I was able to read since I was 3 years old. And ever since I couldn’t spend a day without reading. Anything. From books, to news paper, and sometimes even the cut of paper to wrap spices that Mom bought from the market.
I was 12 when I had the courage to stride over Dad’s books. He had this antique wooden bookshelf. Standing on a chair and two cushions, I peeked at Dad’s bookshelf. If he noticed what I was doing, he didn’t react. He continued sitting in his armchair and reading whatever he was.
I looked at all the books there. My eyes fell on one of them. Maybe because it was the thinnest among the lots. Maybe that it was white in color and different from the red and black ones that found popularity on his bookshelf. I don’t remember exactly why. But I remember exactly the story he told after I was pulling that one out.
I jumped down.
“Love Story” by Erich Segal.
I opened the book and found written inside:
May you never know the pangs of unreciprocated love.
Looking up I saw daddy looking at me.
“Have you ever heard of this book?”
I shook my head in the negative.
“Hmmm…. Come here”
I knew something interesting was coming up in his tone; he called me in that there’s-a-story-coming-up voice.
This is what I heard that day. Lying on my stomach on the floor of our house.
“What can I say about a 20 year-old girl? That she was beautiful. And kind. That she loved Mozart and Bach. And the Beatles.”
It was the beginning of yet another college year. 1975 would be this remarkable in his life he never knew when he met his friends after their holiday.
Medical school -the name brought shudders to every college girl, and parent! And it was but natural that every girl would be warned by their seniors on the topic called ‘med-school boys’.
A few uneventful months passed in that summer of 1975. He didn’t do much but the routine stuff: bashed up a few guys, was in turn bashed up, petrified all the girls in college, got crazy drunk all nights, rebelled against the system.. Just regular stuffs.
Girls were always the topic. And on one such topic came up her name. She was from a small town, but still she was considered one of the prettiest looking girls who joined that year.
“You should see her”, his friend said.
“I’ve seen many…” Dad said arrogantly.
“So have we”, another friend quickly defended.
“But there’s something very innocent.. Charmingly so about her… I don’t know… but we all like her!”
“Have you talked to her?”, he asked.
“No way! She would be terrified…”
“Oh! When has that ever stopped us before?”
He won the round of conversation. Next morning they all were at the bus stop near the ladies hostel of the University.
“Oh God…!!! There they come!!! Was wondering where these wretched guys were all these days…”, one of her seniors whispered loudly to the waiting gang of scared first years.
She look a sidelong glance at him, through dark eyes lined heavily with black kohl… And put her head down again when she caught fourteen pair of eyes staring steadily at her direction!
Dad pulled his bike onto the main stand and started crossing the road. One of his friends caught his hand and pulled him back.
“Don’t. Don’t do anything.. We’ve asked around and she really is one nice girl.. she won’t do no act of hers, the wide eyed look is all she gave us all..”
Pulling away, he crossed the almost empty road.
Walking up to her, he said, “If at all I marry anyone, it will be you!”
He could hear collective gasps from both sides of the road as he walked back to his waiting friends..
All this wasn’t common in 1975. Especially not in Surabaya. Definitely not in her life…
Lying on her bed and with a splitting headache, she heard her class mate yell out her name. Jumping out of bed, she ran in the direction of the voice.
“Come to down stair now!” , her class mate panted breathlessly.
“Am not feeling too well”, she said.
“Oh you’ll feel worse if you see what’s there on our notice board. He wrote a letter to you and posted it on our board for the whole world to read!!”
She ran out of hostel. She didn’t wear her slippers.
A crowd- partly amused, partly interested, mostly curious stood in front of the notice board. “She pushed her way through, and found on the green board, his letter.”
Daddy stopped his recital. Both of us didn’t speak for sometime after.
I broke the silence. I had so many questions to ask.
“Did he tell her he’ll marry her with just one look at her?”
“Well, he did take four or five looks actually…”
“But why didn’t he tell her that he loved her instead? Why marriage?”
“Ah, I don’t know. It could be that maybe he was scared too, and he said the first things that came to his mind… It could be that he forgot the one liner he has prepared before he crossed the street and saw her..”
“But how could he love her just like that?”
“He doesn’t know to this day. But he’s glad, for he learned to love her more each passing day…”
“Can you love someone without knowing anything at all about the person?”
“Did she love him back?”
“He thinks so…”
“I want to know what happened after that… After she found his letter on the notice board?”
“But then, that’s her story..”
I frowned at him.
“Shall I ask her?”
He smiled back. He knew I wouldn’t.
Of course, I didn’t.
I walked out of the room with the book in my hands into my bedroom and propping the pillow on the bed and leaning against it, I opened ‘Love Story’ and ran my fingers through the writing inside.
Opening the next page I read…
“What can I say about a 25 year-old girl who died? That she was beautiful. And brilliant. That she loved Mozart and Bach. And the Beatles..”