Other than the letters requesting for leave during school, I have not written any letter all my life! Therefore please excuse my ignorance; I do not know the art of writing letters. I really do not know what to write. I’m at a total loss of words. You know that you are beautiful. I need not tell that. Many a man would’ve told you this from the time you were in school.
And yes… I may not be the first one writing a love letter to you. I like you. I love you in fact. Not just because you are beautiful but also because you are wonderful. I never thought that a girl like you would even care to be friends with a boy like me. I am forever indebted to you; the care you shower on me… I can never repay. I’m not as rich as you. I can never afford to buy you any luxury. But my love for you is rich. If you are ready to come with me, we can build a nest and live happily ever after.
I hope that you will not slap me when we meet tomorrow.
Her hands were still shaking. Mae was excited and nervous! All her life she met men who bought her expensive gifts and took her to posh eateries, but none wrote her any letter… that too with so much love. Her joy knew no bounds. She held her first love letter close to her heart.
She stood by the window and closed her eyes. She could feel the breeze gently brush her hair. She opened her eyes slowly. The old apple tree outside her window suddenly seemed to be swaying! …as if waving at Mae. Two little birdies perched on the window sill began singing a happy tune. A tiny petal came along with the breeze and decided to rest on her shoulder.
Everything looked beautiful. Everyone looked happy. There was a sharp pain in her chest. But it was sweet… Mae was loving it. What was this weird feeling? She never had experienced anything like that before. Was she… Oh my god! Yes… Mae was very much in love!
Mae jumped on her bed like a little girl, the letter still in her hand. Her mirth invited trouble. The sound got unwanted attention. Her mother came running to her room only to find Mae jumping like a maniac. Mother yelled at Mae for not acting her age. She turned to go back to the kitchen when… she noticed the piece of paper in Mae’s hand.
Mother wanted to know what it was. Mae was a bad liar. Her bluff was called. Mother was shocked out of her wits. She took the letter with her to show it to Mae’s Daddy. What was poor Mae going to do now? Will Ken get into trouble because of her? Mae knew her Daddy well. He had a temper which was huger than him. The bliss was gone. Mae began sweating profusely. She did not want Daddy to hurt Ken.
Daddy did not let Mae go to college the next day. He did not talk much. He told her to stay indoors. This frightened Mae all the more. Was she supposed to stay indoors just for the day… or… all her life? Daddy went to work as usual. Mae did not know as to what was in store. Was Daddy going to take Mae to task after he came home? Or was he planning to punish her severely? What was he going to do with Ken?
A week passed. Daddy neither spoke to Mae nor sent her out. Mae was a scared cat. She prayed every night. The silence was killing her. She had to find out if Ken was alright. She wrote a letter and handed it to the paper boy. She could trust the little chap. He was friends with Ken. Mae told the boy that it was a secret.
The next morning, Mae went to fetch the paper eagerly. The boy told her that he could not meet Ken. Mae was devastated. But the boy assured that Ken would be alright. He also told her that he slid the letter underneath Ken’s door. The boy opined Ken might have been threatened… and so he too stayed indoors.
With a sad face, Mae went back to her room. That evening, Daddy came to her. He pulled a chair and told her in a low voice that was thinking of sending her back to the college. He warned her of dire consequences if she dared to meet the orphan. Mae assured Daddy that she would not even look at Ken. Daddy smiled, relieved and left the room. Little did he notice that Mae’s legs were crossed.
Mae went to bed, a soul at peace. She could not be more happy. She lay on her bed smiling like a fool. She slid her hand under her pillow. She found something. It was a note… from Ken!
I’m fine. Do not worry about me. I’m the happiest boy on earth right now. In your letter, you deny that you are in love with me. But your concern towards me says otherwise. Mae, I’m blessed to have you in my life. You care for me. That’s more than enough. Your letter gave me strength. I always cribbed that I can never give you gold or money. But Mae, I have realized that I can and I will always keep you happy. I love you Mae. You are my life. I will always be there for you… and this is a promise.
Mae was shocked and surprised at the same time. From where did the letter come? Who kept the letter beneath her pillow? How can the paperboy come inside the house? She was happy to know that her love was safe and sound. But the only thing that bothered her was the letter. Mae began racking her brain.
The sudden gush of air took an unprepared Mae by surprise. She never left her window open when she was not in the room. Mae began closing the window when she noticed something really strange. A big branch of the old apple tree was bent. Did Ken climb the tree and get to her window? Did he place the letter beneath her pillow? She scribbled her doubts on a piece of paper and went to sleep.
The next morning, she handed the paper to the paperboy. All excited to get back to college, Mae dressed up as if she was going for someone’s wedding. Her friends were happy to see her after so many days. She had to lie to them that she was down with flu. She was dying to meet Ken after college.
Mae ran behind the library and stood waiting for Ken near the corridor. She waited and waited but Ken did not turn up. She could wait no longer. Daddy would smell something fishy if she did not go home. With a heavy heart, Mae went home.
She went to bed early… immediately after supper. She wept bitterly like a small child forced to go to bed early. Mae pressed her face on the pillow and sobbed. Her cries were muffled. Unknowingly, she slid her hand underneath her pillow. She found a letter!
“My dear Mae,
I’m not a poet. I do not know how to express my love for you. But here is something that tells what you mean to me.
No ornate words to pen, no fancy tunes to sing…
I only know that you’re my queen; I may not be your king
And yes… you are right! I climbed the apple tree and got to your window. A mild jerk or two opens your window. I then place the letter beneath your pillow. All these… after your father leaves for work. No one has noticed me climbing. You hardly have any neighbours Mae. Why do you fear that someone will catch me or complain to your father? I have been told to stay away from you. I’m doing just that… for your own good. But do not worry. I will come out of hiding soon and take you along with me. No… you won’t be eloping. I’m working hard my love. I will ask your hand in marriage and seek blessing from your parents. We need not runaway like cowards. Have faith in me. I will be there for you. It’s my word.
Mae breathed a sigh of relief. Ken was out of her sight but always with her. The lovebirds kept exchanging letters. Weeks passed… and so did months. Mae’s love for Ken only grew as the days passed. She carefully hid all the love letters inside her doll. She knew that none would suspect the doll. Mae went to college like before. She retired early because there was a reply waiting for her, beneath her pillow every single night. Boy… was she happy! Neither her teachers nor her parents knew about the love letters.
Mae wanted desperately to meet Ken. But she knew that he would get into trouble if they were seen together. She wanted to hide in her room and catch Ken red-handed. But she had to help her mother in the kitchen during that hour of the day. Mae never knew when Ken came… and when he left!
It was a lovely Monday. Mae was getting ready to leave. So was her Daddy. There was a loud knock on the door. Mae’s mother opened the door. At the door were cops. Mae stood in a corner shivering with fear. She had done no crime but she feared that something had gone terribly wrong. The cops spoke to her Daddy and asked him to come with them to the station.
Mae could hear her mother moaning. She yelled “He’s innocent” and collapsed then and there. Mae rushed to her mother. The cops assured the women that Mae’s Daddy was only being questioned and not arrested… yet. Mae had no idea of what was going on.
“The orphan who wrote you that love letter has been found dead” said Mae’s mother. There was an eerie silence. Mae was shell-shocked. She could not believe her ears. “What?” she whispered. Her throat had gone dry. Her mother could hardly hear Mae.
“Cops say that the boy was murdered. His decomposed body was found in the woods near his house. They found a tailor’s receipt and a grocery bill in his back pocket, which revealed his identity. His neighbours told the cops that your Daddy was the last man to be seen with that boy. So they have taken Daddy for interrogation. Don’t worry Mae… Daddy will be fine. He’s innocent. He did not harm the boy. He will come home” said Mae’s mother, assuring herself and her daughter.”
“That can’t be true! Ken is alive! That’s a mistaken identity. It has to be someone else’s corpse they found in the woods! It’s not Ken” Mae wailed.
Mae’s mother hit her hard on the face. She was infuriated that the silly girl was worried about the boy and not her own father. An equally upset Mae ran to her room and wrote a letter to Ken about the sudden turn of events. She stealthily opened the main door and ran out when her mother sat weeping in the bedroom.
Mae did not know where Ken lived. But she knew where the paperboy lived. She saw the kid playing with his friends. She went up to him and asked him to give the letter to Ken at the earliest. The boy looked puzzled. “Why do you write letters everyday when he does not want to talk to you?” the boy asked.
“What do you mean by that?”asked an even more puzzled Mae. “Look… it’s none of my business… but I don’t think Ken lives there anymore” said the boy. “And why do you say so?” asked a worried Mae. “All your letters are lying in a heap there. I can see… I bent down to slide the letter under the door and there were letters on the floor… All yours… I guess… untouched” explained the boy. “Take me to his house, will you?” pleaded Mae and the two walked towards the woods.
They could not get close. Cops had sealed the place for investigation. So Mae and the kid climbed a tree to get a better view. From the side window, Mae could see the letters piled on the mat behind the main door. She broke down completely.
Mae ran back home weeping. Her mother had not noticed that Mae was out. Mother did not notice Mae coming in either. The undelivered letter was still in her hand. Mae did not know what to do. She wanted to tell the whole world that her Ken was very much alive. She was in a dilemma.
If all her letters were unread, then how did Ken keep replying to each mail? If he had indeed read those letters, then why were those lying behind the main door? Where was Ken? She waited for the night. She waited for Ken to come by her window. She waited for him to bring her a letter.
Mae’s mother called her to the kitchen. Mae simply refused to go. She wanted to see Ken. She stayed put. Her mother did not bother to call her downstairs again. Mae waited. She heard the front door open. Her Daddy was back. She heard him telling her mother that he had to go to the station yet again the next day.
Now that Mae’s Daddy came home, will Ken turn up? Mae did not lose hope. Her eyelids were heavy. Yet she forced herself to stay awake. It was dark. Her parents retired. She could hear her Daddy snore. Mae knew that Ken will not come. She went to bed.
Hoping against hope she slid her hand underneath the pillow. There was a letter! Her heart skipped a beat. Mae was sitting in her room all the while. When did Ken come and leave the letter? Did he come when she went looking for him? Her trembling hands opened the envelope.
Stop worrying about me. I will always be there for you… I’m always with you… and that’s a promise.
Mae dropped the letter. Her eyes were filled with horror. The letter which she intended to hand over to the paperboy was still very much with her. Then how did Ken reply to the letter even when it did not reach him? She pondered. Did any of her letters reach Ken at all? How could he reply to the mails without getting them? How could she be getting replies to her undelivered mails?
Mae felt giddy. She gulped down water like she was thirsty for ages. Sweat drenched her completely. Her limbs were still shaking. She closed the door behind her and took her doll. She took off the head and fetched the letters. All the letters were inside the doll. No one had touched them.
What was happening? She took one of Ken’s letters and thought to read it again. To her utter shock, the letter was empty! There was not a single word written on it. She took another letter and another letter… all the letters were blank! Was she dreaming all this while? Had Ken never replied to any of her mails? Then who placed the letters under her pillow? Was all that in illusion? Was she hallucinating?
She held the letters close to the lamp. She could see something! It was not clear but something was written in the end of every mail…
Other than the sentence “I will always be there for you… and this is a promise”, all other words had vanished!