Image by Michelle Raponi from Pixabay 

It was the evening before Christmas Eve. The winter skies had joined in the festive mood, and the waxing moon had put on its brightest smile, and the stars brilliantly adorned the celestial ballroom. The school church was beautifully decked in dazzling lights, complete with a golden star atop the Christmas tree. The joyous singing of the carols was carried by the chilly breeze across the grounds. Silhouettes of students could be made out, raucously making their way across the grounds to the church. It was the last evening before winter break and thus a good excuse to make a great deal of noise.

Away from the chatter and laughter, another dark figure was moving in a direction, opposite to the church, towards the old classroom by the cemetery. The old classroom was just a single room within a now decrepit structure. The school had initially started there, but after a short period of time, moved to its present location, and this just remained an oddity in the otherwise perfect ground, the wild weeds now beginning to creep up its walls. The walls had been so intensely graffitied over generations, it wasn’t possible to make out a single sensible word. Inside the classroom, on the blackboard and the broken benches, on every inch, the students had left some indelible mark of their presence. But Celine wasn’t there to admire the artwork or create her own.

She made her to the back of the room, and reached for a trapdoor underneath the bench, and opened it, revealing a flight of stairs that carried her into a semi-underground basement. She lit a matchstick as she went down, and a room came into view. This was the Room of Letters. She had accidentally stumbled upon it in her first year there, and now after four years, she was familiar with every nook and cranny of the place.

The walls were lined with wooden shelves, carrying volumes of books in every language of the land. Over the course of one and a half-century that the school had existed, at some point, someone must have discovered the space and decided it deserved to be filled with stories of all kinds. The ones told in the books belonged on the shelves. And the ones told in the letters and diaries were loosely bound together by a string, left on the desk, some of it spilled onto the floor. There were some who had left some cassettes too, of classic songs, or some, which they wrote and composed themselves. Long after they had gone, their music still lingered on the grounds, telling tales of their time here. Some had left paintings, which silently betrayed the secrets behind them. Each of its inhabitants had left a part of themselves here. They had found strangers to be loyal readers of their vulnerabilities, offering support, solace, and sometimes even sound advice. Through such sharing of stories, many friendships had blossomed within those walls, some which moved beyond the confines of the letters, and others which chose to remain buried there, a secret which didn’t need to be disclosed. Celine had found such a friend too. It is easier to leave your thoughts unguarded on paper, before a nameless, faceless stranger, when you only recognise each other by the handwriting. There is no fear of being judged before a pen and a paper. 

Image by Adriano Gadini from Pixabay 

They had decided to remain anonymous, knowing each other by their pen names only- Celine and Ved. They could talk about anything and everything that way, trace those thoughts in ink which were too heavy for their tongues. Every week, she looked forward to opening their decided shelf, to find his letter hidden beneath some books.

This was Celine’s last visit here. She was in her final year, and wouldn’t return after the winter break this time. The final exams had been done, and the results would be delivered to her house. She would miss the thrill of picking a new book, and running her hands over the leather binding. She would miss the way those yellowed papers would feel on her hands, how the words would wash over her, comfort her in their warmth. She had enjoyed the solitude in which she could paint to her heart’s content. She would miss the whole world of music she had come to know and love, on the cassette player that had once belonged to her mother. But most of all, she would miss Ved’s letters.

She had gone down there to write him a final letter. She didn’t even know if he was in the final year too, and whether he too would leave the next day, leaving her words unread. How does one make a goodbye less painful without the promise of keeping in touch? She sat there for a long time, but the words to explain what it had been, and where was going were elusive. In the end, all she could muster was a simple note of gratitude for his friendship and explained that it would be her last note. Keeping the note in the designated spot for the last time, she took a cassette, put out the oil lamp and set outside.

It was close to midnight, and almost everyone had returned to their dorms, to continue the party there. A thick silence hung over the night. Just as she was leaving the classroom, she nearly ran into a boy, entering it. She mumbled an apology and carried on, thinking it was probably one of those who regularly snuck out at night to smoke cigarettes in there. As she was walking away, she heard him call out


Hardly believing it was meant for her, she turned around and saw him beckoning to her.

“You are Celine, right?” he asked as she moved closer.

“How do you know my name?”

“You dropped your special pen,” he said, holding up a vintage Waterman fountain pen with the letters “S.C” engraved on it.

She had only ever told about its existence to Ved, told him how it was the most precious gift she had ever received.

“Ved?” she asked, in a tone of amazement.

“I guess I am the only one who knows about this pen then,” he said, smiling at her.

It was hard for her to believe her luck. All these years she had wondered how it would be if they accidentally ran into each other in that same room and it had to happen on the very last day. Maybe, it wasn’t goodbye just yet.

“I was just going in to read what you have for me this week and if you don’t mind, you can save me the trouble of going down there. Let’s go for a walk and you can hear what I had to say.”

And off they set, into the night, along the grounds faintly lit by the moonlight.

“So, now that we have met each other, shall we reveal our real names?” Celine asked.

“No, there would be no need for that. I think hidden under these false names, we have been our honest bests, and real names would give us a reason to lie. Besides, now that I have seen how you look like, the only name that fits this face in my memory now is Celine, and anything else would simply be an aberration.” Ved replied

“Well, there is too much truth in that to ignore. I am not particularly fond of my name anyway.”

“So can I ask you which year you are in?”

“You must, for I think this is the last time we get to interact with each other. I am in the final year you see, and these are my final hours on these grounds.”

“I think the spirit of Christmas is particularly generous this year then, having me run into you like that. I am in the final year too.”

They passed by the church, a riot of light and colour against the darkness.

“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Ved asked.

“Yes, it is.”

“I remember you once mentioned, you didn’t like this holiday that much.”

“No, I don’t.”

“May I ask why is that?”

“Because I have to go back to my house during this period. It seems that the festive spirit possesses the air till the border of this tiny little town. Beyond that, it’s just a bitter, cold winter.”

“I understand what you mean. Where I come from, it feels like a perpetual monsoon. The people have no sun within them, just damp, cold, and uncomfortable.”

“How do you love this day so much then?”

“Well if I didn’t go away, then I wouldn’t have an excuse to experience the thrill of coming back here. And the joy is infectious. It is hard not to let it get to the head and once it does, even the freezing cold cannot drive it away, it burns in there till I come back.”

They sat on a bench for some time, neither of them saying a word. A dog barked in the distance. Occasionally giggles could be heard as a couple of students went past them, seeking secure shelters.

“This isn’t how you imagined spending the last night of your school life, is it? With a person, you have met for the first time, out in the open field on a cold night.” Ved asked her

“Can’t imagine anything better really. Usually, the night before the holidays involved a great deal of pretence and lies, but it isn’t the case now at least.”

“What sort of pretence?”

“Pretending to be excited along with everyone else in my dorm. I don’t get why I was raised to believe fitting in and getting along was so important but now it feels like it's criminal to do anything otherwise, but the effort to fit in is torturous.”

“Are they such dull people?”

“No, they are alright. But sometimes, I don’t want to do stuff, I don’t feel like doing stuff which I have to do anyway, because everyone else is doing it. And sometimes I get the feeling that maybe there is something wrong with me for not enjoying those things, and that maybe I will miss out on a lot of important stuff if I don’t learn how to do those. Even if they had good music to go along with everything maybe that would be more enjoyable but their taste is utter rubbish!” she ended with a sigh.

“What kind of music do you like?”

“I like the Beatles, I discovered their songs on the cassettes in the Room of Letters.”

“That’s nice. Would you like to sing a Beatles’ song with me?”

“Oh no no, I am a terrible singer.”

“So? What does it matter? I am practically a stranger, right? And there is no one else to hear us. Come on!”

Ved began singing Ob-la-di Ob-la-da at the top of his voice, Celine reluctantly joined in. Before long, she started enjoying herself immensely. Their voices rang through the night, and they sang without abandon, unafraid that they’d make someone from the church come down there. There was a shriek and the couple that had passed by them earlier hurried out a bush and ran at top speed, thinking they had been caught by two singing poltergeists. They burst out laughing, and once they started laughing it was hard to stop.

Celine had been pensive since the past few weeks, the thought of her future occupying her mind. It had been weeks before she had laughed so freely, without encumbrances of a future. It took them a while to catch their breaths.

“So it turns out you did lie a little in those letters.” Ved said.


“You told me you didn’t think the laughter quite reaches your eyes. Well, it's quite dim now, but I think it very well does. Maybe no one has played a good enough prank in front of you before.”

“Well you are quite right, no one has done this at least.” She said, breaking into a fresh set of giggles.

“What about you, what do you usually do on a night like this?” she asked, once she had composed herself.

“Well, I go about from one group to another, telling them and perhaps myself that I belong in each, talking in their lingo. I pretty much sing and dance like a tramp there too, but it’s always in the expectation of their reciprocating appreciation. Now, I simply did because I had someone to sing along with, and I felt like a good song. So yeah, this is loads better.”

She smiled at him. They walked along a little further.

“So what next, where are you headed after school?” Ved asked her

“Some place I don’t want to go. What about you?”

“Some place I don’t want to go.” Ved repeated.

“I actually wonder if anyone actually ends up in a place they want to. They may convince themselves for a while that that is what they wanted, but eventually end up hating it all the same.”

“Where do you go want to go, even if you only love it for a little while?”

“My reality has been too narrow to allow the space for such a question.”

“Well, there is nothing real about this moment as of now, not even our names. So think of Celine’s reality, and tell me, where would she want to go?”

Celine thought for a moment.

“She would like to go north. They have an excellent programme in art and design there, and I think she would love that.”

Ved nodded.

“What about you? Where would Ved want to go?”

“That’s what I don’t know actually. Every idealist tells us that we should follow our dream, our passion. Every pragmatist tells us we should first figure out a stable job, stable income. But there is no way to know if I am good enough to do either of those things. I would fight for my dreams if I knew for sure what they were. But all I know is that I am in some place I don’t want to be and it sucks but I don’t know where I’d rather go from here so I have no option but to stay put.”

Celine nodded kindly. They were both lost in the musings about the future that could have been.

“You know, actually I owe you more than you know. You have expressed your gratitude many times, for being a patient reader, a silent, unseen audience to your ramblings. But I don’t think I have properly appreciated you enough for your friendship. The only time I remember having dreams in my eyes, was in that room, in the presence of hundreds of stories. After midnight, they’d flow from my eyes into hands and become stories and ballads that I wrote. You were my only real companion within a place, wherein the presence of hundreds of stories, I believed my own would turn out to be okay.” Ved said.

“It takes a special kind of goodness of heart, to read an absolute stranger’s ramblings and find a different way to be kind to them each time. I think we’re even.”

They stood outside the old classroom for a while.

“You know in there, I often wondered whether all the stories that had started in there, reached the conclusion that they had promised at the start, a happy ending. And I wonder if someone years later would read my story there, while I have taken a completely different course, resigned to my fate. It would be a pretty sad ending.” Celine said

“And thinking about this stuff”, she continued, “I have often wondered what it would be like to not go back at all after this. Directly take a train north, and send back a letter explaining what I did and why I did and later joining the place I want to. I even purchased a ticket, just to get a taste of the way it felt to be able to do that, to see if that would make me feel better.”

“Well, did it?”

“No, it only made me more conscious of how I wasn’t doing it and I had lesser money now.”

Ved chuckled.

“You know what, I think I will do this. I can’t go back, I won’t go back. I can live with a sad ending, but one which I bring upon myself, not one which is shoved down my throat, stifling my voice.” Celine said suddenly, her eyes lighting up.

“Are you sure about this? This is a big call to make.” Ved tried to reason with her.

“Yeah, I am. I mean, what is the worst that could happen, they would forcefully take me away after a week but it would mean a week where I live by my own choices, where I can speak of my dreams in the open, without having to hide behind a different name or an underground room and certainly a week away from that place.”

“Well, if you are so sure, then good for you! I wish you the best of luck.” Ved beamed at her.

“And I think you should come with me.”

“And this is where I think you are crazy.” Ved retorted.

“Come on, what’s the worst that could happen for you. You yourself said you’d rather be anywhere else than home, and maybe in that different environment, without the pressure to belong with them forcefully, you will be able to find out what you want to do.”

“I really don’t know about this Celine, there are hundreds of things that could go wrong with this.”

“But things could be right too. You will be miserable back there, and that’s a certainty that that would be wrong.”

Ved looked perplexed, unsure.

“Look, in three hours’ time, my train departs. I am going to be waiting for you at the platform.”

“What if I don’t come?”

“That’s okay too. You will be a part of my best memories about this place.”

“Okay. Keep this letter anyway, which I was going to keep for you tonight, something to remember me by.”

Celine took the letter and walked away.

In the early hours of the morning, a thick fog had settled over the sparsely occupied railway platform. Celine was seated on a bench, gazing into the mist. Though she had made quite an inflamed speech defending her decision, yet the uncertainty stared back at her from the darkness, scaring her into submitting before the reality she had resolved to leave behind. She thought about how the journey back was the reason she had never felt the joy that hung in the air even on a nearly empty platform. It seemed elusive to her as if she was wearing an invisible veil, which forbade her the same air as everyone else. These thoughts acted as an anchor, keeping her rooted to that spot instead of bolting back. She held Ved’s letter in her hand. She had not opened it, thinking that that would make their goodbye final, kill the possibility of him turning up at that platform.

The sun was not out yet, but the purple of dawn had dissolved into a vast expanse of grey. Slowly, she could see her train approach from a distance, a bright spot of light getting bigger and bigger. She gathered her things and stood up, all hope lost. She was going to have to take this plunge alone. Until she heard her name called out.


She turned around to see Ved, out of breath, still in his uniform, with his luggage by his side. He held up a pen.

“You never took back your pen” he panted.

And they both started laughing, as the red engine hissed and sputtered into the platform.

“By the way, you can throw this letter away, the number and address on this have become outdated as of this moment,” Ved said as they kept their luggage on the carriage. Celine was smiling throughout, such a smile that thawed away the ice that had kept her heart frozen for so long. She could breathe properly now, and for the first time ever, Christmas Eve was a happy realization for her.

The sun slowly crept out, red, pink, and orange mixing across the sky, tearing through the mist. As they settled into the train, she plugged in the mixtape she had taken from that room. “Here Comes the Sun” by the Beatles played as the train rolled away, carrying them into a warmer, happier future, where they could write their own story.

I saw them leave, and if I could feel anything, it would surely be contentment. I returned to the Room of Letters, which I had built, where I reside within those dusty volumes, on the wrinkled flowers, clothed in their fragrance. It is an occupational hazard of creating things, you get too attached, and leaving becomes difficult. So I am confined to those walls, and those grounds for eternity. Having so much time makes one value the finites. For me, the stories end as soon as they sit on a train and leave, and each time I see someone leave with a dream, a friendship, or love, it is in those finite that I feel a little alive.

.    .    .