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The girl sat on the deserted embankment hugging her knees. Tears streaked down her swollen cheek. She winced because her head hurt along with literally every other part of her body. She was lonely and tired and hungry. She wished she could have the comforts of a warm home, a good meal, love… Across the deserted road, the windows of the house yonder were wide open and the sound of tinkling china cups and joyful laughter floated in the air. Her clothes were torn in patches and the single adornment on her bare body was a worn-out ribbon from which a tiny locket hung. They were hidden beneath her tattered brown coat. The water in the river was leaping and the sounds of the waves crashing gently beneath her acted like a soft lullaby. Soon her eyelids were heavy with sleep. She laid her wasted head on a smooth rock and closed her eyes. The moonlight casted a pale shadow over her and the stars twinkled rhythmically. A nightingale cast forth her beauteous melody and filled the night with sweet music.
The boy looked out of his window. He looked at the crescent moon hanging in the sky and wondered why his life was so empty. Even the waning moon had companions in the darkness. His gaze shifted to the glittering stars. Again he wondered why he hadn’t found any meaning in his life yet. He looked jealously at the moon and drawing the curtains, sat on the edge of his bed dejectedly. He heard a gentle knocking at the door and saw his little sister standing with a stuffed animal in her hand. “I can’t sleep Matthew. I feel scared.” She clasped the toy to her chest and rubbed her blue eyes with her knuckles. “Come here.” He patted on the other side of the bed. The little girl tiptoed and sat beside her big brother. He laid his head on the fluffy pillow and opened out his arms for her. She smiled at him gratefully and snuggled next to him. He drew the quilt over her tiny body. He’ll be such a good daddy… his little sister thought.
The first golden rays of the morning sun awoke the girl next morning. The waves had calmed down and lapped at her feet. A kitten licked her bare feet. She rubbed her eyes and sat with little help. The kitten mewed gently and she stroked her soft fur and yawned tiredly as the little thing purred. It was just dawn and the whole town was asleep. Only here and there fishermen collected their nets and turned towards home with their catch. She realized how hungry she was. She found a shady, comparatively secluded spot and taking off her coat leaped into the water. She swam like a fish, her thin body snaking through the water gracefully. She laughed at the pure bliss of it. She emerged out refreshed and smiling. Then she looked despondently at her dirty clothes and put them on reluctantly. The golden furred kitten came out of a bush and she picked it up and cuddled it next to her chest. “I’ll call you Buttercup. Ain’t it a lovely name?” she ran towards the market hoping she’d earn some money today at least.
The boy had a sleepless night and only drifted into a sound sleep at dawn. When his sister shook him and he didn’t wake up, she started bawling out loud, “Matthew is dead Mummy! He won’t wake up! Oh! Mummy! Matthew is dead!” his mother came rushing alarmed by her sobs and wails. The noise woke him up and he propped himself up on one elbow. His mother gave out a sigh of relief and after having reassured Cathy that her brother had been asleep carried her out of the room. Matthew dragged his feet to the bathroom. His previous fit of melancholy cast a gloom over him today as well. He felt some of the tension evaporate as he soaked his body in the warm, scented water of the tub. He was just drying his wet, golden-brown hair when the smell of bacon and eggs drifted through the open window. He forced a smile on his downcast face and walked towards the patio where his family sat for breakfast.
“Shea! Shea!” a dainty head popped out of an elegant horse drawn carriage. The girl swirled her face and half ran towards the carriage with Buttercup nestled in her arms. The door opened and a flaxen haired, round faced young lady stepped out. Her fairy-like green eyes flashed with love as she embraced her less fortunate friend. “You’ll get dirty, Alice.” The girl smiled, looking around self-consciously. “Uh-huh,” Alice shook a finger playfully, “I ain’t getting no dirty.” She laughed as she spoke in an accent unsuitable for a young lady like her. “But you look terrible, my poor Shea, has the old man been troubling you again?” the girl averted her gaze and didn’t answer the question. Her friend changed the topic exactly on time. “I have so much to tell you!” she giggled. “Get inside and we’ll find you more appropriate attire. You have to listen about the ball tonight. I’ll have you sneaked in…” the girl protested vehemently but she was already dragged inside by then and the horses with a loud neigh galloped away.
“Matthew,” his father addressed him in a grown up fashion, “You must learn to take your responsibilities now. You turn 16 today; after all, you must learn to interact. I’m worried about your introspective nature. You have to handle my entire business after all, you must learn to socialize…” you must learn this, you must learn that. Was there anything he didn’t have to learn? His father continued, “Your presence is absolutely required at the Ball tonight.” His eyes widened in disgust, “But, father…” he began. “No more excuses! My verdict is final!” he wiped his bushy face in the napkin and rose from the table. “But, dear…he’s only just sixteen, don’t be so harsh with him!” the boy’s mother stood up in his defense. “I was a man at sixteen! When will he grow up?” he stormed and left the room with his wife following him. Cathy sniffed into her silk handkerchief and patting his shoulders wisely, left him alone.
“Try this out!” Alice forced one dress upon another over her frail body. She sighed and sat at the edge of the bed. “No, Alice. I’m exhausted, you start dressing up, I’ll sleep for a while.” She felt much more comfortable in fresh clothes. The humming of the bees and the warm afternoon sun made her sleepy. She grabbed a cushion and went to the upholstered window seat and hugging her knees, well-fed and happy, drifted into a peaceful sleep. Alice sighed and picking up a perfect red gown walked out of the room. Oh, Matthew, how I long to see you again…she thought.
Walking on the peaceful, deserted embankment on a warm and dry summer day relaxed him. Purple heather bloomed everywhere. He sat down by a smooth, round stone and breathed in the fresh air. The teasing wind ruffled his untidy golden-brown hair. He took out a blank piece of paper and a bottle of ink. Dipping his nib in the ink, he thought about what he should write. In the process of daydreaming, he shifted his weight and leant against the stone. Something sharp pricked the hand which he was running through the soft purple wild flowers. The breeze blew again and the flowers swayed as if rejoicing about something. He felt the grass and retrieved a small silver locket. He examined it curiously and found it could be opened. The oval frames of the window held tiny pictures. A strong handsome man with his arms wrapped around a beautiful lady with dark, wavy hair. In her arms was a tiny baby. Her wide eyes were filled with curiosity and although she wasn’t a typical beauty like the woman, she caught his eyes and further fuelled his interest. He suddenly knew what to write.
The girl was running wildly on the embankment. Her feeble sobs reverberated in the lonely banks. She again felt for her empty ribbon. She wept afresh. She was determined to find it. She ran towards the sandy riverbed and shedding off her dress, leapt into the water, hoping futilely to find the tiny locket which was so precious for her. She searched and searched till she was out of breath and sucking in some air, she came out of the water and slid into her summery dress again. Weeping silently she flung herself on ‘her’ stone. Something crackled beneath her. She got up, a nervous-wreck, and found it to be a piece of paper, neatly folded, and held down by a tiny, colored stone. Inquisitively she opened it. A locket slid down. Her eyes widened in surprise and then narrowed in suspicion. This wasn’t her locket! It was…a gold locket, encrusted with jewels, rubies, emeralds and sapphires! She found a tiny lock and opened it. A beautiful baby boy was smiling at her from the picture, sitting in the lap of an elderly woman who gazed at him adoringly. She smiled as she hastened to read the paper.
Dear mysterious person,
I found your locket in the heather grass. It immediately fuelled my inquisitive side. The little girl in the picture caught my eyes. I wonder what her story is. I wonder what your story is, for I feel you have something to say, a story to tell. I have your locket for keepsake. I swear I do not intend to take away anything that is yours. It will be safely in my possession until you come and claim it. I am eagerly waiting for your reply. I want to meet you and hear your story. Please come tonight at seven; right here. I have certain engagements but…Tell me about yourself. If I’m convinced I’ll return you your locket. To be fair, I’ve left my, locket with this letter. I’m in the picture along with the only person whom I’ve loved so far- my Grandmother…I’ll wait for you… Adieu.
Her jaw dropped as she read the letter. The boy, who wrote this, Matthew, was evidently an unhappy, soul too. She immediately felt sympathy and affection for him. She refolded the piece of paper, her first letter, and laid it on the ground beside her. She didn’t know much but she picked up the pen and the blank sheet left for her and commenced to write.
The boy sneaked out of the party. The Ball was grand and he had been shoved to dance with Alice, the Mayor’s daughter. She was wonderful and everything but she wasn’t his type of girl. She was far too…usual to be his love. One person, only one girl, caught his eyes tonight. She wore a pale blue flowing gown. Her face was ordinary, in the views of others, but for him…it was unique. She looked beautiful in spite of the purple shadows under her eyes. She looked anticipating, anxious like him. She kept glancing at the clock and fidgeting with the hem of her dress. She didn’t dance even once. She stood quietly at the doorway. He thought of confronting her and asking her if he could be of any help. But the clock struck 7 and she slid through the doorway and out of sight. He remembered his appointment with the ‘mystery person’ and sneaked outsight unseen. The moon was fuller and brighter tonight, he noticed and a stealthy quiet had descended on the usually turbulent waves. He took off his coat and unknotted his tie and crept to ‘his’ rock to wait for… but the night was as silent as ever! There was no trace of a soul in the barren embankment. Maybe, his mysterious friend was late… a faint trace of roses and jasmines hung in the air. How peculiar! His eyes caught sight of a piece of paper and he grabbed it hastily and read a letter addressed to him…
I read your letter! And trust me it lightened up my very soul! You do not know what comfort it is to know that somebody cares to know my story! And that too a stranger! I want to meet you as much as you do, and I promise you we’ll meet soon. But till then we may comfort each other by these trivial letters. You must be wondering who I am, I am called ‘Shea’ which is rather a strange, unpopular name, I know, but well take me as I am. I see from your letter and the locket that you left me, you must belong to a well to do family. I am but a beggar, I admit begrudgingly, but I choose this utter poverty in comparison of a life of slavery. I’m a run-away, which is probably very disgraceful for a young woman, but like I said, take me as I am.
And I almost forgot! My heartfelt apologies for not meeting you tonight, I had promised a friend I’d be there when her parents announce her engagement. Isn’t it marvelous that her to-be-fiancé is called Matthew too! I was kind of bemused by this fact though, but nevertheless, I must pause now. I have to forcibly dress up for the stupid ‘Ball’ I’ve been invited too. And in case you’re wondering how a poor beggar ought to go to a ball, it’s because my friend, Alice, is filthy rich. Oh, here’s the summoning! I must go, but I will write another letter very soon. I hope we meet soon. And I feel it will be sooner than you think.
The paper slid from his trembling hands and he broke into a run…
The girl laid a trembling hand on her weeping friend’s shoulder. Mr. Donaldson looked furious at his son’s mysterious disappearance just when the engagement was about to take place. He had purposely hidden this news from his defiant son for so long. He had thought here in full public view, there was nothing Matthew could do. His wife was quaking with fear, imaging the worst-case scenarios as usual. Cathy was quiet. She had seen her brother run across the street and disappear in the bushes. She wondered if she should tell her mother. Poor Matthew, I think he liked that girl, not Alice. There can’t be two princesses in one house…she thought regretfully. Then she eyed the sullen, temperamental Alice and the black-haired girl. The girl felt sudden anxiousness creep over her. Then a sobbing maid ran inside. “Help him Mistress, Master Matthew has been hit by a carriage!” his mother wailed and fell on the ground, a senseless heap…
The boy was panting. The carriage driver leapt on his feet and a look at the dying figure before him, he screamed and ran into the darkness like a madman. Shea, he thought, gasping for breath, I wish I could meet you before. I wish I could hear your story. Goodbye forever. And then his eyelids closed. He was unaware of his mother shaking his cold body or his father calling Dr. Sylvester. Cathy stood far away, at the doorway. A sniffling maid held her back from running to him. Her pain filled cries filled the devastating night with fresh fears. She wouldn’t stop until she saw the girl, the other girl. She lay on the floor too in a dark-untrodden neglected corner. She was afraid that the girl was…
It all had happened so quickly. Her lachrymose and tear-laden eyes blacked out all of a sudden. Her head swirled with an irrepressible pain. It was like taking a plunge into the dark sea of despair and emptiness. This time she couldn’t swim out of this mess. A part of her was dying. It was a strange, unusual feeling for her. Matthew, her dying eyes pictured her last letter and then the handsome face that had been scrutinizing her all evening, I’m sorry I couldn’t meet you. I wish I could tell you my story. Goodbye forever. Tiny hands shook her. A distant melodious voice floated into her ears. “You can’t die; you can’t die…” it sobbed. “You can save him. You can save my brother!” she struggled to open her eyes. Sleep, so enticing, death, so delicious… she shivered. “True love’s kiss, true love’s kiss! It can save him!” she cried hysterically. “Please save my brother, he loves you!” and then her pain evaporated and ultimately vanished…
He felt the numbness disappearing, pain resurfacing. He heard the jumbled up sounds and sobs. He heard the stethoscope press against his chest. Then he smelled a perfume so divine that his head reeled. Rose and jasmine… then he felt soft lips press against his own. He forgot how to breathe. Shea, he thought, is that you? The lips withdrew with a sigh and a sob. He felt a tear splash on the bridge of his nose. He heard Dr. Sylvester’s excited voice, “His heart is beating! It’s a miracle! Your son will live Mrs. Donaldson! Matthew will live!” his mother wrapped her arms around him and sobbed afresh into his chest, grateful to hear his fluttering heart-beats. “Thank you” she mumbled quietly to the weeping girl. His eyes opened slowly and in spite of the pain, he smiled at her. She was crouched by his feet, hands hiding her blotchy face. She was trembling and her pallid complexion was colored with tinges of damask. She looked irradiant. He lifted his hand and she took it readily pressing it to her heart. One by one the people filed out. She stayed…
His wounds had been bandaged and he lay on his bed, in the same room where only last night he felt miserable and lonely. Tonight he was sure he was the happiest person alive in the whole world. She saw his eyes open and flitted over to his bedside and stroked his golden-brown hair. “How are you feeling?” she said softly. He smiled; “Never been better!” she bent down and kissed his forehead. “So, you want to hear my story?” she asked him. “That’s what I almost killed myself for.” He smirked. She clasped his hands and began, “Okay,” she beamed, “There was a girl who was sad and lonely…” he nodded in encouragement. “She found that a great boy had stolen her locket,” she laughed at his expression. “I didn’t steal it…” he said retrieving the locket that was hanging from a silver chain around his neck. “No…” she said enclosing it in his palms, “It belongs with you…I belong with you.” He caressed her cheeks. She closed her eyes and proceeded, “He left her letter which won her heart. But she couldn’t meet him there where he asked her to meet. So she wrote him a letter instead…”
“See?” he smiled at her, “Our story is so similar…we both fall in love at first sight…” she laughed. “No, that’s not correct; we both fell in love at first letter…” and then she bent down and kissed him again.