A Teeming Hollowness

I was roaming amidst the dusty shelves of the library, paging through those beloved volumes, stroking the pages tenderly, whispering under my breath. An orange ray of sunshine kissed the wooden shelf near me. It caressed the souls long-lost into oblivion. Rejuvenating them, reincarnating them. The ghosts of a lifetime of ink and thoughts danced before my eyes. I could see the joy, feel it. Every time a reader beheld those pages, a strange energy pulsed through him, enticing him into sharing the blissful journey.

My whim drew me towards a particular volume. Old with age, its spine withering due to repeated use, fragile yellow pages. I picked it up. I realized I was alone in this part of the library. I could smell the cocktail of compounds, getting richer with age, a beautiful chemistry enlightening my world. With a soft touch, I ran my fingers on the cover. Pleasure, as pure as it gets.

It was then that I realized that it did not hold one story. It held several. I opened the book. It was there that I found another story. Intertwined, yet different. There was a paragraph on the first page. It said, “Love is all I have. A sweeter disposition of a broken lifetime. Moulding those broken pieces into a creation was you. You, who did not make the world a better place. You, who did not change the world. You, who did not change me. You, who could not. You, who just felt me. Perhaps, you did. How I wish I could do this. How I wish.”

Stories find each other. This one had found me. It urged me to explore the mystery. It called out to me, beckoning me to leave the prickly zone of ignorance and set out to learn another of those million stories out there. It was something I could not ignore. Not that I wanted to, in any case.

Waking out of my reverie, I thought of a way to unravel this enigma. I knew that most books in this section of the library had been donated in some way or other. That accounted for their age at times. One advantage of being an avid reader is that you develop a bond with the librarian and other personnel, for the love of the written word is the most chaste connection there is. I went straight to him and inquired about the book. It’s acquisition records had not been made electronically, of course. The manual records gave me an obscure address of the donor. Apparently, this person had donated just one book, which was odd.

A beautiful sky, tinted with varied shades of saffron and scarlet and yellow, greeted me when I walked outside with the book, which I had borrowed. I sat in my car and started driving. My mind warned me of the possibility that things might have changed. But there was another feeling. A sense of curiosity, of discovery. A sense of apprehension too.

A storm brewed slowly as my car rolled through the lonely roads. The clouds turned grey, covering the sky in a huge gloomy velvet, all the while issuing low growling sounds. The weather also induced an unusual breeze which was cool and warm at the same time. Soothing, though. Those grey piles of dust and water churn your insides at times, giving rise to a mysterious reaction, a sort of alchemy of the mind and heart, the transformation being the light.

I stopped the car. I had reached. The place was completely desolate. It was a house without a soul, it seemed. Plants covered every inch around the house and grew untended. Creepers gripped the trees like snakes. The sweet earthy smell which had surrounded me earlier turned into something dark and musty. I approached the worn wooden gate and knocked lightly. The gate creaked slightly as it was opened. An old woman withered with age. Even before I spoke, I showed her the book. Pain and anguish veiled her wrinkled visage. She invited me in.

The place was even darker and more humid than the outside. A few bulbs here and there were what lighted the place. Yet, it was strangely peaceful inside, as if souls went stagnant with their lives.

“I was rather intrigued by the text,” I said cautiously.

She was overwhelmed. “I never thought something like this would happen. Everything has a purpose, truly said. But then, I have no visitors at all, so it really does not matter.”

She bit her lip and sighed. “Well, come with me, then,” she said in a voice deeply affected by a sort of hollow emotion.

She waddled towards a back door, expecting me to follow. We walked out into another area filled with the same kind of growth, but it was not the same. Something was different. She pointed. I realized. A single plant stood isolated and healthy.

“That is her.”

“I am afraid I do not understand.”

“No one did. Even then, no one did. A beautiful angel I had brought into this world. A damned cruel world.” She did not cry. She just stared into the void, her voice belying the tumult inside her, if there was one.

“A girl she is, they said. She would be of no use, they said. They took her away from me. They held me as they strangled the life out of her. They made me watch.”

A silence, savage and commanding, with an eerie composure.

“She resides in that plant, in this book you hold in your hands. Pieces of her that drove me. Pieces of her that had been scattered. When you hold that book, you hold a part of her.”

I could only sigh and say, “You must tell me who did it. I shall help you exact justice.”

She smiled. It sent a chill down my spine.

“They had extinguished that flame inside me when they did this. They did not realize, though, that I had risen from my ashes. I carried my broken soul through a lot before I served them perfect justice. Do not worry, dear, justice was taken care of, and by the book. These pieces of her now rest in a peaceful sleep, I am sure.”

That needed no further explanation. I was stunned by her tale. Damaged entities can do anything to right the unfairness of a tyrant world. You take away the most precious object of a life, it no longer has anything to live for, or so it feels. Love was all she had. Love was what she lost. She filled the emptiness with hatred then.

I walked out of the place, leaving behind the old woman, but taking with me an enigma of a lifetime. As I reached my car, I turned back. She had gone back in. A stranger who was passing by, asked me, “You buying the place?”

“No, I just came to meet the lady.”

“Oh, of course, you cannot. A tragedy. Very sad. After killing every single member of her immediate family, bathed in their blood, she killed herself. Anyways, this property is on sale, though I am not sure if you would still want to buy it. Good day.”

“And to you,” I said, numb and shaken.

I do not know why, but I went to the door again after the stranger had gone, some prosaic force urging me. The gate was open this time. I gasped under my breath and entered. Everything was in ruins this time. A hush had settled over the place. Where everything was dusty yet orderly before, it looked as if it had been abandoned for some years now. I went through the back door. Beside the plant lay a book. The same book.

The pieces finally gather.