“The aftermath of a small loss”
Abhi was 8. He’d only just started reading story books and was very fond of them. He would run away clutching the book to his chest if someone asked him to show the book. Also quite possessive about them.
Someone had once gifted him what he thought a “boring” English textbook of a different school. He never touched it for a while. He couldn’t resist any longer. He just had to read it. And he did. And he fell in love with it. For there were stories from around the world: Japanese folk tales, a short Mowgli story and so many such stories that were filled with adventure and excitement and emotions, even though he couldn’t understand emotions that very well. He would never leave it alone. He went to bed with it. Took it to school and was also caught reading it. Several times. Such a rebellious boy.
Since he took it everywhere, it only seemed right to take it to his grandparents’ house for the Summer, every Summer, though his grandmother had lots of books (only for older people. yuck.). He was allowed to read his book. Even if it was for the hundredth time and even if he knew all the stories word by word. He and his grandmother sat and filled up all the quizzes after each story. Fun times.
After returning home, a dead-beat Abhi did not remember his book at all. The next day, he searched frantically for it. But in vain. He even refused to go to school after that. He’d called his grandparents, crying and asking them to search the house for his book. They said they didn’t find it. He was devastated. Devastated that he lost his best friend, who understood him during all his emotional mix-ups. He would never find someone like that. Ever again.
Abhi is now 18. There isn’t a day that goes by without remembering his friend. He goes to every bookstore, every book fair and looks and looks and looks for that book. For now, he is a major. He is free. Like Mowgli was even before he was 10. He never searched for the book at his grandparents’ home again. He took their word for it.
He remembers the Japanese New Year folk tale in times of trouble and a happy Spring poem when he’s, well, happy. He remembers the book more than God but thanks Him for the book all the same.
His mind goes blank when he hears that his grandmother’s health is not keeping well. He doesn’t remember the book. But, there were memories of him and his grandmother with that book. By the time they reach their home, they already learn that she has passed on. He doesn’t want to see her. He peeks from behind a door, goes back to hiding and continues to cry and curse the Universe. The last time he saw her was two summers ago, when he became too old to spend his summers with his grandparents. Teenage complex. And of course he regrets it.
After all her funeral rituals, he goes back into their house. A cozy, warm house in the middle of the forest. He would never find peace anywhere like this in the city. His grandfather calls him and tells him to clear out the bookshelf. Also permits him to take some, if he was interested. Because definitely he was old enough to read them now.
As he was doing so, he learns that life is full of surprises. The books that he finds there are mostly poetry. English and Kannada. He picks a Kannada mystery novel and reads the synopsis. Hmm. Interesting. But he doesn’t want to take anything. He is, after all, a grandson who did not see his grandmother, did not stay by her side, before or after her death. It doesn’t seem right for him to take any of the books. After clearing them, his grandfather asks him why he didn’t take any. He says it doesn’t feel right. Then his grandfather gets a book out from under his grandmother’s pillow and hands it to him. It is his book. His friend. Best friend. And all this time, his grandparents had it. His grandfather explains how it helped her sometimes, and that she was glad she kept it for a while and had also asked him to return the book to Abhi. He breaks down, right there, at his grandfather’s feet. And he treasures all her books, and of course, his best friend.