Coco was all set to leave for her very own quaint little bookstore located in the by-lanes of Bombay. She wore the shirt displaying checkered patterns in shades of black and green. Pairing it with her blue denims, she let loose her shiny black hair earlier tied into a loose bun and left the house shifting her old-fashioned frame less glasses onto her nose.
The air had turned crisp and chilly in Bombay with the onset of monsoons. Coco’s bookstore was close to her rented flat hence she always preferred walking to the store, over taking a rickshaw or hiring a cab in the chaotic, frenzied metro city. The traffic is often mind-numbing, local trains are bursting at the seams, and there is crowd everywhere. But the City of Dreams also has beautiful seaside promenades, quiet cathedrals, and ancient reservoirs that are oases of calm for its 20 million residents. And Coco was one of them.
Having grown up in Lucknow, her impression of Bombay was like a Lego city, pieced together from the movies: an ever-shifting megalopolis of skinny towers rising from the waters. The ocean always played a starring role in this celluloid version of Bombay, and when she finally moved here and settled into the rat race, it was on these seaside promenades that she remembered her own dreams. Every time she walks along the graceful arc of Marine Drive, her spirit gets a boost.
In fifteen minutes, Coco made it to the bookstore. She pulled off the keys from her pocket and twisted them into the slot in an effort to open the glass door. The door opened but Coco stood at the entrance. She shifted her gaze upwards and stared at the rectangular wooden board which read “COCO’S HAVEN” in chrome yellow color. She loved books in the pure passionate way that parents reserved for their children, sailors for the sea, and mountaineers for Everest. On entering, she removed her shoes in the corner and changed into comfortable flip flops. Her shoes caught mud due to the rain clogged roads.
Coco’s Haven held together within its rumbling walls a beautiful mess of books, people, music and conversations. Lining the sides of the room, arranged in tall bookcases, were books that one could tell were older than the young bibliophiles would have ever read, bound in burgundy, navy, dark green and brown bindings; the covers worn and faded, but still gleamed with gold lettering. There was a strange smell to them too: sweet, like the smell of new bread in a bakery. If the walls of Coco’s Haven could talk, they’d whisper stories of Mark Jucas, Hemingway, Salinger, Dickens, R.K Narayan, Tagore, Kafka, Sarat Chandra, Jane Austen and many other patrons of literature. But that isn’t what keeps locals and travelers coming back to her bookstore. It’s the ever-smiling, warm and welcoming nature of Coco that draws the crowd. She had made bonds with people that are deeper than gossiping and drinking and smoking and going out. Although she is all by herself in the city of millions, but the feeling of contentment and happiness she derives, looking at literature lovers walking in with their gleaming faces, keeps her going.
What I will do without these books, and the people who love them as much I do, thought Coco as she dusted the bookshelves. Later she moved to her desk and as she pulled the chair to sit, a book kept upon the top of the table caught her attention. She glimpsed the title. It was one of her favorites, ‘Marley and Me’ by John Gragon. But what caught her sight was not the book but a folded piece of paper which peeped from the middle of the book. She pulled out the paper to discover a white envelope. Coco took off her slippers and leaned back in her chair, with her legs criss-crossed.
‘To Coco’ read the white envelope in small calligraphic letters and blue ink.
Coco fetched the letter kept inside the envelope. There was a date on the upper left corner of the paper.
June 5, 2005
It meant the day before yesterday.
One day? That’s all?
She looked a little further. The message was long – it covered the front and back sides of the paper – and it didn’t seem to request any reply of sorts. A quick glance showed no address or phone number anywhere, but she supposed it could have been written into the letter itself.
She felt a twinge of curiosity as she held the message in front of her, and it was then, when the rain began to beat the glass pane, she read the letter that would change her life forever.
June 5, 2005
Forgive me if I talk and talk and seem to say nothing.
I can empathize with how you must be feeling at the moment. Receiving a handwritten letter addressed in your name would make anyone feel jittery, when all you have got in a city of millions is yourself and a bookstore. Your mind is cluttered with thousands of questions and the answer is nowhere to be found. But I promise that soon everything will start making sense to you.
I met you at the same place, where you are presently seated and reading my letter. I used to visit your bookstore very often. Usually on the days when I would step out of my home for taking evening walk with Hazel, my 3 year old kid. As I am writing this, I can very well recall how you used to lift Hazel with your hands and embrace her with warmth and love. Initially Hazel would crib at the display of your lovely gesture, but over the time she too became fond of you.
I love the way you preserve such admirable capacity of observing other people’s solitude including your own. I know it sounds peculiar but you really do have a lot of silent admirers on this planet who look at you and wish they had your smile, or your compassion, or your heart, or even just you.
Coming to why I took to writing this letter to you, all of it leads to Hazel. By the time you will finish reading this letter and will began your struggle of reaching out to me, I might or might not be alive. And Hazel will eventually be taken to an orphanage, with no one to look after, after a few days of my demise. A soul selects its own society and mine has selected you. Here is a mother, requesting you to adopt her forlorn child and together sail in the stream of joys and sorrows, while her mother rests in peace.
Hazel is well tempered and has a sweet spirit. She will be a good company to your walk to the bookstore in the morning and the hours which will follow. Even in the darkest times, the bleakest moments, she will manage to put a smile on your face. She will convince you to walk outside, feel the sun, and maybe stretch out with you on the grass. In life you will have a fair share of ups and downs. Hellos and goodbyes. Life and death. Triumphs, failures and uncertainties. She will keep on gazing at you with a look that would be reserved for you alone, and will look after you making sure that you rise through all the discomforts.
P.S – You will find the address of the orphanage written on a paper, kept under the backend of the book.
She got up from her desk, feeling strangely unraveled. At the vending machine she bought herself a cup of coffee, trying to comprehend the feelings inside her. When she returned, her legs suddenly seemed wobbly and she plopped down in her chair. If she hadn’t been standing in exactly the right place, she felt that she would have hit the floor.
Here and now, she knew such a woman existed – a woman who was now alone or maybe dead – and knowing that made something inside her tighten. Neither she could not recall a single moment shared with that lady or her child nor she had a CCTV camera which could have captured all the movements inside her bookstore. One part of her wanted to run straight to the orphanage and the other part wanted to know more about it before jumping to a conclusion. If she will simply ignore that feeling, she will never know what might happen and in many ways it will be worse than finding out she was wrong in the first place.
But where would this all lead? Had the discovery of the letter been somehow fated, or was it simply a coincidence? Or maybe, she thought, it was simply a reminder of what she was missing in her life. Why out of the all the people in the city, that woman chose Coco to look after her kid? For one last time, she took the book in her hands and flipped through its pages aiming to find a paper with some clue, stuck in the cresses. Nothing could be found.
But she was curious about the mysterious writer, and there was no sense in denying it – at least to herself. After fighting with her inner voices and what-ifs for an hour, she resolved to meet the kid in the orphanage. This way she will even get to know if the lady who wrote to her, is alive or dead.
Coco grabbed the keys along with the address chit kept on the table top, locked the entrance door and waited for an auto rickshaw. In twenty minutes, she was there. She handed over the rent to the rickshaw driver and rushed toward the orphanage. The huge gate of the orphanage opened to a beautiful grass lawn. As Coco entered and took forward a few steps towards the main building, she saw something which left her awestruck, astonished and amazed at the same time.
A female Labrador puppy with the name HAZEL engraved on its collar, sat at the far corner of the lawn with her head hung low.
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