Winning entry (Contest #5): The Last Letter
by Ramya Srinivasan
Devi clutched on to the stack of letters in her hand more tightly than necessary. She had parked her car outside the brick building so she could have a good view of the villa to her right. For two hours, she sat immobile, not having the courage to get out and ring the bell.
There was no movement outside the house. She had observed a gardener doing some weeding an hour before, but he was not to be seen now.
Her mind went back to that dreadful morning—not the day when she had lost her dad a couple of months before. Well, that was another dreadful day, too, when he had collapsed on the floor. Even at 74, he had been healthy with no signs of the typical diabetes and blood pressure that most Indians are gifted with. But he was gone, just like that.
Today her mind went to the other day. She and her husband, Ajay, had been cleaning dad’s room when they found hundreds of dusty letters in his cabinet. This came as no surprise because dad was a letters-guy. When she went to hostel, he’d send her atleast one letter every week. When she moved for work to Bangalore, too, he continued this tradition.
Dad wrote letters to everyone, his friends, family, teachers, ex-colleagues… It was his thing. And this was his treasure. She had somehow known that even then.
And then between all the letters, some cutesy, some banal, and some emotional, Ajay found these.
“Hey, look here, it’s signed ‘With love, Sheela,” Ajay laughed. ‘Must be some old college flame of his.’
“That’s crazy, Ajay, have you met my appa or not?” said Devi, with less confidence than she felt.
But as she read the letters, the truth lay in front of her.
She chuckled imagining her portly dad having a sweetheart in his younger days. That must have been a beautiful love story with a tragic ending. And dad must have loved her a lot for him to store her letters even after all these years.
“Devi, see this,” said Ajay with a grim face. He was pointing to the date on the letter.
God, this was not years ago, this letter is as recent as a month before.
Both of them sat there horrified, finding not one, but fifty letters from this lady, written over the last one year.
Appa was having an affair. It seemed unimaginable. She could hardly eat or sleep over the next few days and worse, she couldn’t meet her mom’s eyes.
Why am I feeling guilty like I did something wrong? He’s the bad apple, Devi thought.
Finally, she decided that she had to go meet this Sheela, whoever she was. She needed to know more. These letters cannot just be the last reminder of her dad.
On this fateful day, she had decided to come alone. She didn’t want Ajay with her for this. Eventually, she gathered the courage and knocked on the door.
A middle-aged woman opened the door… and instantly, she could see the recognition in her eyes.
“Devi?” she asked. Devi nodded.
“Come in, I hoped you’d come,” the lady said. “I have something for you.”
This must be Sheela. But what is she talking about? Devi wondered.
Sheela returned with an envelope. ‘If you don’t mind, can we talk after you read this letter? Would you like some tea?’ she said and disappeared quickly to the kitchen.
‘To Devi’ the envelope said. Devi opened it with trembling hands. She knew who had written this.
I’m sorry that you feel let down. But, let me explain.
For years, your mom and I have been drifting apart. We have had no common interests. While she had her festivals, food and family, I held on to my books, politics and sports. It’s hard to explain this but the truth is that while we were always great parents, we had come to a point where the only thing common between us was you, Devi.
We had come to a point where we took comfort in each other’s silences.
And then I met Sheela, and the conversations came alive, once again, after all these years.
What I am doing …is it right or wrong? I don’t know, really, and I realize that I probably don’t care. Old age is difficult and lonely.
But I do care about your mom, still. I know this will bring deep hurt to her, as it must have for you.
Can you find it in you to forgive this old man? And, can you find the strength in you to not tell your amma?
Devi wiped the tears off her cheeks. Telling the truth isn’t always necessary, she decided.
Your secret is safe with me, pa.
Judge’s remarks: The story is built up well, and one can feel Devi’s shock and surprise at making this discovery.
Most of us see our parents only in their defined roles, and not as human beings with wants and desires. This story brings out that aspect very beautifully.
I have edited the story slightly, to reduce repetition and over-explanation.