The papers lay all over the table; long forsaken, frozen in time.
I walked closer to the table and picked up a dust-covered page. The writing was no longer legible, but the dimmed traces of letters were still distinguishable at places.
Written in the flowing hand of the writer, the faded, coarse sheets bore the hints of the pen that would have been dipped in charcoal ink for that calligraphic writing style. I wondered if the writer waited after every sentence, pausing for the ink to dry out.
What did he write about?
Was he an undiscovered seer, taking to the pen when thoughts swarmed his mind. Or was he a celebrated, revered, figure of his times?
The answers alluded me.
I found a chair and dusted away the thick coat of dirt with my bare hands.
What would once have been a polished, soft leather chair was now a hard, brittle seat.
Light, I needed more light to gain better clarities. Not just in that room, but also within my mind.
The dirt clogged window-pane groaned as I tried to push it open, but it was jammed tight.
Equally clasped shut, my mind did not even utter a moan.
How could an attic, so tightly sealed, accumulate so much dust?
How could my mind, so refreshingly observant, be so blank?
It would have been simple to call in some help and clean up the place, but I was apprehensive of losing the moments, any heritage, that was seemingly buried under that thick coat of dust.
She turned sixteen and knew the flower had blossomed. Her coming of age did not go unnoticed by the woman she called her Mom; soon it would be plucking season.
By the time she turned twenty-two, she had gone through various forms of abuse, induced abortions, and a personality transformation that suited her need at the time. Like a chameleon, she could wear that luscious look one moment, and an innocent, gullible, appearance the next second. It helped that she was gifted with a timeless beauty that swept any and all, off their feet. The only masking she could not achieve was with her eyes.
But then who cared to notice that slightest trace of apprehension, barely perceptive shade of saddened guilt, when their motivation was never the look in her eyes.
One of the earliest burdens she shed were truthfulness and loyalty. In her realm, she could not afford these luxuries, not even with her own self. Another weakness she could not allow within was fear. These were the privileges affordable only by the protected ones, and she had to contend with scavengers and predators.
She adopted many names but had no identity. Somewhere between those incoming waves of diverse intensities, to whom she played the shore, she could no longer recall who she really was. Everything was make-believe, even her individuality.
Her education was necessity-based. Some harsh words of the street for the uncouth, and a few smooth sentences for the discerning; all perfected to the extent where she could keep the former at bay, and allure the later, without any apparent discomfort.
Pretenses, not the essence of the person, mattered. And she was aware of it.
I got up from the chair once again and walked over to the other pieces of furniture in that bare room. Besides the seat that I had just used, there was this two-row bookshelf, without any books, and a small cabinet, with nothing inside. Not even the pen that he used.
Zilch, no clue.
Just a writing table with the scattered pages on top, and that pot of ink that had long since dried out. I picked up a paper from the bottom of the pile and tried to read through the faded text, without any success.
Maybe the clue lay not here but out in some historical archives? My thoughts raced.
My heart told me otherwise. Whatever the hints on the writer, were in this bare attic, not even in the house itself.
I sat back on the chair and closed my eyes.
Knowledge can be gained through effort, but wisdom, insight, is only granted.
It was time for spiritual communion.
I was wrong, the writer wasn’t a man.
The author was a lady with an almost youthful face that contrasted with her age-creased hands. She wore a pensive smile, but her eyes were saddened by the scars of her life.
I could hear the scribble of her pen when it scratched the coarse papers, I could see the anguish on her face as she relived the memories.
Always alone in the attic, sometimes vengeful, sometimes sad, but mostly impassive.
I saw her days and her nights, her summers and her winters. I saw her through her ages, as the years tumbled like the tiles of the domino.
But I couldn’t tell her name, her identity.
Who was this woman that carried the pen, but no aura of accomplishment? Sitting there silently, lost in thought, her pen suspended in the air. Then feverishly writing in that smooth flowing style, until the pages flowed away.
Who was she, who really was she?
It was on her twenty-fourth birthday that the teacher came to town.
His first weeks were a mere curiosity, and only after he bought himself a house in that town, that the community took him more seriously. He lived alone, so she stayed aloof. Confident within herself of his imminent visit.
It was just a matter of time; the loners usually came.
And one day, he knocked. Not for the usual reasons that others came for, but just to find out if she would like to join his classes. She smiled within herself at his innocence and politely led him in. She had all the learning that she needed.
His company was enticing, she found out in the days to come. And she asked him to take her as a student, teach her something she knew not, help her find an identity.
He patiently taught her to read and to write; in a flowing style that the learned of the time used. For practice, he smilingly asked her to write all of the various names that she had adopted.
It startled her to realize that they could fill the pages.
It was not long before he graduated from a teacher to being a counselor for her. There was a changing of roles, he was now the shore to the onslaught of her waves.
In the beginning, her waves were angered storms, battering the shoreline. Then they turned to humiliated surfs, and gradually weakened down to softly sliding waters over the sands.
Every day, she would walk up to his house, accompany him to the attic, and write away all of her names repeatedly.
Then one day, he told her not to use the ink anymore.
She wrote the names again and again, not a trace of words visible on the paper.
Feverishly she scribbled, silently he kept changing the pages, until her hands trembled from the distress of encountering the invisibility of her identities.
Then he softly put his hand on her pen and asked her to stop.
She looked down at the pile of blank pages for a long moment, and then broke down and cried.
A silent wailing cry, a silent wailing cry.
He let her tormented tears flow, then lowering his head, whispered in her ears, ‘YOU ARE, so you will find your identity. From now on, keep the pen with you, don’t leave it on the desk. You will always find some ink, but the pen is you.’
He left town the next day, leaving that house and the pen for her.
I thought I could open my eyes now. She was not letting out any more secrets.
The next day, I came back fully equipped. Carrying a flashlight, a magnifying glass, and a soft dusting brush, so similar to the ones used by the archeologists.
I delicately picked up each paper and brushed the dust away, softly blowing out any residual dirt with my mouth.
Armed with the flashlight and the magnifying glass, I squatted down on the floor.
And then I began to read it all, each one of her words.
She had never wished to keep her secrets, in fact, she beseeched me to hear her out.
In numbed silence, I kept on reading her work.
Not a word evaded me, not a thought escaped me.
And I understood it all, even the blank pages she had finally written.
I closed my eyes again. I wished to see her one more time.
To pay homage to the lady whose identity I had found.
She sat silently at her desk, her pen clasped tight in her hand.
As she rose to meet me, I could see the anguish in those searching eyes.
I assured her not to worry, as I had brought her identity along.
We hugged each other for a long while, until we both broke down and cried.
She cried in relief, for having found her identity.
I cried in grief, because I was still searching for mine.