LOVE CONQUERS ALL
He preferred not to use his walking stick, though his knee was recently operated and he walked with an apparent limp. The reluctance to use the stick caved in after a few steps. His back curved slightly towards right distorting the straight posture. His skin had turned quite wrinkly; the unending and glaringly visible parallel lines almost sticking together and criss-crossing at random junctures. The neck appeared loose with portions of skin rounding into a glut and dangling to and fro as he took slow steps forward towards the cupboard. The thick and long spectacles endowed with even thicker glasses, made his eyes appear bigger and disproportionate than they actually were. The aquiline nose had rather large nostrils seeming just apt for the spectacles though. The receding hairline, drooped shoulders and bent fingers completed his state at all but 72 years of existence.
He walked rather gingerly towards his cupboard and opened the door with some effort. Stacks of files, papers and packets lay mounted in a mess within. ‘Disorderly’ would probably be a mild word to describe the state in which they were piled up. It brought a glint of affinity to his face as his thick eyes peered into the mess.
“Kenny! Not again!” His wife, Priscilla had swiftly toed in behind him when she overheard the creaking sound. She appeared quite agile, almost a divergent contrast to her husband, Kenneth, as she promptly stood between the disorderly rack and Kenneth’s protruding eyes. Her carefully tied bun rounded itself still, pierced by a hair-stick which tapered downwards. She could easily stand straight but reached only around Kenneth’s earlobes even with a mildly hunched back. She appeared a couple of decades younger than her husband but the real difference was only 7 years. The stern look in her eyes added to her disgruntled expression as she knuckled up the side of her sleek spectacles to gain a more comfortable glance. Her eye-brows coned upwards as her clearly visible eyes looked annoyingly at Kenneth.
“This is the umpteenth time you are opening this rubbish. If any portion of dust enters my nostrils you better watch out.” Priscilla warned.
“Just revisiting my old times, darling! Why flare up for such miniscule reasons…” Kenneth calmly replied.
“Miniscule? I see. So now you'll clean up all this mess and we'll decide what's miniscule.” Her voice rose higher.
“I…I’ll…I’ll try…” Kenneth searched for some vocabulary to decorate his sentence. But he gave up tamely.
“Try? You’ll try? Kenny please! Another doctor’s sitting for you and it will be me, who might fall sick this time. Your shenanigans! I’m not bearing any more of this. What’s in this cupboard anyway? You never even allow me to have a look. Such secrecy?” Priscilla went on without pausing to breathe.
“My girlfriends, sweetheart! Their memories! Now leave, because I don’t want you to disturb me while I’m busy. But I love you.” Kenneth said, smile erupting on his face.
“Girlfriends? Jesus! Can’t stand straight, can’t stop shaking and talk of girlfriends. One thing good about this marriage is you can’t cheat on me even if you want to. Heck you can’t even get a feeling to do it Kenny. I’m sure.” Priscilla roared.
“Love conquers all, honey.” Kenneth mischievously smiled.
“Huh! Love…Conquers…All.” Priscilla repeated with a sarcastic overtone and stomped out of the room.
Kenneth smirked and thought, “Today’s quota done. My day starts on a familiar note. Oh! She loves me so much.”
He then latched the main room door and opened the cupboard door. The unruly piles stared at him almost invitingly. At this age he liked to visit the old times and this stack provided him a perfect getaway. It contained snippets of almost everything he’d ever done in his life. Not that he needed this to remind him of his exploits but he loved revisiting them every now and then. His memory was a stark contrast to his otherwise fragile body. But his body hadn’t always been this layered and unstable. In his youth and adolescence he was a strapping and an energetic soccer player. His agility as an attacker in soccer was exemplary.
The order of all stacks was etched in his memory and it wouldn’t take him long to rearrange his beloved and cherished bunch of papers. It contained everything; his mark-sheets, certificates, appreciation notes, copies of letters he wrote, letters others wrote to him; tied up into a pile, the red thread now wearing out but still good enough to keep them together. The virtual memories which mobile phones contained these days, was missing on him. He preferred the traditional personalised touch of memoirs which he felt was missing in tech models now. Curiously, even the rotting smell of old paper was enough to generate fondness and nostalgia. Just last month he had cleaned them thoroughly with worn out rag, even as small insects and silver-fishes spewed out running helter-skelter. Priscilla had frowned since she had to ultimately remove the mess. The filthy odour that it generated caused her to curse him further.
He’d been scoffed at for keeping all this for so long and Priscilla almost begged him to discard. But Kenneth had rebuked this suggestion affably.
He now looked fondly at a certificate which bore his name in clear legible running handwriting ‘Kenneth Augustus’. It stated below, ‘Certificate of Excellence awarded for being the highest goal scorer in the tournament’. He tried to reminisce his upturning right kick which resulted in the ball swirling into the goal and involuntarily swung his leg, but abruptly stopped midway when the knee twitched, causing a shooting pain.
He smiled meekly flipping though many such papers. Minutes later another stack of papers popped into his hand tied haphazardly into a pink thread. Some decades back he had attempted to write ‘LETTERS’ on the thread with a blue pen. The bluish tinge was still present but the word was almost wiped out by effluxion of time. It was faintly visible, that too when the eye-balls had to be widened sufficiently. It was also a section of his collection which was very close to his heart. The papers had started to loosen at the ends, tattered pieces crumbling off, but it hadn’t found a way to intrude into the content.
A copy of a letter dated somewhere in 1966 found its way through into his hands. He recalled his letter to his father at a very young age of 22.
I am happy for 2 reasons.
1) I got a job at a pharma company. I will, hopefully be able to support myself better and curve out a great career. Simultaneously, I’m trying to get an entry into soccer club with my eyes set on national selection. I won’t need to continue the job if that happens. I’m keeping my fingers crossed!
2) I’ve found my partner dad. I’m sure you will like her. She’s an amazing person to be with. Her name is Stella O’Connor. I can’t wait to introduce her to you.
Haven’t met you since long and I don’t know if I should say this, but I miss you, dad.
Kenneth picked up another letter.
I am indeed happy, now that you have taken a gigantic step to take charge of your career and life. I’m very happy for you, son. Everyone needs a companion in life, and I’m happy you’ve found yours, just like I found mine again, in Sharon. I know you hate her and probably me too for leaving your mom, but I was left with no choice.
Anyway these differences will remain. Let’s not dilute your moment. Many congratulations to you for the job. And also for news on Stella!
Remember, love conquers all. I’m always there for you whenever you need me. Good luck with your soccer selection! Hope mom is doing well.
Lots of Love,
And then Kenneth picked up another few letters exchanged.
8th June 1967
It’s been 5 years since I saw you. Hope you’re doing well, and your partner too. I’ve felt like meeting you a million times but there’s something holding me back. Each time I look at mom, my feet get chained.
Anyway - little bad news for now - I haven’t been able to make the cut in soccer. I guess some things are never meant to be, career-wise or personally. I’ve been feeling low about it but I know acceptance will dawn on me once more time elapses.
Another matter of concern is that Stella and I aren’t really getting along well. There are constant squabbles and I dare say we’ve outgrown our relationship. As if the soccer debacle wasn’t enough, the Stella episode is driving a wedge into my life. But we’re together as of now and trying to work things out. You always keep saying, ‘love conquers all’. I’m not sure I agree with it, dad.
I thought of meeting you, but may be, I need a little more time.
I deeply empathise with you, son. I still feel you need to keep trying. I’m saying this because I know you have the talent. There are two setbacks dear, temporary and permanent. If you feel this is a permanent setback, then I’ll buy your decision. Else I’ll not. But one thing for sure, give yourself at least one month’s time and then make an informed decision. You’re intelligent enough to make decisive judgments.
On Stella, I don’t have much to say. You’re the best one to take this ahead the way you wish to. All I’d say, from personal experience is that a relationship shouldn’t stress you out to the point that you start feeling burdened by it. I wish you the best.
Since you also ask about my ‘partner’, I regret to inform you that Sharon and I are no longer together. She left me. I’ve simply swallowed this and allowed myself sometime. I know you hate me for what I did and that’s why I didn’t inform you of my emotional travesty. I'm alone now. Wondered how I'd tell you but I'm glad you asked.
I’d still like to believe my philosophy of ‘love conquers all’. I’m wobbly too. But don’t give up just yet. I’m not.
Take care of yourself. And remember I’m always there if you need me.
Lots of love,
A lot happened in a couple of weeks’ time since you wrote the letter. I received it today and I’m instantly writing to you, all muddled up and messy.
Stella and I have called it quits. I can’t believe you and I are actually, sailing in the same boat right now. It amuses me as much as it amazes me. I never thought l'd say this, but I actually understand, that even if I felt you shouldn’t have left mom, I should’ve given you the benefit of doubt. The good thing Stella taught me is that if you are getting stifled in a relationship it may do both people, trifle good to walk away. You did that dad. I always hated you for it. But I now realise how claustrophobic you would’ve felt when you took the decision of walking out on mom. Especially since I knew you were so attached to me. I think, I now understand you a way bit better. I’ve been mean to you, dad, by denying you the opportunity to see me. I wish to change all that.
I'm sorry that your relationship with Sharon didn’t work out. I can’t advise you like you do but I'll certainly not let you be alone. I’m coming to meet you next month. Love almost decimated me and now you. I do not buy ‘love conquers all’, dad. I don’t.
Anyway, little light at the end of the tunnel - I realised soccer was a temporary debacle. I've been selected in the probables for national camp. I just feel this is a shot of adrenaline that I needed. Thanks dad.
Look forward to seeing you.
Kenneth’s eyes fell on a folded copy of letter which, he proceeded to read.
4th November 1972.
I can’t believe we're getting married in six months. I never thought I'd be strong enough to love someone after the Stella episode happened. I haven’t ever told anyone about it, but I contemplated suicide after that. Thank God I didn’t proceed, else how would I know life could be so beautiful after all? I exchanged many letters with dad in the interim and even he doesn’t know how much strength I derived from those. I found a reality check too. And some years later you happened.
From deciding which knife to use to cut my wrist to deciding which one to use to cut the ribbon for decorations in our wedding! Whoaa! It’s been one heck of a journey. The best part is that you still do not know Kenneth Augustus-The Soccer Star. The person in you loves the person in me, not a star. I like that. Hope it stays that way. I know you'll still be around. I told this to Stella as well. I was wrong then. Something tells me I won’t be now. Dad always believes in the adage ‘love conquers all’. I’m beginning to agree now.
Look forward to our wedding. Love you dear!
Kenneth recalled how he then had a similar conversation with Priscilla over the telephone, except the part on contemplation of suicide and that he ultimately ended up not posting this letter at all.
Another set of piled papers lay tied with a black rope. But they were different from the rest. A closer look from Kenneth made him realise that they were actually newspaper cuttings. He took one from the top and held it nostalgically.
CROWD FAVOURITE KENNETH AUGUSTUS RETIRES FROM INTERNATIONAL SOCCER
June 28, 1983
The newspaper font was too small to read through thick glasses, but the headline didn’t escape his eyes. He now felt he needed rest and marked the papers which he’d read. Next day he was going to read unmarked material. But he wanted someone to read out the entire article from this yesteryear newspaper. So he took that article and slowly proceeded to open the latch of the main room door.
“Priscilla! Darling! I need a favour. I need you to read….” He called out before being hushed by Priscilla.
“Quiet! Dad’s just fallen asleep.” She whispered admonishingly.
“Good then…” He uttered, before being interrupted again.
“I said softer.” She gritted her teeth.
“So what did the doctor say about dad?” He asked casually.
“Doctor said he needs to have fun.” Priscilla sarcastically remarked. “What do you think he’ll say Kenny? He has to take adequate rest. At 103 he isn’t getting younger right? Now listen, I have lots of work…” She continued before Kenneth burst in.
“Can you read this to me?” He said handing out the newspaper.
“I knew this was coming. Pahhh! Anyway, here you go... Star international footballer Kenneth Augustus announced his retirement….” Priscilla read on when a squeaky frail voice, appearing to come from afar interrupted her.
“My soccer star’s retirement extravaganza!” Dad squealed lying in his room. “Love conquers all.” He continued and stopped abruptly.
Priscilla and Kenneth went upto him. Kenneth snuggled and stressed each word, "Love...Conquers...All. Well, you win dad. I so believe that. If it weren't for this adage I wouldn't be here today."
"If not here you'd be somewhere else son." Dad remarked with a dead-pan face, eyes shut.
"Hahaha. But, what about Stella? No one conquered her. She simply went away." Kenny asked.
"Who is Priscilla?" Dad asked , eyes still closed.
"My wife!" Kenny shrugged his shoulders.
"Do you love her?" Dad followed up.
"Of course dad." Kenny replied oblivious of Priscilla's glowing reaction.
"And what about Stella? You loved her at one point didn't you?" Dad now opened his eyes slightly.
"I guess so." Kenny managed.
"So there you are. Love conquers all! In your case even love itself." Dad sprightly replied belying his age for a moment.
Kenny simply gushed and looked at Priscilla.
As he started to get up plodding with a jerk he heard dad mumbling, "I'm actually wondering if Giselle would've ever used this adage."
"Even if she didn't she'd believe in it today." Replied Kenny whilst straightening his leg and accosting his walking-stick.
"Really? You think so. I was harsh on her for almost a decade." Dad almost sprung up.
"I stayed with mom. I know." Kenny replied simply walking away.
He trudged into the same room and pulled out a paper kept at a specific ear-marked location.
I never thought I'd forgive you. Time never comes back. But I guess I can never thank you enough for coming back. It's going to let me die in peace. I’m dying and I must confess even if I hated you so much I still didn't forget your love. I never spoke to you but you never left my mind.
This is to say that I've managed to conquer myself at my fag end. I forgive you. Be at peace.
Kenny remembered her last wish. She'd desired that this letter be given to Stephen when it would be certain that he was leaving the world for good. Her desire was to see him die peacefully, just like she was.
Kenny sometimes feared that he might not ultimately outlive his father. But he looked at himself, and then bent leftward to take a peep at his half-asleep father. He knew it wasn't the time to give him this letter, either way. He winked at Priscilla who grinned, for a change.
Subtly so, love probably did it for now.