Article type: Short Story
Average reading time: 10 to 15 minutes
This is my first attempt to write a real short story. I have tried before, but many of them had to do more with facts and less with fiction. This was an attempt to see if I can really write something purely out of imagination. Not sure if it really keeps you interested till the end. But I needed to give it a try.
This is an over optimistic start as I have tried to write from a woman’s point of view and that too with a setting in which I have never lived for sure. But nothing wrong in trying to write. In the least, it’s always better to write a bad story than not to write a story at all.
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The book of my love
May be we will be happy once again, when the war is over. But nobody knows when the war will be over. And nobody knows whether we will be happy when the war is over.
I wish I could go somewhere where I do not want to fear death every second. There lands a bomb from nowhere on the opposite house. I know I missed it only by few meters. That’s what scares me most about this war. There is no clue when you will die. But then life has to go. I can’t stop eating. I can’t stop doing many things which look totally meaningless in a war. But I have to do because the bomb hasn’t found me yet. And may be it will never find me. That’s the hope with which we live in a war.
Those were the daily thoughts in our lives. To fall in love in times of war will not help you in anyway either. In fact, it is so horrible to be in love in times of war. Let me tell you my story of love in times of war.
I was a twenty-two year old girl then and I guess it was somewhere in early 1940s. Now that it’s almost forty years after the war, everything looks like a far away nightmare. Did I really live and survive the war? Many of my friends died. It’s at least better to know that they died. What happened to many of my friends is a mystery till today. They may be alive somewhere or dead long ago, who is to tell me.
I used to work as an assistant in the local library. I used to walk to work as the library was only a mile away from our house. I stayed with my parents. My father used to run a small business and my mom was a housewife. I was the youngest among four siblings. I had two brothers and a sister. My brothers went to stay in their own houses after they got married. We used to meet once in a month and it was such a fun. And what happened to my brothers is still a mystery. Everyday I pray to God that they are alive somewhere, that they will find me someday and we will have a dinner together again. But it’s a hopeless prayer.
Library was in an old building which I guess was built four hundred years ago. It had no particular historical significance though. The walls of the main hall where the books were placed were decorated with many paintings. Of all the paintings, I loved one painting in which a couple are walking on a busy road holding each others’ hands. The artist captured every small detail on either sides of the road. There were stalls selling fruits, clothes, sweaters, and many more items. There were small kids playing on the footpath. And there was a butterfly flying. Amidst all the miniature details, the artist still captured the passionate couple and the love they had for each other. I still remember the way they held their hands and the smiles on their faces and the love that motionless picture conveys in that eternal moment.
I used to go to work by nine in the morning and stay there till five in the evening. I was an assistant to the main librarian. And most of my work was to place the returned books in the right places. It was also my job to help people find the books they wanted. I used to get plenty of free time which allowed me to read many books.
One afternoon, when I was busy shuffling the books to make sure they were in the right places, there came a man. When our eyes met for the first time, I fell in love with him. He was not that kind of a guy every girl would dream to sleep with. He looked moderately handsome with a body which faintly hints you that he worked out for quite sometime. But not like a dream boy by any chance. But when I saw him for the first time, I just fell in love with him. I never knew it could happen that way. And we rarely get a chance to think about love in the times of war.
I was sure that he was there for the first time as I could recognize almost everyone who used to visit the library.
‘Excuse me, I am looking for A Farewell to Arms by Hemingway. Can you please help me find it?’
I almost knew where every book was and I could find the books blindfolded. I also remembered which book was taken by readers.
‘Definitely. But I am not sure if it’s there or someone took it.’
‘I hope it will be there. I wanted to read it from a long time.’
‘Please come with me,’ I said. My heart was beating at a speed where I could almost hear the sensations inside. I tried myself to be normal but I couldn’t hide my tension altogether.
We went straight and then took a left to reach the corner where this book was supposed to be. I knew that it was taken out for reading. An old English man had taken it yesterday. I helped the old man to find this book. I wanted to spend sometime with this man. I acted as if I was searching. He also looked in the racks for a book which I was sure he wouldn’t find.
‘I guess it’s taken out,” I said finally when I thought it was enough to fool him, ‘give me a moment to confirm it from the notebook.’
‘Please, will be a great help if you could somehow get this book in a week.’
‘Sure. I will find out who has taken it and I will ask them if they can return the book.’
‘Thank you very much,’ he said and started for the main door.
For the first time in my life, I really loved a man. Well may be liked a man. I have met many men and never really felt like what I have felt that day.
On my way back home, I stopped at the old man’s place to find out if he had finished that book. He was surprised to see me stop by at his home and he was kind enough to invite me for a coffee. We discussed about the war and I learned that his son was taken by the army the last month. Since then he hadn’t heard about what happened to him. That was the toughest part to be alive in the war. You never know what happened to people. It’s good to know that they are dead than not to know what happened to them.
It was a small house with one bedroom and I could hear a old woman coughing profusely from that room, whom I imagined to be his wife.
“She is my wife. She is suffering from fever from last ten days.”
“I pray that she recovers soon,” I said in a consoling voice.
He went inside the room and came back with the book in his hand.
“Take this book. I am not in a hurry to read it. May be it’s good that someone reads it.”
I took the book and pushed into the small red colored cloth bag stiched by my mother in which I used to carry my lunch box.
“Thank you. And when you visit the library next time, please tell me how she is feeling.”
I knew she wasn’t going to recover. The way she was coughing some how suggested that she might not live long. It wasn’t any helpful to be sick in times of war.
Next day, I went to library hoping that man would come back for the book. I haven’t returned the book because someone might take it again. I kept it in my bag and hoped he would come to take the book.
I had to wait for three days. When we were about to close the library on Friday evening, he came rushing. He asked me if the book was available. I had to pretend as if the book was returned. I gave him the book and modified the register.
He said an honest thank you and he was about to leave.
“What’s your name?’ I asked him hoping it would get us into a conversation.
“It’s there on the card. Din’t you see?”
“I want to hear from you.”
He told me his name and smiled.
“Coffee?” I asked him shamelesly.
He accepted and waited for five minutes as I helped the main librarian to close for the day.
We started walking towards a street which was once one of the busiest market streets in our town. Now you could only see dilapidated buildings on the two sides. When the war broke in our town, this street was first to see it.
We were silent for the first five minutes and by that time we entered another street which had some shops to buy groceries and a coffee shop where people gathered to discuss about the war and life in general.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
I told him my name.
There was silence for few minutes and he was trying to read the back cover of the book.
“Where are you from?’ I asked him as his accent suggested that he was not from our country.
“I am from America.”
“So, what are you doing here?”
He smiled and never answered though.
We went inside the coffee shop and sat in a corner where I always preferred to sit. The radio in the coffee shop was announcing the war news and few people gathered near it to hear clearly. And then there was a huge uproar after the lady on the radio announced something. I was sure it was not the end of war announcement even though I wished it was.
I always wonder how wars start and how they end. They seem to be eternal when we are in a war.
“So why did you come from America?”
“I was working with American army. But not anymore.”
“Did you escape from the army?”
“No, I wasn’t fit to be in army after my left leg was amputated.”
“Amputated?” I couldn’t believe. It was difficult to guess from the way he walked that one of his legs was missing. He used a prosthetic but he managed it quite well.
“Yes, I lost my left leg an year ago.” And he lifted his pant till the knee to make me believe.
“Why do we have wars?”
“I have no idea, may be that people have to die”
We ordered two coffees and waited for fifteen mintues before they were served.
I was trying to believe that this man was really in a war and he lost a leg.
We drank the coffee in silence and he paid the bill and we started to take a walk back.
We crossed the school building where I used to study. I have showed him the classroom where I used to sit. The classrooms had half destroyed walls. But still one could make out which room was which.
We walked past the school and took a right.
“I think,” I said, then stopped and looked into his eys and said, “I love you,” and started walking a bit faster as I couldn’t look into his eyes any longer.
“What do you mean? You mean you really love me?”
“I think I love you. I am not sure what is really loving,” I said and stopped there as he was a couple of steps behind me.
He came to me, held my face in his hands, and kissed on my forehead and said, “I wish I could love you too. I wish we could love each other and have a happy family. I just wish I could.” Then he kissed me on the forehead again, said bye and left.
I wasn’t sure what he meant. I wasn’t sure whether he loved me. I wasn’t sure whether he loved someone else. All I knew was that I was in love for the first time.
I walked home alone thinking about how hard it must have been for him when he lost his leg. How hard it must have been for him to live in a foreign country in the times of a war.
On the way back home, I realized there was a crowd in front of the old man’s house I visited a couple of days ago. I felt really sad and I knew what must have happened. I went inside the home and prayed for her and left the house. The old man was sitting in a corner looking at the corpse of the woman who would have been alive if there was enough medical care. But life has no significance when there is a war. When a bomb can kill you, how does it matter if you are healthy or sick.
By the time I reached home, my brothers were there and they were waiting for me to have the dinner. I explained the story of that man who lost his leg and everybody thought he was very unlucky. I thought it was better not to tell them that I have told him that I loved him. And I told about the old man who lost his wife and everyone thought he too was unlucky.
I waited for that man everyday at the library for next ten days. I wasn’t sure what he meant when he said he wished he could love me. I wanted to see him again and tell him that I really loved him.
Meanwhile, in those ten days, many buildings were bombed in our town. And I was always warned by my parents to not to go to library because it was one of the famous buildings in our town. I never heard their advice though as I rather foolishly believed if a bomb had to find me it will find me where ever I was.
Unfortunately, my mother fell sick and I had to do the cooking at home. It made me go late to the library after I finished the household chores. I managed to go an hour or two late.
This unusual work at home gave me those rare moments when I forgot about that man and my love for him.
It was on eleventh day after my mysterious proposal to that man, that I had a chance to see him again. By then, I started to believe he returned to his country.
But unfortunately, on that very same day in the morning, our library was bombed. And fortunately for me, I was late to the work as my mother was still sick. The main librarian escaped with injuries and a couple of readers died in it. And to this day, I think what if my mother wasn’t sick ? I am not sure you would be reading my story. Who is to tell what could have happened. Life is mysterious.
I did not know that the library building was bombed until I reached there. I wished it was a nightmare when I first saw the destroyed halls of the entrance. But wars are nightmares in real. I rushed into the library and found a crowd already gathered. I saw the main librarian sitting on a chair in a corner with a bewildered look on his face. When our eyes met, there was an expression which suggested that he was thinking I was really lucky to be alive.
Then I went to the place where the crowd formed a circle. There were four or five dead bodies and it was difficult for me to recognize if I knew anyone of them. As I looked at each of the four dead bodies closely, I saw something.
I saw a man who was lying motionless with a face which was very difficult to recognize after the injuries. But that man, in one of his hands was carrying the book: A Farewell to Arms. The book was partially damaged but it was easy to see the title of the book on the front-cover.
There was only one ‘A Farewell to Arms’ in our library and there was only ‘one man’ who took it. I looked at his almost damaged face more carefully and realized it was ‘That man.’
I sat there and cried for sometime. I took the book off his hand and walked back home.
I still have that book in my home. It’s almost forty years after the war. I have never opened the book until yesterday. When I have finally opened it, I have found a paper in the book which said:
“I love you. I really do. Coffee at 6PM today at the same place?”
Everyday, I think, what if I haven’t given him the book. May be he would have escaped the tragedy. But may be not. Who is to tell me.
Thank you very much for reading. I hope you found it interesting.
It wasn’t easy to write this story. For some weird reason, it struck me on one night that I had to write a short story about love in war. It was definitely an attempt which is very difficult to be successful at for a first timer, for I haven’t read much about wars except in a couple of novels and I have almost no experience writing short stories like these.
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