hair which had split ends and were of different shades at the roots and different at the edges.

“Roshni, dear. Please move in with us. I know it’s a lot to ask but we would love if you move in with us. Living alone, in that house, without Mark is clearly killing you,” Judy implored.

“But work…”

“Roshni. This is your father. You are moving in with us. Tomorrow, I will come with you and we will bring all your stuff from your house,” Marcus said and went inside.

“Sorry, honey. We are not asking this time.”

Roshni nodded, partly stunned at what had just happened.

The next day, Roshni moved in with Marcus and Judy, who both had apparently already talked with Roshni’s parents about this arrangement.

Stephen was still living inside her, annoying her, torturing her, taunting her as often as possible. It still hurt to look at the mirror. She didn’t need to bring Mark’s picture as Marcus’ and Judy’s house was filled with her and Mark’s photos.

“What did you eat for breakfast usually?” Judy asked. Roshni thought about the bag of unopened chips that was in her house. Marcus hadn’t let her take any of those packets.

“Eggs and some pancakes,” Roshni said remembering the last breakfast she’d had with Mark. She ate homemade eggs and pancakes after more than a year. They tasted different like Mark used to make.

“After breakfast, let’s go for a walk,” Marcus said and Judy and Roshni nodded.

“And to a salon after that,” Judy added with a smile.

Initially, going to work was hard from the new place but soon, she got used to it and soon, she didn’t know when the year passed and it was Mark’s birthday again.

Roshni woke up and looked at the mirror. She looked exactly as she looked in the picture. As Mark had known her. She kept looking at the picture as tears started to flow from her eyes.

“Stephen?” She whispered. There was no reply.

“Gone! Finally!” Roshni realized and started laughing and crying at the same time.