“Gloria, look what I just found!” cried Sean. He was dancing about looking like a monkey who had just uncovered a hidden treasure.
Sean held an envelope in his hand. Gloria was furious. She had been searching everywhere for him for the past hour including the house, the gardens and the lake grounds behind their home. And she had imagined the worst during this time! Sean was eight years old and she being ten years older than him, felt responsible for him and more like a young mother.
“Sean, where have you been? I have been looking all over for you!” Gloria shouted.
“Oh, I was hiding in the attic. You just didn’t know where to look!” Sean seemed pleased with himself and was grinning like a Cheshire cat.
Gloria couldn’t believe it. Sean, who never ventured anywhere near the attic, had actually been hiding out in the attic! That seemed implausible.
“Gloria, look what I found! Please don’t be angry. I promise I won’t do it again. See what I found!” Sean who realized that his sister was really angry, seemed persistent and was trying to draw her attention to what he held in his hand.
Gloria snatched the envelope from his hand and sat down at the kitchen table. “What is it?” she said in an angry tone. Before Sean could respond, Gloria had pulled out an old, faded photograph from the envelope. She saw her beloved grandpa staring back at her, only he was much younger in this picture. He seemed to be in his early twenties. Wearing a military uniform, he looked extremely handsome and like every young girl’s dream in this picture. She had always been fond of her grandparents and it had come as a shock when grandpa passed away last year of a massive cardiac arrest. Granny had held herself together somehow and had learnt to keep herself occupied with various charities trying to help others in need. Yet, you saw the pain etched on her face clearly at times.
Just then, Sean’s best friend, Nick began calling out to him to play. Promising Gloria that he would be back on time and wouldn’t venture too far, Sean ran off with his friend leaving Gloria alone in the house. Gloria felt the envelope again as there seemed to be something else in it too. There were two handwritten sheets of paper in it. Feeling like an intruder, but unable to stop herself; Gloria began to read.
‘Dear Josephine’ the letter said. ‘Josephine’ was her granny, Gloria thought. This letter was written by her grandpa to her grandma while he had been serving in the military obviously. That made this letter over 50 years old and they hadn’t been married then. Not quite sure if she should continue, Gloria thought to herself “If it’s something I shouldn’t read, I’ll stop. There is no harm in me taking a look”.
‘I have been thinking about writing to you for the last week. Every day I pick up the pen and paper and then set it down again. I don’t quite know where to begin. I wrote to you earlier about the hard, military life we lead here and the training I have been undergoing. It takes its toll on our bodies and all we want to do at the end of the day, is to just eat and crash out in our tiny beds. But there is a weight I carry on my chest and I won’t ever be able to sleep if I don’t let it out now. I will understand if at the end of this letter, you never want to see me again.’
What had happened for grandpa to say something like that to grandma? Well, they had always loved each other and had been together until grandpa died, so whatever it was had obviously been resolved. There was no harm in continuing, Gloria decided.
‘There is very little time that we get as free time. We had one such outing around 3 months ago. A group of us boys went to the nearby village of Bellington with the intention of grabbing a couple of drinks at the local bar. What we didn’t know was that the village was celebrating its annual fete, and everyone was gathered at the village square. When we got there, we were invited to join in the festivities and the locals being friendly and seeing a bunch of young, military boys took it upon themselves to feed us well. They plied us with the local beer and wines (for free, of course) and even fed us with a lot of meat, chicken and homecooked traditional fare. Before we knew it, we had decided to stay the night there as we were in no state to drive back.
Now, the locals put us up in their homes as all lodgings were full due to visitors. I and a couple of my friends were asked to stay at the dairy woman’s home. She was widowed and lived with her daughter alone. Since there were two rooms that she had to spare, my friends decided to share one as they were already roomies back in the barracks and I took the other room. I couldn’t sleep, so I went to grab a glass of water from the kitchen. There I bumped into the old woman’s daughter. She seemed startled to see me and I could see that she had been crying. She told me that her childhood sweetheart had broken up with her and that her world was shattered. She couldn’t understand how he could do this to her after so many years. I consoled her saying that these things do happen, sometimes it’s best that things don’t work out as there is something better in store for us. The moment the words were out, I felt the energy in the room change. We both couldn’t stop staring at each other and before we knew it, one thing led to another and we spent the night together in my room. I can blame the alcohol, the girl for seducing me, but I know that’s not the case. The next morning, she was gone before I woke up and avoided me till I left her home and farm.
I only heard from her last week again. She is pregnant with my child. She has managed to keep it from everyone except her mother so far, but now it is starting to show. I understand that I made a mistake and it’s the price that I am paying for, but I know it’s only you in my heart. At the same time, I fully realize that this child is mine and should not suffer due to my wrongdoings. I will be waiting for your reply, even if it’s to refuse to see me ever. That may be my burden to bear forever.
Gloria was stunned. There were all sorts of questions going on in her mind. She had always known her grandparents marriage to be rock solid and they only seemed to have eyes for each other. Agreed that this was before they got married, but to her it all seemed unbelievable. Just then, the front door opened, and grandma walked into the room. She had just come back from the charity fundraiser that she had been working on with other women from the community.
While placing her coat and hat on the stand, Granny asked “Where’s Sean? And what are you doing sitting at the kitchen table?” But Gloria just kept staring at her grandma. She was numbed. Granny turned and her eyes fell on the papers held in Gloria’s hands. She also saw her husband’s picture on the table. She walked up to Gloria and said “It’s time someone knew about it”. Gloria just couldn’t understand what her granny was saying.
Granny said “I have kept this secret for too long. As you have read this already, let me tell you what happened after. I received this letter after some time as post was delivered on a weekly basis then. Naturally when I read the letter, my heart stopped. I couldn’t even imagine my Miguel sharing his bed with someone else. I wrote many a letter to him, breaking off our relationship, but every time I tore it up again. This continued for two weeks, till unable to bear it any longer, I decided to go and see him. My parents already knew something was amiss, but realizing my distress and my pain, they let me go with Miguel’s trusted friend, Savio. When we reached the barracks, I was shocked to see Miguel’s state. He was clearly unshaven, had lost weight and his clothes seemed to hang on him. His friends said that he had been unwell for almost a month now and didn’t sleep nights. He kept pacing the hall and was always on the lookout for the post, but every time he seemed disappointed. It’s a good thing that I reached when I did as they were at their wit’s end. The senior officer had already made up his mind to send Miguel home as their training was almost done. We were to stay the night at the barracks and travel back to our village the next day. I decided to take the matter in my hands and took Miguel for a walk with me, uncaring of what others may think. I hadn’t come so far to sit and wait.”
Hearing this, Gloria was stunned. She had always thought of her grandma as a strong woman, yet it was hard to believe that her grandma had been so forward even in those times. Grandma continued “Miguel was very repentant and kept crying like a child. I understood that he had done wrong, but it was a slip up and he didn’t love the girl who was the mother of his child. We decided to stop and meet her on our way back home and we did. The girl’s ex-boyfriend had died tragically in an accident recently and it was decided that she would say it had been his child. We would legally adopt the child as soon as it was born, which left us around 4 months to get married.”
Gloria was dumbfounded. She always knew that her father had been adopted, but this seemed unreal. Her father had always said that grandpa and grandma had adopted him from an orphanage, but that was not true at all! Granny understood her concerns and said “Child, your dad doesn’t know the truth. Only Miguel and I knew and our parents. With time, it was something we both forgot, and your dad has always been just like my own child. His little brothers and sisters look up-to him till date for everything and he has done more for me, than my own children ever have. He may not be born from my womb, but he has loved me more than anyone else.”
Just at that moment, the door opened again, and her dad and Sean walked in hand in hand. Sean looked like a splitting image of his father and ran to the table. Holding up grandpa’s picture he said “Dad, look what I found in the attic! I was hiding from Gloria and ran up to the attic all by myself! Can you believe that? Gloria didn’t too. And I was rummaging through the trunks and came across this envelope which had grandpa’s picture. I ran back to Gloria as fast as I could, to show this to her, but she was so angry with me. I promised her that I won’t do something like that again, I really did! Doesn’t grandpa look handsome in the picture? I bet I will look like him when I grow up!”
Hearing Sean’s banter in the background, Gloria and her grandma exchanged a smile. The letter would stay their secret forever, they promised to each other silently.
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