A man walked into the post office. He lifted the package from the counter and smiled at the clerk. Paused, and deposited a note on the counter. “For keeping this safe for me all these months”. Walking back to the apartment, he thought over the conversation with the clerk “Sir, this came for you, two, maybe three months back. I didn’t know how to contact you, but I knew you would return sometime so kept this safe for you. I hope it didn’t contain any urgent material”. He kept turning it over in his hands, feeling it to see what it might contain. It was a small padded packet, only slightly thick. And there was the oh-so-telling clue – an absence of a return address. On reaching the apartment, he opened the door to the ever familiar musty smell of an apartment opened and aired only twice a year. Well, that would change now, after he moved in with his wife and kids. Settling gingerly on the nearest chair, he opened the packet and upended it. A small, well thumbed book slid out. He stared at it. It was very familiar, in ways he didn’t comprehend. He felt he had lived by it once. But that was the only memory he was able to dredge up. All the rest slipped out beyond the edges of his memory and beckoned to him, tantalisingly close and yet so far. Sighing, he waved the book to fan himself. A small note fell out from the pages and fluttered to his feet. All at once, it came back to him.

A lazy summer of childhood. A young, naughty girl who had moved in next door and flitted into his life and become his new best friend. They had shared all their adventures and scrapes, cuts and agonies together. They even shared a favourite book, which they used to read aloud to each other in the quiet, slumberous afternoons, sitting on the common veranda when their moms forbade them to go out and play in the sun. Many times the listener fell asleep listening to the familiar words, and the reader after realising he was alone, dozed off too. All the memories lurking out of reach rushed in to embrace him at once. His friend, who had moved away again within the year, promising faithfully to write to him frequently and had written not once. Along with that childhood friend, his favourite book had vanished too, though he had never tied the two occurrences togther.

The note, fallen from the book, now played out in his mind in her childish, cheerful voice, as though it was a scene from some corny movie – I remember how you disliked people not returning your books on time. If I kept this any longer, I am sure I would hear you through the years, scolding me for stealing your book. My conscience cannot quite keep up, I can tell you. P.S. It’s still my favourite book.
It was signed – A very penitent book thief. He almost heard her giggle then.

And on the first page in his very childish scrawl, was his name, address and the inscription – Please return this to the above address if you find it anywhere. It’s my favourite book.

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