The postman dropped my mail by the gate. The rain had not stopped pouring since yesterday afternoon. I grabbed an umbrella and walked to my mail. Thunder roared loudly as I sat down on returning to my cup of tea.
There it was a blue envelope with the same postmark and a new stamp. This one was pretty. It looked like he went into a lot of trouble to ensure that the weight of the letter would get him this stamp. I smiled. Twenty years since the first stamp touched my hands…it made me smile shyly to think of it. No one would have ever thought that a 10 yr old could be so passionate of stamps that she was willing to write letters to all her relatives whatever be the occasion. In return for her lovely gesture, the reply posted to her would have the latest and most colorful stamps to add to her collection.
In her hurry to post a letter one morning, she penned down a digit less and it sealed the beginning of a beautiful friendship. He received the letter along with his favorite magazine. The address stated his name, but the sender was unfamiliar. He had to pay a fine as the sender had put a stamp of insufficient value for posting. To add to his dismay, the content to the letter was even stranger.
Hope this letter finds you well. I loved the butterfly but I wish you had sent me the deer instead. I know it cost 2 Rs more, but can I have that one? I promise in my next mail, I will include pictures of my birthday party in class.
P.s., I stuck Gandhi as I didn’t have change. Sorry for the Chellan you may get!
A week later, a reply with Gandhi stuck on it came back.
Dear Ms. Jenny,
I paid the Chellan for your letter. What sort of deer are you looking for? It is costly to post a big deer in this envelope. Hope you are not crazy. I am returning the favor of Gandhi. Hope you have change to pay.
Yours sincerely, Jac
The memory brought back a flush. His cheeky reply was really annoying. After a few Gandhi stuck letters with fines were exchanged, a beautiful card came one Christmas with a packet of new and beautiful stamps. The message was heart touching.
My mom says that it is rude to send letters with Chellan purposely. Sorry. I know you like stamps, so hope these are what you were looking for. The deers on them are nice. I had to exchange my new magazine with Peter for these.
Its Christmas next week. Hope you have a nice cake. My mum is a lousy cook.
Pssss don’t tell her that though!
The first stirring in my heart, it brought butterflies in my stomach. I got a card….from a boy…and he gifted me stamps! It is hard to forget the first time you were thought to be special. I was touched. I did not know his age, nor had I seen him. But the stamps spoke volumes. I learned to bake my first cake that year. Everyone loved it…or so they said. I saved a piece and parceled it to Jac. His reply ….
Thanks for the cake. I think it got spoilt by the time it reached me. It tasted horrible! Thanks for the thought!
I was so upset, I cried all afternoon on seeing it. I did not mail him for a week. How dare he criticize my cake. Everyone one knew that the cake would not spoil. I am used to cakes from Aunt Alan by parcel. Stupid Boy!!
It was by accident that I overheard the actual verdict of my baking. My grandfather was who was an expert at cooking told my mother, “Teach Jenny the tips. She put a pinch of sugar and 4 tablespoons of salt for that cake. Lord knows, I tried to eat and keep a straight face despite knowing that the cake would shoot my BP to Hades!”
” Shhh, Daddy. She is sensitive to criticism!” my mother said as she hushed his comments. I was hurt all the same. The guy was honest and rude. I shall never write to him, I promised myself. Promises are made to be broken.
Did I upset you? Have you been busy? Why don’t you write?
The fellows here are envious of the letters I get. They think I have a gal. What do you say? I am 12 yrs old and I think it’s nice to have a gal.
By the way, hope you don’t mind; I gave the rest of the cake to Peter and told him that the cake was special and that’s why it tasted different. He gave it to his gal saying that he paid all his pocket money to get her a special cake. She hit him on the head after tasting it and called him a moron for spending the cash. Ha ha ha!
Poor Peter, I had tried convincing him that she was too posh for him. He would never listen. Thanks to your special cake, I have my friend back!
You are special Jenny. Do send more of that cake, please add more sugar.
For the next three weeks, Grandpa and I sat to nurse my mother who had chicken pox. My father was always traveling would drop in from time to time and regale me with tales of the places that he had visited. I was always in awe of him. His business gave me a chance to increase my stamp collection.
One day, he gave me a few stamps with the Mexican eclipse on them. A colleague had gifted it to him when he came from abroad. I loved the stamp. It was unique. I wanted to share it with Jac. That was when I realized that it had been 2 months since I wrote to him. His last letter to me reached a few weeks late as there were strikes and bandhs in between. When I read his letter, I felt the first stirrings of something strange. His words gave me such a shy pleasure. He asked me to be his GAL! I wondered what he was like. After days on contemplating, I decided that I could not be anyone’s gal. My parents would have my hide. I was from a traditional Syrian Christian household and an affair of any sort would cause a scandal. I was sensitive to what my folks would face. Nevertheless, I posted one stamp from my eclipse collection to let him know that I valued his friendship. I loved the letters and I reasoned that I could never say NO to a secret stamp supplier.
Weeks began to fly and then months. Jac and I began to exchange stamps until his 17th birthday. He was due to study in a prestigious engineering college. He wanted to meet me, he kept insisting on a picture. I was painfully shy. At 15, I was easy on the eyes, but conservative in my approach. Internet was just becoming popular and my parents would warn me often of speaking to strangers. Jac was no stranger, but he was a stranger. It was strange that we wrote to each other for 5 years and we never exchange pictures. We sent each other cards, gifts, and stamps.
I am going off to study in the USA. My flight is scheduled on the 1st of August. It is a great opportunity. Dad and Mum will visit me after I settle down. I shall miss you Jenny. Before I leave, can I speak to you?
I know you are weary of strangers. But I wish to hear you voice before I leave. I promise to keep it a secret and you have a gentleman’s word on it.
You can call me on the 16th of July. It’s a Tuesday and am home alone. Don’t say no. Give the number a ring before you cut it. That will be my cue to know you are calling. I am free in the afternoon from 2pm -4 pm.
You are protected from a stranger and no one will be wiser…I will expect your call.
My heart pounded like a thousand horses. Behind the letter, his number was written in bold ink. 16th was a week away. He had ended the letter is a new way. Should I call? Everyone would be taking a nap during the afternoon. A tinge of anticipation caught up with me. In my heart, I knew I was curious. If anyone heard my call, all privileges would be cut. Two years back, my mother got suspicious and I had to stop writing frequently to avoid a warning regarding strangers. I began to collect my letters from the post office directly, thereafter. Ms. Mary from the post office was fond of my cakes. I had become an expert at baking and loved the smell of cakes. I would often give her a small cake from my latest batch to feed her sweet tooth in return for the letters to be kept with her until I checked in on them.
I spent two days thinking of Jac’s request. He was like my secret diary. One could write anything in it and it would never reveal your secrets. The plus point in this instance was that I would receive a reply and stamps in return for the writing. My mind was filled turmoil. I turned to my grandpa for advice.
“Grandpa, what did you do when you first met Grandma?” I asked, knowing well that his marriage was a love arranged marriage.
“Why do you ask Jenny? Did you meet a good fellow?” there was a twinkle in his eye.
“Dad! Don’t fill her head with stories!” my mum retorted as she heard him.
Grandpa let out a loud rumbling laughter. I loved to hear him laugh. ” Maria, my love for your mother was no story, it was a fairy tale! You better believe it! “
He winked as he continued. “I met her at a church fair for Christmas. I had never seen a prettier woman. I was hooked by her smile and her dimples. It was love at first sight. Do you know that you have Stella’s looks? The dimples … and the reassuring smile.” I smiled.
“I took a nice bouquet of flowers from Sam, her brother, and went over to propose at the cake stall. I was such a fool. I had no idea that such things were to be done in private. I remember the blush on her face and then a hard fist knocking me out! “
” Oh! What happened? “I asked surprised. Who would dare to hit someone with such a romantic proposal?
” Sam! He was defending his sister’s honor. It was quite a blow. Seems she was promised to some merchant from Bombay. Well, I had the swelling for days but the spirit refused to let her go. Yes it was love. “
“What did you do?”
” I climbed up the mango tree that was shading her window and put in a paper rocket with a red rose early each morning before she woke up. The rocket had my initials on it for her to know that I was a die hard Romeo. I sat there until she woke up and watched her look puzzled for a few days before the tree branch broke. That was when she realized who the rose was from. It was also the end of the paper rocket.”
“Did you give up?” I asked laughing.
” No young lady! Never!”
My mother rolled her eyes.
” I sat by the bus stop where she would walk by each day to watch her pass by before I started my day. The pleasure it gave me was…eh…well, where was I ? …yes…she would smile when she saw me and then vanish. She feared loose tongues. After a week of watch her, I befriended the stable boy to pass small love notes to her.”
” But you did not know her Grandpa! Don’t you tell me not to talk to strangers?”
” Jenny, all is fair in love and war! My heart knew her, she was no stranger. She was already the air that I breathed. One can never call that a stranger……”
That was my answer. Jac was …special to me. If Grandma Stella was no stranger to Grandpa, Jac was no stranger to me. I felt relieved and anxious at the same time.
Read the Part 2 of the story here