You might not be interested in the places and the people Max had confronted all this while. For not only were they too many in number but were also too less in substance. The peak of the bell curve corresponds to mediocrity in real life. You too may relate to this unless you are being written about by someone who is an exponent in manufacturing twists in his plot. With loss of generality, some writers can be assumed to have an inclination towards finance and a sense of market trends. In that case, you may well end up on the silver screen. You. Only enacted by a better looking guy. But most of us have no idea of what sells and what does not. Those of us end up giving shape to characters resembling vegetables. Most of the days they are dull and extremely cold, as if in a freezer of sorts. But that in no way means they are out of reckoning. The one day when they are finally washed and are made as fresh as they could be, they get cut into several pieces. That is why one asks you to breathe when the going gets tough. Oxygen makes you dull. The more you breathe, the more you burn. You could be thrown away but would eventually be spared of the brunt of the knife.
Not everyone yawns through this mediocrity though. Some take note. If you disagree, you might not have tried to explicitly imagine the enormity of the word everyone. Some of them even end up liking vegetables, such huge is our ensemble. In these few was our very own Max Klusener. Only he was his own vegetable. And he indeed was growing haphazardly from all sides if we are to talk of his beard. He was hooked on to his story with as much intent as a person who is soon going to be tricked by his insurance agent. Very much like the promises that excites the client, the prospects of every next destination made this traveller restless. Something which interests him, in no way necessitates your attention though. If you expect all of his meetings and experiences to be as strange as it had been with me, then I hope you enjoy disappointment. The very reason that kept him on the edge of his seat all this while, seeing his own story unfold in front of his eyes, was that he tried not to expect anything. They need not be explicitly extraordinary. Yet there is something very extraordinary about the subtly ordinary.
Max was walking across a locality lined with similar looking houses. The weather was gloomy, to say the least. The Sun had arrived reluctantly to the office today. Not only was he late, but also seemed to be dozing on his work table. Showers were due for a visit. Or so it seemed. The strangest thing about silence is that it makes you feel as if you are being stared at. Gloominess makes you feel as if all those eyes are closing in on you. Questioning you. Or rather accusing you of the gloominess. The greenery of the vegetation was looking rather tired as if it was fed up with the company of the greyish cement, which made the footpath on which Max was walking. He was feeling cold even though he was wearing a jacket. A grey one, further mocking the green. The clouds which were setting slowly were also in favour of grey today, filtering only that and blocking everything else. Greens had almost lost hope. Their heads unitedly hung in disappointment without a single leaf moving from where it was. Max kicked a stone into the bushes as he was walking, perhaps to free his muscles cramped in the cold. He had kicked it handsomely enough as could have been told by the ensuing scream of the cat which was slyly resting in the bushes and was hit by the stone kicked by Max. It instantly jumped out of the bushes and stared back at Max with absolute disgust and anger. Further adding to the stares of the gloom that Max was already feeling. But Max did not budge either. He stared back at the cat and accused it of all the gloom. Atleast Max had announced his presence in the game while the cat was simply going with it. The silence needed to be fought against and not slept through. He bent down as if to pick a stone. Seeing this, the cat ran in the opposite direction, as fast as it could have. The hawk flying overhead was infact surprised by this sudden activity in a place where static was the norm. But it needed to gear up for more as a bicycle was coming from the same path Max had come by. The cat and the bicycle were heading towards each other at top speed. Unfortunately, it became apparent to the two at the same time that they were due for a collision. The cat being what it was swiftly changed its course and leapt into safety, while the driver could merely ring the bell on the cycle which the cat did not require to become alert of the situation and in an action resulting from panic in those final few seconds when the cat leapt, he lost his balance and fell in the bush along with the cycle. It was a thumping defeat for the greens today.
Max rushed to his help. The boy was lying face down without even a hint of movement and was wearing a formal attire. Navy blue. Blazers and trousers. Postman, he was then, in his duty hours. Without the cap though. Max bent down and held him by his hand to pick him … err… her up. She. Was a postwoman. And quite gutted at this very moment, if the look on her face was anything to go by. She got up and instantly started looking around for something without even acknowledging Max’s help. Max knew what it was that made her incomplete and thus, restless. He too looked around and found her cap near the cycle itself. He went and picked it up. And came back to complete the postwoman. He handed out the cap to her.
She looked puzzled for a moment and stared blankly at Max. Her anger was still evident somehow, even though she was poker faced. A feat only thought to have been achieved by Japanese anime characters till this moment had arrived. The crew cut on her pear shaped face rendered her an innocence untouched by adulthood. The absolute disgust depicted by her facial features just a moment ago was gradually turning into confusion. This made her look dreamy, as if a fog was settling on her face. Max had to speak louder.
“Your cap, madam”.
The fog subsided instantly. She took the cap from his hand and got up.
The voice lacked enthusiasm.
She brushed the dirt on her uniform with her hands as Max kept standing there. Observing her with a very focussed gaze.
“Hey! By …”
She had suddenly started speaking while dusting her blazer, taking Max by surprise. The focus in Max’s eyes that she had caught for that brief moment when she looked up, took her by surprise. Brief moment, because in this exchange of surprises, the gaze had relaxed and the mocking grin on Max’s face had vanished. She continued.
“… the way, do you know where exactly Herwing street is?”
“Umm … Not exactly.”
A smile escaped Max.
“No, not even that. Actually, I am not from this place.”
She started to leave. Max felt like he was forgetting something. He tried to remember what it was that he wanted to tell her. He had all reasons to panic because all this while, she was going farther and farther away. She was now picking up her bicycle. Did he even want to tell her something? Or was it something he wanted to show? Did he just want to talk with her? That could explain the restlessness. But he was not a teenager anymore. He was past that era of unnecessary tension in such situations. If he would have just wanted to talk, he would have simply asked her out after work hours. Then what was it he was forgetting? She was now cycling away and gaining speed. She would be out of Max’s vision soon enough. And this thing that he was forgetting was very important. But he did not know what it was. He shouted.
“Excuse me! Madam!!”
She applied brakes and looked back. This was his last chance. What was it that would be of use to her except a letter? Wait. Why should he not consider the letter? Afterall, she was nothing except a person who delivers a letter. To him, that is. He ran towards her and reached her in hardly seven footfalls.
“Did I forget something?” She asked.
“No, I did.”
“You?” Obviously, confused.
“Yes. Wait a second. I have a letter to be delivered.”
“Sir! It cannot be done like this. You can drop this in your nearest …”
“Wait wait wait! Wait! Shush!”
She was absolutely confused by now. He took out an envelope. A white envelope. A folded paper’s outline could just be made out inside the envelope. But on the envelope itself nothing was written.
“Sir! I don’t have much time. These letters …”
She had to be interrupted again.
“Okay! So add these to your bunch.”
“Sir! But …”
She looked around helplessly, as if trying to spot anyone who could explain basic things to him, like how the postal service works. Even that cat would have done which made her to fall. Only that he had managed to piss off even the cat.
“You need to write the address and stick stamps …”
He interrupted her again. This time by putting up a hand.
“No, I do not know the address. Just keep this letter with you. Do not post it.”
“Sir! But what will …”
“Will you listen me out? That will only take lesser time.”
She nodded. Even though, still confused.
“If and when you find a woman, who was a mother once and not anymore, give this letter to her.”
Her expressions had changed on hearing this. She was not confused anymore. Or even if she was, she was not bothered about it. She had turned pale with disbelief.
“Won’t you? Please. I am asking you because I can’t. I could not. It is not like I have not tried. I am attached to this letter, madam. While delivering letters to those concerned is exactly what you do. Don’t you?”
She stood there, looking into Max’s eyes, for a while and then took the letter from him.
“This is my work. You just told me that.”
“But I could have given this letter to anybody. Why should a stranger take so much pain to deliver a letter without even an address on it? But somehow, I don’t know why, I felt like giving it to you.”
She was in real hurry now. Or atleast, pretended to be in. But she forced a smile, even though something was still bothering her. Pulling on her insides.
“God knows why …”
She got on the cycle and was out of sight pretty swiftly. Max was alone in that street, yet again. The hawk overhead was back. It was relieved to witness the very coldness in the street it was familiar with.
I am sorry. I lied to you. There was just that one meeting, after Max had met me. One among many others, which was extraordinary beyond words. With a woman, just outside the forest. Who gave him water. But I could not write about her. Because I cannot express in words the pain of a mother who has outlived her son. My writing would be incomplete, just like that woman, if I write about things I do not know. I don’t want to know. If you read that pain in the most exact words, you would perhaps stop reading whatever more I have to write. Therefore, I tried to evade that meeting. Only if I knew that Max had written a letter for her, or rather for what she represents, which he could not give to her, I would have briefly mentioned about the meeting. And as far as the letter is concerned, I do not know what is written in it. I will try to find out. Whenever I get to know, you too will read about it.
The downpour had started now. The hawk swiftly found a safe place. As for Max, by the time he found a shade to stand under, he was already drenched. Far away from all this, even the postwoman was drenched but she did not stop cycling as getting wet was something that would hardly bother her at this moment. Her letters were safe in the plastic covering inside the bag.
The cap which was supposed to complete her uniform, actually signified her incompleteness from within. It signified why her son was away from her. She was worried because she did not know whether the letter given by that stranger belonged to her. It might. It might not. She did not even know whether she still was a mother, in Max’s words. Although she believed that no one ceases to be a mother. She would still remain a mother even if her son had died. Or had he really? She did not know. For all she knew, he could have died even 3 years ago or he could still be alive.
At this moment, I realise what a poor writer I am. I won’t even try to express her anxiety. I don’t want to.