Short Stories to Contemplate #6: Letters of Life by Lauren Pillay


Theres so much a man can do and this was one of those times. I stared blankly at the smog filled air, it was the last time Id see this station. The last time Id smell the freshly ground coffee and cigarette smoke. She became my only escape, the reason I travelled to distant lands and never wanted to come back. Yet this time I wouldnt return.
Dear Agatha, I wont return. Not now that is. Of all the possessions in the world I couldve taken, I had my briefcase, one change of briefs, a toothbrush, my shaving blade and her cinnamon tobacco. She knew I loved it. She wouldnt be mad.
She knows being a man isnt easy. We have too much responsibility and not enough release. The world depends on us to be strong and courageous. I want to go back to a time of sword fighting with sticks and riding bikes at midnight causing raucous.
Where are those times Agatha? Do you remember our first kiss, New Years Eve? We were an hour to early for the countdown remember? Because our time was wrong on that old kitchen clock in my grannies kitchen. We beat the year before it could beat us. From then we fought. Fought to hold each other, fought to be accepted, fought for freedom in a world that had to many locks for me to be a man and bulldoze them down.
I tried to be strong for you, encouraging you to put the remarks aside. It hurt me too you know Aggie, no matter how hard I tried to conceal it. Deep under my layers of woven cloth, the pain lay, screeching every time we made a new memory, because it knew the end was near and our hearts would crash and burn into the embers of your incense stick.
Cinnamon, your damn love for cinnamon has rubbed off on me. Everywhere I went, its scent would make me lose my mind. Geez , Agatha, and how great it smelled on your lips when youd wake up. It roamed thick on the air of our love and sailed strong on the waters of our being. Cinnamon, where did your craze stem from? I think you said it was always in your food, your mother was a herbalist right? She put it in everything. Well now Im stuck with the trend. I put cinnamon in everything, more for the smell than the bitter taste it leaves in my mouth. Reminds me of those words that left me bitter.
Well Agatha those damn words haunt me forever, thats why Im at this station catching a midnight train. Its quiet Agatha thats why Im taking it. Not a lot of people watching me, you know how I hate to be watched.
While you were speaking Aggie, I zoned out and couldnt help but notice how beautiful your hair fell next to those grey eyes. I admired that beautiful green towel swallowing your body. Damn what I would do to be in that moment again. I wouldnt allow you to finish speaking. Id make you forget your thoughts.
Youd fall in love with the idea of us, and youd expose your heart to me again. I even know the exact giggle youd laugh. Your crazy frown one with your hair in a mess. Shit, Im having second thoughts about this train.
I could never decide around you, you gave me endless possibilities. We were never caged or locked like the doors around us we roamed free, King and queen of the city. Do what your heart desires babe. Is that what you really want? those questions changed my decisions and my life forever.
Is this really what I want? I mean I was so scared when I heard. I made reckless decisions. Damn Aggie youre not even here and Im indecisive, doubting my heart to please you. What would you say in the morning?
We cant call this betrayal or deception. You know my view on those things. I love you. That should be enough, from far or near. I just dont know whats wrong with me, every time hes around I have to hide. Run away. Hell hurt you, you know. Slay your throat if he had the opportunity. I dont even want to think of what he would do to Plum. Those beautiful cheeks cant see such hatred Aggie, shell be afraid for life. Shell never trust me.
I should be her protector Aggie, but I cant stand up against him. Hes vile and arrogant. He carries the smell of musk on his collar bone and those clanging coins in his pocket. Thats why Id rather have him here with me, than not knowing when hed break down the door of our little cottage.
Spring 1984 is when we bought our cottage. White window shutters and an ugly green kitchen, you always tried to make me see the beauty in that green. I still dont see it, but we kept it nonetheless. I can still smell the basil pasta and herb from those nights when I walked in from work, you relaxed me, the sight of you relaxed me. Wooden floors that would creek when you tried to teach me to dance like your mama and papa did. The only word I can think of while writing this is sensual. You could make any head stop and watch, not in lust but sheer admiration when you danced. The luckiest man alive thats what the blokes at work used to call me. I really was, you are and will forever be my prized possession, my Queen of clubs.
I shouldve never changed jobs coz then I wouldve never met Mr Poplum. In turn I wouldnt be catching this train tonight to Amsterdam. He and I have a mutual understanding. Were interdependent. I need him and he needs me to survive. Its like ying and yang you know. Without him I cant work and without you Im not inspired. But when hes around youre at risk and so is plum.
They say the train is coming in 20 minutes, what I would do to see you one last time. I should probably go find him, I cant abandon him at the station. How sick of me? I would have chosen you over him any day. But like I said, my life depends on him and you can start afresh you know, no hassles and I know Tim down the road has been eyeing you since high school, plus hes done well for himself. He would make a great dad for plum.
Hes here Aggie, you know how hes insecure and wouldnt want me pre-occupied. Hes crazy like that, so possessive. He wants to go on about his sad life, and mope so the world can gift him pity, or he could be the complete opposite and demand we get consumed by liquor and talk terribly loudly, or he could just not want to talk at all, hell fume if I whisper a tiny word or even a breath of your name. Unpredictable and time consuming is what he is; Im going to refer to him as UC.
Where Im going is going to take us a few days Aggie, but I know youll get this by the time I reach there. I told him I wouldnt go unless he promised me that.
Weve been travelling for a half hour and weve just entered the darkness of morning. The air is cold tonight, I can tell by the way the wind is whistling against the glass. I got an idea for a new piece, Id love if plum would play the main character. She has so much heart our little plum, I know shes still a baby, but when shes older. Ill cast her as the leading lady already. Let me see if I can give you a brief overview while UC is drifting away. Finally some time to let my guard down.
The play will be about a young girl who is born amongst the forests of Peru, she is a delightful girl, although she cannot see. This is the girl Plum will play Aggie. The story goes on to show how without her sight, she still creates the most beautiful masterpieces from the villages native resources. But as the story unfolds Aggie, we see that each and every time this young girl begins a painting or sculpture, she returns to the tree house in which she was born, where there she enters into a trance and begins to imagine without ever seeing what reality looks like. She has no boundary to her art, because what she creates is her reality. Its brilliant dont you think Agatha? I believe our Plum could play it brilliantly……
I dozed off there for a bit, although the commotion on the train is what woke me up. Thank God Mr Poplum is in his place, which means he wasnt involved. Some talk about the carriage attendant found dead in her bed, a few carriages away from ours. I wonder who it couldve been. They say they found a suspect, a man without any papers or train ticket. Hopefully theyre going to keep him on watch for the duration of the ride. How sad that is, that poor woman. Dying while working, who would be so vile? I managed to get a glimpse of the body Aggie, its that lady that used to deliver milk to grandpa Tustins house. Poor thing, she lays there terribly pale. Not the slightest breath in her cheeks.
Mr Poplum, you slept a fair amount of time, you hungry as yet? Should I order something?
No , boy, Im not fucking disabled. I can order a meal by myself. You youngsters think the whole world is yours, well you have another thing coming , boy, one day youre gonna get to where Im at and youre going to spit on the people around you, because peoples arrogance seeps through their stupid socks.
*sigh* well Aggie, thats the mood hes in, what does he know about the developing world? Hes rude! Why do I care to even ask this bitter man if hes okay? Hell never be okay, such a shame. Hes sick and he doesnt even see it yet. Such a twisted man, He seems a bit disturbed and hes extremely fidgety today Aggie, plus hes gone terribly Macbeths wife with a spot hes found on the sleeve of his shirt. I wonder what the hell is wrong with him today.
This spot on my sleeve, Boy, whered it come from? Did I cut myself somehow?
Well, Mr Poplum, that spot seems too dry to have happened any time since we left the station, it mustve been from a day or two ago?
What? You accuse me of not changing my clothes, Boy? You think Im a pig? He said with his frail hands clenched around my neck.
I kept silent…


Mummy, wheres Dad? Did he leave for work already?
I have no idea , Plum, he probably had a story to write. Hell be back though, you know your father.
I hate lying to my daughter, always making up stories to cover her fathers tracks. This time Chaice, I have no idea what to tell her. You cant just keep disappearing and hoping shell accept the hundredth teddy bear and ice-cream bucket.
Its enough Chaice.
When you come home this time I will give you a piece of my mind. Im drowning in duties and Plum is having terrible night scares saying youre leaving her on a mountain and saying you want to jump. I never know how to console her, youre the one whos good with words. I miss you, miss having you around. I miss knowing your kisses taste like cinnamon tobacco and your hands smell like ink. You couldve at least said goodbye this time, we spoke about how important you saying goodbye was. But whenever that wretched man screams your name, you run to his feet. I know you owe him your life, and youre bound to him forever but Chaice you owe Plum your life too. Shes your flesh and blood, the bone of your bones and the strands of your hair. Shes your duty as much as shes mine. Chay come home.
Mummy, youre doing that thing again.
What thing my child? You observing mummy too closely again?
That thing where you mumble to yourself, staring at nothing. Im sure thats not normal, mummy, you should speak to me if somethings on your heart.
Plum, youre only 7, how exactly am I going to pour my heart into your delicate hands that just learned to tie shoe laces and braid her hair? Huh?
Ya ya .mama, I can make coffee too.
Lets get you ready for school , My Plumpie.


Our songs on the radio Aggie, Fast Car by Tracy Chapman. I had to mention this in the letter, good memories this song brings me. You remember the first time we heard it Aggie? It was the year we made our lovely plum. It was before we found out, you had all the signs, and we were just too in love to see it. I can tell you exactly when we heard it for the first time, we were driving from the carnival in Rotterdam going home to Leiden. It was late already, and you were singing along to the song playing before, Im sure it was the Carpenters-Close to you. You said youre mama used to sing it often. She loved that song… And then it played, the beautiful guitar intro so smooth. It sounded like a man was singing and we just kept silent, listening to the story of this amazing artist. She spoke to our hearts, her story was one we could relate to, as if she knew wed be sitting in our car that very evening, driving home. The closeness it brought to our love, the intimacy we felt after relating to a woman wed never even known, a song wed never even heard.
I had a feeling that I belong, I had a feeling that I could be someone, be someone, be someone.
Why that rubbish song be playing so loud, boy? You tryna burst my eardrums with nonsense?
No,Mr Poplum, it just carries amazing memories.
You havent gotten rest,boy. Its almost late afternoon
Ill be fine, Mr Poplum, I cant seem to dose off again since the last time, a bit shaken up by that poor woman who was killed. Ill be fine.
You worry for the both of us you stupid boy, Im going to get me some food and a woman. Dont lock me out of my fucking compartment ,okay?
Sure thing ,Mr Poplum.
Ahhh Aggie, how I long to have you close! Thinking about that night makes me yearn for your heart against mine. We made the best love that evening, after the song played, you remember? It gave us such a longing to never separate. You made me stop the car with the look you gave me. Our hearts were sewn together that night, from the string of sadness and determination that we wouldnt end up like Tracy, I wouldnt be a drunk, and you wouldnt be hurt. Well Aggie at least Im not a drunk. I know youre hurt though. But I pray my love can be seen through all the hurt. I hope you understand why Im doing this to you and Plum.


Mama this is yours and daddys song, isnt it? as she turned the knob to the loudest it could go.
This song is so sad , mama, this man sounds like he wants to cry.
Haha , Plum, thats a lady singing, and yes she is sad. I remember the first time your daddy and I heard this song. You were in mummys tummy, we hadnt found out yet. But we surely will never forget this song.
I wish my mama would tell me whats in her heart. I may be 7 but I know that my daddy isnt at work. He leaves odd hours of the night, he always takes that case with some needles and a pipe. Maybe hes a doctor, thats what he told me when I asked what the needles were for. But thats beside the point, my mama should trust me. Shell go crazy having no one to talk to, thats why Im here. I want to make sure shes happy. Daddy…how I miss having him around. He could make mummy happy just by looking at her and trying those dance steps she taught him. Why did he have to leave all the time? He wasnt sick or anything. Except for the times he stayed at home too long and started vomiting and getting very angry with the dog. He was fine yesterday, he danced with mummy and I and we ate the entire pudding mama made. He was just fine. I hate him for leaving all the time. My friends always tease me for having a daddy who runs away. I hate it when he leaves. I hate them for talking about him.
Plum, whats the matter baby? Why you wanna cry?
Im fine, mama, no tears here. Just upset about how sad this ladies story is. Ill be fine mummy. Dont you worry. What we gonna cook up for supper tonight?
Well , my Plumpie, what would you like me to make for you? You can have anything you want?
I want daddys favourite. Pumpkin, Potatoes and that good steak with the wine you make mama.
Cummon, Plum, you really want that? Even if we cook his favourite you know he wont be back tonight.
I know, mama, but it makes me feel close to him and it makes you smile when you think of how much he wouldve enjoyed it.
Chaice, why wont you just come home?
Mama, you have that crazy look on your face again.
Plum, get your bottom in that house and take your uniform off before you crinkle it.
Maybe I should write him a letter, like those movies do when the daddies go away. What would I say? How do you start one of those? Dear Dad? Or To my Father? Oh never mind, let me go help mama with supper.
I wonder what youre making for supper my Aggie. Id really love to have your favourite sweet potatoes and crumbed chicken. I havent found the appetite to eat anything. I think it could be partially because Mr Poplum is around, when hes here he rids away my cravings for food. He puts me at an awkward ease. Im not as at ease, as if I was happy but a more peaceful anxious ease. One that contradicts itself. My body, the shakes and blinks are at ease. My heart on the other hand is racing and hoping youd calm it down. I know you would if you were close. You had a tendency of helping me breathe. You brought me to a place of composure, realising the present moment and taking in those little things around me. I forgot to tell you, Plum does It too. We took a walk a few days ago, and as I got slightly fidgety she grabbed my hand a pointed my attention to this beautiful willow tree. She said Daddy, if that tree had a name what would it be? and I said Well my dearest plum, its name would be Tabatha. Because of the way her hair tangles in the wind and her body shares a Tabatha air. She giggled. And it was that very moment Aggie, she had calmed my shakes with the methods only my wife knew how to use. This moment brought me utter joy yet a rush of sadness. If she knew how to ease me, it means she observes me. She knows Aggie. I had to leave, or else this cycle would continue forever because Id know you both could always ease me. Ease me when Mr Poplum wasnt around, when he wasnt capable of seeing me.
I never explained my meeting with him to you. They were usually the same depending on the method of execution. I always had to bring my own case. Wed sit for a while and then Id get slightly impatient. Id open my case and take my ope or if I needed an extra flight Id grab the smack. I could never tell you this face to face. It was too embarrassing for you to know in your heart, that your husband was an addict. One who struggled to choose between his addiction and the woman he loved. His family. Well I made the choice now Aggie, I couldnt harm you or Plum no more. Me leaving may hurt for a little while, but your tears will dry soon. Plum is my guarantee of that. She brought me such Joy. Thank you Aggie for creating the most beautiful little girl this world will ever see. And thank you for being the most amazing wife to me for the past 11 years.
Boy, you still sitting here with that moppy look? You need the smack. Gimme my bag son
The pinch of the needle doesnt hurt anymore, I guess cause we always know whats coming after.
A friend once told me never to take smack when youre depressed, the instability of your emotion may cause the greatness to turn into darkness. I shouldve listened. It just intensified my hurt, it personified my pain and here I am talking to it. Mr Poplum is gone, its just me and the hurt in the carriage which now feels more like a casket.
Whats taking you so long , Chaice? The quicker you do it, the less time youll have to over think it.
I know, I know. I just need to plan it well. I need to write all I can to my wife first, need to tell her about the trip. As if she was here you know?
Plum, supper is ready. Bring your jacket its cold down here.
Okay mum, Ill be right down.
Its so cold outside Chaice, you usually come home quicker when its colder, its been two days. I know you usually come home in a week. But this time I cant stand the separation. I know Plum feels the same. Its not the usual feeling we get when you go away, this time the house swarms with your ghost. The empty passage ways sing lullabies to me. I cant take it anymore. I saw Juliet today, she asked about you. She said her husband Tom was working the station that night you left, says you took the train to Amsterdam. You should be back in a week or so. But theres uneasiness in my heart, this sharpened pain, severing layers of you away from my memory. Maybe Im just over exaggerating, being a woman. But honestly Chaice, the wind blows no scent of your fingertips in this house. Its as if you left with every part of your soul. None even left within the walls                           or pillowcases. Youre gone…
Well here goes Aggie.. Its about time, its just hit 11:00 pm. Ive always had such a relation to this time of night, it brings me to my senses each time. I want you to know that I am in my senses writing you this. When you come to Amsterdam with Plum, I want you to smell of cinnamon. I want my spirit to smell you coming from a mile away. No one will be able to tell you anything about this train ride, no one besides this letter. I Love You Agatha, and daddy Loves you so much my Plumpie.
Sorry, do you mind if I have a moment to myself Mr Poplum. Have something I need to do.
Ahh you filthy boy, you couldve told me you needed to relieve yourself.
Thanks Mr Poplum, see you soon.


Oh my God. Theres a dead man in one of the carriages. He hung himself. I found him while cleaning the compartments.
Call the police, immediately.
Was there anyone in there with him?
No , officer, he was alone. All that was left was one briefcase, not much inside. Oh and there was something else, an envelope.
Thank you, maam. May we please get all the passengers off the train, and may no one else be allowed to enter into this compartment.
I never know why people commit suicide. Its a silly act. Ive had so many incidents over the past 10 days. Maybe its the drawing near of winter. All our officers have witnessed suicides lately. I guess it was bound for me to get this case. A sort of crazy fate. This one is a special case though. He was a Heroin and Opium addict. Crazy man. Also seems to be a writer or some sort of thing. Unstable people writers are, Always doing stupid things, allowing their emotions to get the better of them. Hes a handsome fellow too, all you can smell in this damn compartment is smack and cinnamon. Fucking peculiar case this one. I wonder why he did it. Better get this body off this train.


Well, Officer Stan, what was the call from the train station about?
Captain yet another suicide. Can you fucking believe it, these people are depressed. A writer this time, and another lady got murdered on the train. The craziest thing though is the writers prints are all over the knife that killed the carriage attendant. Psycho man he was, but they traced heroin in his blood, must have been smacked when he did it. Let me finish up these documents before I knock off.
Thats so odd , Officer Stan. He was alone?
Yes , Captain. By himself, the people in the carriage next to him said they heard him talking to someone, a Mr Poplum apparently. But when they peeped into the carriage he was alone. Seems he was a real crazy head. Weirdest part of it all, he left a letter, addressed to his wife. She stays up in Leiden. Ill have it delivered first thing in the morning , Captain.


Hey, mama, did you hear that? Something about two people dying on a train. A man and a woman.
That seems unpleasant my, Plumpie. I hope their families are alright.
You think they were married mama? Maybe they wanted to be Romeo and Juliet? You wanna get the paper mama?
Okay Plumpie, now that you have me asking all these questions, run over to Oliver and ask him for the paper, Here take some coins from my purse.
Wow,mama, people in this world are so sad. I wonder why the man did it. Maybe he knew the lady? Maybe she tried to kill him first? Or maybe he thought she was someone else. They say the man was crazy you know…
ENOUGH, PLUM! No more about that morbid story. It makes me sick to my stomach.
Geez, mama, I was just using my imagination.
Im sorry, Plum, its just a sad story. The reality of the world we live in. Lets get home okay?
Sorry, mama, I agree. This cold calls for my pancakes.
Haha, Plum, you mean my pancakes that you pretend you make by yourself.
Mum. You were supposed to go along with it, Just like Daddy does.
Plum, come down your pancakes are done. Check the post box for, mama, too please.
Okay, mama…
You see anything in the box, Plum? Get in here. Its freezing out there.
Theres a letter to you mama, the kind you see in the movies with a pretty stamp.
Let me see, Plum.


All I remember from that evening was my mother sinking to the floor with a pain I couldnt even compare to childbirth. She had cried for 7 days straight. I eventually read the later, and the terrible horror that I had been so far away from dwelled in the walls of my home. She retracted into a shell from which she never returned. She never got married like he said and she never let go. He killed her the moment he kicked away the box. His words cut her throat and watched her bleed.
I can never describe the loss of my best friend, I wished I couldve spent more time with my dad. But it was all the time I got with him. He never came back from the last time he left. He will never be back. Every year it became more real to us. Even when we tried to pretend he was, or he didnt matter. He did, he always would.
I could never write that letter to him. All I have to say if he could ever hear my voice again would be that… Daddy, you taught me how to love. You taught me that I could personify anything, just like you did with Mr Poplum, which was smart by the way. I know you love mummy and me. I also know you never meant to kill that woman, the heroin did that. Ive started writing. I did that story you spoke about, with the little girl from Peru. I Love you Daddy. And All I long to hear in return is I love you millions my Plumpie.
I lost both my parents that night. Both could never return. One physically and the other emotionally.


Authors Note

As a writer, inspiration comes from odd places sometimes. My inspiration to write Letters of Life came from a picture I saw on a blog and the story began to write itself. Each character has a special place in my heart and I hope it has moved you in some or other way.


As you know, I have worked with her more than a couple of times there is more coming from us in the future.
I hope you loved this story because I was blown away by it.

Thanks for reading

“I see nothing in your eyes, and the more I see the less I like.” – Breaking Benjamin ‘Breath’

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