Letters from Far
by Shrutidhora P Mohor
They play with mounds of dry leaves here. They tumble on the pile and roll over from side to side. Their small palms throw up leaves from the pile. They hide underneath the cascading golden brown leaves. Their naive laughter echoes down the road to the mall below. At the mall the tourist guide awaits his first customer. The wind ruffles through the tall branches and descends on the slopes. I set out on a short walk and at the end of the road drop one more letter into the square letter box squatting on the pavement. The last sentence of the letter always reads the same. It says, I am much better now. I smile more than I cry. The letters go unanswered though. That’s not his fault. I never took his present address. I don’t mind writing to him, nonetheless.
The first time he told me I pretended not to hear him.
I was busy at the kitchen counter, slicing onions into julienne while the pan half-boiled bell peppers in simmering water. I remember turning on the mixer, its whirling sound drowned his voice and I pretended to ignore his words.
When I walked out of my home that evening, I had no idea where I wanted to be. I helped myself to a tea from a roadside stall, crumpled the paper cup and crushed it doubly under my feet when I had finished, withdrew some cash from the corner ATM, picked up a couple of anti-allergic tablets over the counter from the local pharmacy and got into a long-distance inter-state bus that was relatively empty. When the conductor came for my ticket, I asked him where the bus was going. Scratching his chin and running his hands over the stubble on it, he asked, where I wanted to go. I scrutinised my fingernails for some seconds and then said, anywhere far. He looked at me out of his narrow eyes and said, two twenty, and extended his hand towards me.
Where would you go for two fifty? Somewhere farther?
Two twenty is the farthest. Any farther, and you will have to take another bus from there. His head swung in a way which seemed to show me the road ahead of that point.
So, that’s how I left home on that day.
I don’t think I ever blamed him for what happened. I hope I never blamed him for what happened. It’s a little difficult though to recall now how it all happened. It was a good many years ago, an autumn, like many other autumns, cool nights, a tinge of golden lining the clouds, occasional showers, pedestrians caught off-guard, huddling under a shade on the road, regretting not carrying an umbrella.
It was autumn, yes, but not like all other autumns in one way. On one random morning on a day of the week which I can no longer remember, he told me that he could no longer be with me. The neighbours had been loud as usual. Somebody had parked a vehicle on the wrong side of the road and the towing truck had arrived. Amidst the cacophony of screaming neighbours, a belligerent car owner who had suddenly discovered the arrival of the local police, the angry policeman, and a towing truck whose engine the driver did not bother to turn off, he raised his voice to say what he had already told me while I had been making breakfast when I had pretended to not hear him. For the next few minutes, he explained why he couldn’t. I saw his lips moving. I caught a glimpse of his tiny teeth shining from between his moving lips as he parted them more to emphasise a word or underline an expression. I heard his voice, not his words though. I noticed for the umpteenth time the way he moved his hands, curved his eyebrows, lowered his eyes often, or mostly looked away when he thought of adding one more sentence to his speech.
It was probably a Tuesday. He had shaved by then and his cheeks looked a mysterious green. I tried to smile and hum a Billie Eilish tune. Was it Ocean Eyes? Or was it My Strange Addiction? His eyes seemed distant, as though he had already left the place, left me, abandoned us. I acted funny and made a weird face, as though I had just heard a joke. I moved up to him, put my chin below his shoulder, and whispered, You really know how to make me cry/ When you gimme those ocean eyes/ I’m scared…
I had a ball of ugly, ill-knit tears pushing up my throat. It seemed to extract all of my last meal from my intestines. Nauseous, I gulped down water straight from the glass jar, emptying it by half. Most of it fell on my chest, wetting my floral top. I ran my hands over the wet patches and then rubbed my hands on the sides of my trousers. My feet waded through the pool formed where I was standing, and I tiptoed away from him towards the door. He didn’t stop me. I didn’t want him to stop me either. I only remember asking him, when? When do you propose to leave? He muttered, as soon as possible. I shall have to, can’t delay things anymore, he added. I agreed and went out of the room.
On Tuesdays we used to have continental breakfast and Indian lunch. The grocery I would pick up every Sunday evening. To run us through the week. He would generally not accompany me to the supermarket. He said his head reeled looking at the endless rows of cans and tins and pouches and boxes and he felt impatient as I read labels and compared quantities and prices. He would have loved it here. A small shop, with a small counter, housing only a small number of items. No brands to choose from. The local grocer being your provider. You ask for something. He checks out the few shelves on which things are stocked, hands it over to you, you pay him, you take the change, and that’s it. Shopping done. A trolley would not have got in through the door here, ever. I chuckled at the thought of a trolley. How I used to kiss his cheeks and say, “Baby, sulking baby! I’ll put you into the trolley and take you around the supermarket. That way you will be there with me, but you won’t have to walk around, or stand and wait for me. Neither will you be able to distract me as I read calories and saturated fat contents. My trolley baby!”
The streets here are littered with pine cones. The children organise impromptu competitions when they finish school for the day and walk down the mountain road to the village below. They squeal and leap, jump and trot, swing and roll down the slope near the culvert as they hurry to pick up the best cones. He would have loved watching them. Perhaps this place would remind him of his childhood, simple, playful, innocent, mired in the trivial. I watch the children from my window. It takes five minutes for dusk to set in here. The lone lamppost at the junction of the hilltop on whose left the road tapers off to the school can hardly do anything to light the place up. It’s dark here for long hours of each day. He would have loved the sunset spectacle from the chapel corner. The big metal bell on the low roof over the annexe building, unused and immobile for decades now hides the better part of the sunset if you can’t pick your spot cleverly. I would have shown him the place from where you can see the sun set without being interrupted by the bell. Details, small details, both of us adept at living a detailed life.
I don’t think I miss him anymore. On second thoughts, I miss some of the details though. Did he turn on his sides last night? Did he have his last haircut a few weeks too late? Was he noisy when he munched on the French fries? Or maybe he no longer insists on slicing the tomato with the fork? I think I’ll ask him all that. I’ll write to him tomorrow morning. A long letter with all my questions. And then, after dropping the envelope into the letter box, I shall not be impatient for quite a few days. He will quite naturally take time to reply. These are, after all, letters from a faraway place. The bus conductor that evening had charged quite highly for the journey. The letters, I know, will take time to reach him. I’ll wait.
Shrutidhora P Mohor (born 1979) is an author from India writing literary fiction.
She has been listed in several international writing competitions like Bristol Short Story Prize 2022, the 20th Bath Flash Fiction Award (February 2022), the George Floyd Short Story Competition 2022, the 16 th Strands International Flash Fiction Competition (March 2022), the Retreat West monthly micro competition April, September, and October 2022, the Retreat West quarterly themed competition March 2022, the Retreat West Annual Prize for short story 2022, the Winter 2022 Reflex Fiction competition.
Her writings have been published by oranges journal July 2022, Fiery Scribe Review Magazine April and August 2022, National Flash Fiction Day Flash Flood June 2022, Ayaskala February 2022, Friday Flash Fiction September 2022, Courageous Creatives anthology September 2022, Spiritus Mundi Review September-October 2022, Contemporary Jo October 2022, Erato Magazine November 2022, Worm Moon Archive November 2022, Flash Fiction Magazine November 2022, Vestal Review issue 61 December 2022; (nominated for this flash fiction piece to Best Micro fictions 2023), The Violet Hour Magazine December 2022, Quibble Lit January 2023, Drip Literary Magazine (forthcoming, February 2023), The Lovers Literary Journal (forthcoming), Bullshit Lit (forthcoming, September 2023).
Mohor (she/ her) is the pen name for Prothoma Rai Chaudhuri, MA Ph D, Faculty, Department of Political Science, St Xavier’s College, Calcutta, India.
She does social science through literary fiction.