The Mystery of the Red Envelope

sailboatIt was a Valentine’s Day.

In my college, just under the notice board, there used to be a wooden shelf where all the post for the day would arrive. During lunch-break, everyone would crowd around the shelf hoping for a little piece of heaven – a letter from home, friends or maybe someone special.

I had mail that day. And this was not from my father – he was the only one who wrote to me anyways. His letter would usually have a bank demand draft carefully stapled to it – to meet my expenses for the month. But then, it mostly arrived at the beginning of the month.

I was not expecting a letter. This envelope was made of blood-red recycled paper, and my name was scrawled in capitals with a black sketch-pen. No stamp, no postmark. Somebody had just walked up and placed the envelope there. No bank draft here, I could guess.

Walking through the corridor, I slowly tore open the envelope. Then, I stopped right there.

Inside, I found a single-page greeting card, with a Pooh Bear graphic engraved into the thick paper. Two fat bears engrossed in a bear hug. Cute, or so I thought.

Just below the graphic, the black sketch-pen had slipped into lower-case:

you don’t know me… in the way I would have liked you to… that’s ok, it does not matter… but knowing you will remain a lasting memory for me. happy valentine’s day!

No name of the sender.

I looked around; just in case that sender was watching me from somewhere.

Another doubt cropped up simultaneously. Was this a prank?

I waited for that inevitable explosion of boos and hoots. I read the lines once more. Then, looked around to make sure. Everyone was looking at me, at least that’s how it seemed to me – did I spot a faint smirk blooming somewhere?

I suspected my batch-mates more than anyone. They knew everything about me; enough to play a prank like this. I had a crush on someone, and all of them knew about it too. This didn’t look like her handwriting at all. But then, she wouldn’t write in order to be recognized, would she? The possibility that my friends might have let her know about my affection crossed my mind.

Now that was too much of theory, I realized.

I went back to the training kitchen to check on her. I spied her in a corner, caught in the sincere act of disposing the food waste into the giant garbage cans. Her face wasn’t exactly the angelic kind doing that chore. I walked in front of her, to and fro, hoping to see something of a giveaway on her face. Other than the irritation writ large on her face, my scouting trip failed to yield any valuable evidence.

I quickly realized one more thing – it was possible that I had allowed myself to be set up. I was just behaving the way my friends wanted me to, if this was a plan they had hatched in the first place. Love-torn fresher, spellbound by a mysterious Valentine Card, drawn to the belle in question, and mobbed by a swarm of classmates jumping him to virtually shame his pants off.

I was immediately thinking of what my reaction should be just in case all hell broke loose – whether the modes of the practiced nonchalance of yeh-bahut-dekha-hey or the Oh God-palm-on-head resignation or just walk into the sunset or better still, vaporize into the atmosphere would suit the situation.

I waited for something to happen. In the class, during the tea-break. Nothing, absolutely nothing so far.

I am searching every face around me, and my frantic attitude is not winning me any brownie-points exactly. I felt carpet-bombed minus the hellfire and some part of me was already unhinged. That part had become a cavernous hole.

I had never got a Valentine Card until then. And, I wasn’t even sure if it was genuine. And even if it were, the sender had chosen to remain anonymous.

Nobody owned up. The classes were over. Time to go home.

I don’t remember my walk to the bus-stop that day. It was all hazy; the mind haywire about possibilities, and my primal instincts on full alert as to when the world would come crashing down.

In the bus, with much reluctance, I showed the card to my best-friend.

“Who gave you this? I don’t see any name here.”

“I have no idea. Are you playing a prank on me?”

“What do you mean?”

“Did you guys send me this card?”

“No.”

“Then, who did?”

“How do I know?”

Silence for a long time.

My friend is staring out of the window, lost in the details outside. Maybe, he is laughing about the prank and doesn’t want to show me his face. My mind is a busy workshop.

He turns around after ten minutes. Seemed like a long time to me though.

“I think you should be happy.”

“Why?”

“At least, you got a card on Valentine’s. Even if it’s a bloody anonymous card.”

I remain silent.

“If our friends had done this, we would have already known by now. A prank survives on it being discovered by the victim. The element of embarrassment supposedly completes the picture. Think about it.”

I begin to think that it might be possible. My friend has a point there. Just maybe.

“Cheer up, man”, he says with a pat on my back. He looks out of the window again.

I am silent all the way to East Fort. I push the card back into my satchel. Nothing happens the next day, or the day after, and the year is gone just like that.

The red envelope remains in my satchel; I look at it sometimes, enamoured by the feel and colour of the card. I must have read it so many times. It makes me wonder though, mostly about the sender.

If it was a girl, why did she give up on it, without giving me a chance? I am immediately thinking of possibilities – a movie whirring in my mind’s eye, composed of all those pink-toned frames of a fairy tale, all that could have been. And, if it was a prank, why did everyone keep silent about it?

My heart leaped to a new terrain that Valentine’s Day; something between bliss, doubt and practical reason.

Or let us put it this way. One day, I am a sail-boat in a blue, blue sea, nodding along with the gentle waves. The day is bright; there is promise in the horizon, and the unmistakable passion of youth around me. I wish lazily for a stronger wind, just for the cheap thrill of a quick spurt to the line where the blue ends.

Now tell me, who sends out anonymous cards like that, to smash your sail-boat bobbing in peace on a blue, blue sea? And then, leave you to flounder all these years, even today?

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