Short Story: Tree of Wishes

She left and three years later, I received a letter. After three years of no contact, I received a letter from her- one that told me why she left, why she gave up, why she never returned. I never understood her. She was my true love, my happily ever after and she left.

John. You will receive this letter long after I’ve been gone- where, I can’t tell you because I know you will never, ever forgive me.

The day she left, we hadn’t any electricity. The heating in the apartment was dysfunctional and the room had felt so cold and miserable. I made us coffee while she sat on the table, clutching her favorite pen. There was just enough illumination in the room for us to see each other, but we never did. We never saw what could have saved us from drowning. I never saw the abandonment in her eyes; she never saw death in mine.

I have to leave- she had said finally, once the silence had amplified all the words unspoken. I nodded.

I never asked why; she never ventured.

There is a tree on the other side of the river, north to the roundabout that we met on, on New Year’s Eve. It is believed that if you whisper what you want to the trunk of the tree, you get it. A superstition I never believed in. Until I met you.

On the sixth day after her departure, I looked up the tree she talked of. Turns out, they call it the Tree Of Wishes and it is a fairly popular tourist spot in the city. A week later, as chance would happen, I had to meet with a friend near to the place. We had Thai food and while returning, I walked past it. It was a huge wide-trunked tree, its foliage expansive and some roots emergent. By the river, it looked majestic.

I wondered if I would have known about it had she not left me. I was a person of reason. Wondering around in the other side of the city for pleasure was something I would never do. That day, sitting on a bench near it, I looked beyond the river, into the city, hoping that by some strange way of fate, she would walk past the tree, talking to it of her plans of coming back. But of course, she never did or I wouldn’t have let go of her.

Getting take-out from the same place that night, I returned to our home, but I have never been back.

You were a wish John, a dream come true. You gave me a reason to be happy. However, it never takes long for dreams to metamorphose into nightmares. Happiness is fleeting.

I remember the day I found her crying. I had barged into the bedroom. Curled up on the floor behind the bed, her eyes were puffed up and her chest labored as she shook. She didn’t ask me to stay, nor did she ask me to leave. She just looked at me, for one infinite second, and everything inside me moved. There was nothing I could so. I simply sat on the floor beside her and took her head in my lap. I asked her what was wrong. She didn’t reply. So I just sat there until she fell asleep and I fell asleep beside her that night.

This became a ritual- she would break down, I would sit beside her, and we would both fall asleep. She never told me why she cried, I learnt not to ask.

I realized that this was the only way there was- not talking about it.

The truth is- I was afraid. I had fallen in love for the first time. I had never found myself dreaming about someone before, looking forward to talk to them all the time, and sleep with them, and cook with them. I never felt that and suddenly I was feeling all of it. It was as if I just realized that there are infinite shades possible or that there numbers never end. I didn’t know how to control my feelings for you. All I knew what I felt was never ending. And I was so afraid. I was so afraid of the immensity of what I felt.

The day that we met, she was talking about her favorite book with her best friend at the cafe where I worked part time. She wore a white button down with cute light blue flowers and jeans. She had a black coat on and a smart scarf that tied around her neck. Her hair was tied in a high ponytail but a lock of hair framed her face on one side.

Her eyes were sparkling, her expressions was animated and her hands danced around in front of her. Never once did her gaze shift from her friend while they talked and they sat there for over two hours, both lost in conversation. She looked so passionate, so vocal, so in the moment that I was mesmerized. When she left, her server handed me a tissue paper she had asked him to, bearing her name and number. I was shook.

I called her that night and she invited me over. She took me to her roof where we drank beer and watched the stars. We were facing the immensity.

I was so overcome with emotion every time I saw you that I would cry myself to sleep for being so lucky so as to have fallen in love with you. But I guess that is where everything went wrong. I had dived headfirst in love with you that I didn’t realize how much it hurt me. Until slowly, the pain was all I felt, and then, nothing at all.

By the autumn of our relationship, we were just two people who shared a house. There was no conversation, no luster of the time passed by. We hid behind the ghosts of who we used to be, not once realizing that we’d have to shed that persona someday. I did long shifts at work and sat till even later at the bar while she stayed home, doing whatever she did all day.

Her breakdowns were much more frequent and prolonged, so were our silences. Perhaps, the only time that we talked and touched and bore the faintest resemblance to who we used to be was the time when she broke down. But what we felt for each other had long since vaporized. We were two actors in a play- we were playing the part but we had long ago emancipated from the character.

It was around this time I started writing- about what I felt or rather, not. I wrote about our past lives, our present selves. I wrote about who we used to be, about what made us work, about how we were two people who were stuck together out of habit and how we were two people who had lost themselves and were thus losing the other. I wrote about myself, of who I was now and who I used to be. I wrote about what I wanted and what I didn’t. I wrote about my day, my job, my breakdowns. I wrote about you.

It was by chance that I came across her journal. Hidden in the sock drawer of our limited, shared closet, I had asked her what it was when my hand brushed against its cheap plastic cover by accident. It was then, with a faint smile that she had told me, she had started writing. I had just returned from the bar and was a little buzzed; when she had told me that, I was so surprised that I kissed her roughly. That was the last night we ever made love.

The events of that night are still unclear. What stands out, as brightly as a summer sun, is the smile on her face when she told me that. It was magical, transporting me back to the time when we were in love, and I had remembered a little something of the first day that we met. On our first date, she had told me that all she wanted to do was write. I had asked why.

Words are the powerful tools, we as humans have, she had said. We can make someone, break someone, hurt and love someone, all with the power of words. If my words can change even a single person’s life, I shall be the most fortunate person in this world.

These words still echo in my ears sometimes.

John, writing gave me a purpose in life. It gave me meaning again. We had stopped talking long ago. Our relationship had died. We were just too scared to pick up the pieces and move on. We walked on those pieces every single day. And seeing those times killed me, they did. My world that revolved around us was empty because you weren’t there, John. And no matter how many times I called for you, you never came back. Maybe you weren’t the person I wanted. Maybe because you weren’t that person anymore. Maybe you never heard my cries for help. It doesn’t matter anymore. The truth is that writing made my world feel a little less lonely.

The day she left, we hadn’t any electricity. The heating in the apartment was dysfunctional and the room had felt so cold and miserable. I made us coffee while she sat on the table, clutching her favorite pen. There was just enough illumination in the room for us to see each other, but we never did. We never saw what could have saved us from drowning. I never saw the death in her eyes; she never saw abandonment in mine.

This letter will reach you long after I am gone. My moving out was step one in moving on, in learning to feel again the same way we felt when we first met all those years ago. It was finally collecting the pieces and storing them respectfully for they were memories of a life that I had loved, but lost. It meant walking on a path unknown. It meant learning to fall in love all over again.

But I couldn’t. I couldn’t. I couldn’t see people anymore. There was no one who looked at me the way you did when you first saw me. Or maybe, I didn’t have eyes for anyone anymore. My world was a perpetually hazy cloud that refused to fade away; it was the winter morning fog that never settled. I had lost myself, I had lost you, I had lost my life. There were few moments of clarity. In fact, the only time I felt clear, alive was when I wrote. So I tried to do that every day. And I started a novel. And I wrote. And I wrote. And I wrote. Until it finished and I stopped. And I knew that that was it. That was my end.

Her novel got published two years ago. It received critical acclaim and was the recipient of multiple awards last year. I never tried looking for her, she never tried to contact me. I continued living in the same house; the walls faded, the heating stopped working, the curtains fell apart. I lived in a place that had seen me fall in love and fall out of love. The memories of my past also faded, until I barely thought of her, but some days, I would encounter a piece of paper in her writing, or a book that she had bought, or scent of her favorite perfume and I would go back to visit those wonderful years that night.

Still, I came across her interviews many times in the newspaper, but there was no pang in her heart, until one day, six months ago, a newspaper reported of her death. Apparently, she had overdosed on some anti-depressants in a motel room not far from our house. All her earnings were bequeathed to multiple charities. She left me this letter and her pen, the same one that she was clutching when she decided to move out.

Many times, over the past two years, I’ve heard people talk about her book reverentially. I’ve read about how it has changed people and lives.

I’ve never managed to read it myself. I can’t.

So I carry it with myself. All the time. In the hope that one fine day, when the sun is bright and the day beautiful, I will go by the Tree of Wishes and read.

So dear John, all I want to say is that I hope you can forgive me. I like to think of you as my closest friend and whenever I am stuck, I think of what you would do. Right now, as I sit with these pills in my hand and a glass of wine on the bedside, I imagine you wary, coming closer to me as you try to talk me into abandoning these pills. But by now, I expect you to have learnt that I am not much for caution and that diving head first is more my style.

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