Outside the lines – Sanchita Srivastava

Theme: The first day of college, a love note, and I suddenly saw a light at a distance…

“The first day of college and I get a love note- how perfect?!”- I mumbled sarcastically to myself.

I looked at it again just to make sure that I wasn’t hallucinating. I even tore the corner of the paper to make sure it was real.

“Pretty real!”- I sighed and got up.

The words were still echoing in my head- “My Heart is perfect because you are inside.”

But the almost illegible weren’t bothering me as much as the fact that the handwriting seemed oddly familiar.

The bell rang announcing the end of the break putting an end to my thoughts. I got up from the old bench, stuffed the note unceremoniously into my jacket and started walking and then almost angry at myself I took the note out of my pocket- tore it into half and then another half and threw it on the ground. I had already wasted 10 minutes on the silly paper and was starting to feel embarrassed. I sprinted towards my history classroom and made it 2 minutes late. Thankfully my teacher was a female and once she had a look at my face she batted her eyes and allowed me in.

I had a good face and I knew that but the girls turning their heads to stare at me knew it better than me. I sat oblivious staring out of the window. I have to give them credit though- they were fast- managing to write a love note just after 2 classes. This semester was going to be horrifying.

“Dude aren’t you a lucky one!”- The guy next to me barked. A stare was enough to shut him up however the fact that the teacher called us to attention just at that moment may have contributed.

“Welcome all of you to Bloomsburg University. You people already had the orientation programme yesterday so I am not going to bother repeating the same things. Now history is the most stable subject as I like to put- it has no further developments and no new editions. The past is set in stone.”- She said. “My name is Alison Richard and I will teach you the exquisite subject this semester. Now…”

But she was distracted- a girl was standing in the doorway- mumbling an apology. The teacher nodded and she entered with her head down-I couldn’t see her face, not that I tried very hard. She sat in one of the front rows and the teacher started enlisting the topics she was going to cover.

I was looking at the girl for no reason when she abruptly looked at me and suddenly every letter of that love note made sense.

“This can’t be happening”. – I said to myself again.

I got up in a hurry and dashed out. I needed air. The past cannot creep at me now- not when I was about to have a fresh beginning. Not when life has started to go my way.

“Aaldon wait”. – She called. I ignored and kept moving.

“Aaldon stop- I am not going to bite you”. – She shouted and everybody in the vicinity started at me. I was trapped.

I turned warily and stood with a sombre expression. She caught up and smiled her biggest smile.

“It is so good to see you Al. It has been what 4 years?”

“It is Aaldon”. I corrected her and stayed silent waiting for her to speak. She just stared at me.

It got uncomfortable so I asked, though I already knew the answer- “Did you send the note?”

She giggled. I took that as a yes.

“What do you want May?” I asked bluntly.

“Nothing I saw you on the campus and I just couldn’t help myself. By the way- you look good”- she added.

I fired another question- “Are you joining Bloomsburg as well?” I asked dreading the reply.

“No silly- I just wanted to scare my half-brother and looking at your face I think I deserve an Oscar”- she laughed. I wanted to slap her face. Instead I asked-“How is mom?”

“Oh she is fine you know- the same old- attending parties and donating money. She would love to see you though”. – She looked dolefully at me.

I put on my most sarcastic smile- “I am the fool who learn from his mistakes- tell mother I will see her when hell freezes over”. – I turned and started walking in the opposite direction. Her expression pleased me.

I didn’t want to think about the past but it all came sneaking back. I needed to sit somewhere.

I eventually located a fir tree and knew that was going to be my haven for the next 3 years. Mercifully my sister has confronted me after the college got over. I didn’t want to appear weak.

I rested my head on the trunk letting the gentle smell of the dead fir fill me. The smell had memories of its own. May and I had filled our pillows one year with dead fir to have the smell in our bedroom. I was just 8 that time and she 9. My father had married her mom and we had become a whole family. I can’t honestly say now that I loved Shirley Mason– but I certainly had a fondness for her then, though I thought it was love. She wasn’t exactly the mother I was hoping for but my dad seemed contented and I got a playmate as May and that made me happy. Shirley or rather my mom was not prejudiced and she treated May and me equally. But she had other plans and she was not what you call the usual evil.

“You shouldn’t be thinking about that”.- I told myself again but the incidence was already swirling in front of my eyes- too late to stop- the images were developing- coming back from Switzerland after finishing my schooling and witnessing the picture of my father hung over the fireplace- the only reminder of him in our home. Shirley had changed everything in just 2 weeks- and the place I remembered as a home was gone. Uncle Jacob took me in as I refused to stay in the same house. I was just 17 but I had the intuition of my father.

My father had died of stroke- and the reason I wasn’t told this immediately was explained swiftly by my mother- “You had your finals Al- your father would have wanted nothing more than you finishing your education and besides everything happened so fast”. She said waving her hand and her diamond rings twinkled. And I don’t know what but a hatred filled me up at that very instant and something snapped inside. My father’s death did not make sense- a stroke? He was so healthy- just 52! And when they read the will- my mother got everything- not that I needed money but the will was proof enough. The first drop of rain brought me back and I was glad that it had started raining.

The parking lot was almost empty when I reached there. I got into my Toyota and headed to my apartment in Avenue Street.

It was already dark when I reached the building. I gave the car keys to the doorman and got into one of the two lifts. My apartment was on the 16th Floor- cheers to my uncle- I smiled. I decided to call him later.

I got off on the 16th floor. My building has 4 apartments on one floor. Mine despite being on the 16th floor is a studio apartment. I was in the process of getting my keys out when I noticed that the door was ajar and a thin beam of light was illuminating the carpet in the corridor.

I thought about calling the guard but then I spotted a baseball bat positioned outside the apartment door next to mine. Probably the kid who lived there must have left it outside, I thought picking it up. I slowly pushed the door open with my foot and entered in like a ninja-skidding to a stop at the site in front of me. My step-mom was sitting on the couch staring at me. I stared right back.

“Hello Al. Long time.”

“What are you doing here?”- I asked blatantly- telling my good manners to go die.

“Is this how you talk to your mother?”

I wanted to tell her what I had told my manners to do but chose to be quiet instead. I stared patiently at her.

“I have not come here to convince you or anything of that sort. May called me up this afternoon to tell that she saw you in Bloomsburg University. I have come here to tell you that if you needed any help please feel free to ask. That money belongs to you.”- She said.

“I don’t want your blood money.”- I said in an unforgiving tone.

She stared at me and I couldn’t read her expression. Finally she got up and said in a neutral voice- “I said you can ask if you need it”. She started to move. I got aside.

She got the meaning and increased her pace.

“Please don’t come back and ask May to let me be. I don’t want to see either of you”. – I said harshly.

“Obviously reason is beyond you”. – She said shaking her head. I started closing the door when she stopped it with her hand.

“I wanted to give this to you.”- She took a letter out of her purse.

“Honestly, I am not interested…”- I managed to say before she interrupted me and said.

“It was written by your father for you. I found it after you left with your uncle. It was in his diary.”

I took the letter from her and stared at the envelope. It said –

Aaldon Jones

I recognized my father’s handwriting and couldn’t believe the treasure I was holding. I looked at my mother once and she had a smile on her face like I had forgiven her. I slammed the door at her face. I went into the bedroom taking the letter opener from the desk with me.

I was scared to open it. I could picture my dad bending over his desk in the library where he liked to work- using his Montblanc with the black ink.

I stared at the envelope for a couple of minutes and finally opened it slitting swiftly with the blade. The letter was small as I expected.

Dear Al,

I hope you are doing well at school. I know you will laugh at receiving this letter thinking that I could just call you up but I think traditional ways are better for conversations like this. You will be 17 next month and ready to leave school in 2 weeks- already an adult. All I want to say is that you have made me a proud father so far and I am more than certain that you are going to keep making me so in future as well. I am not a man of words a quality which you have inherited from me and what safe way to put my feelings into words and to write it down making it eternal- I love you my son. I know I have made some wrong choices and ignored you more than once and I have absolutely no excuse for that. I just hope that you will turn out to be a better person than me. Just remember a piece of advice from your old man- don’t let the world destroy who you are. Your values define you.

Take care.

Alfred Jones

I let the tears flow. Running my hands over his handwriting- I could almost feel his warmth. It has been 4 years but today I can finally let love fill my heart instead of sorrow. My mother was still pounding at the door and I got up to open the door. She was surprised to see my face but didn’t say anything and just took my hand.

“You’re just like your father Al”. – She whispered quietly.

I was lost in the blinding light that filled me inside. My father smiled at me behind my eyes.

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