Posted by: miilee | November 20, 2010

Claudia and Charles

(Note: This is one of my longer posts;  It’s a short story. I intended to make it a 1000 word thing but the characters had a mind of their own and forced me to write on… )

There was a rustling sound; pages of a book fluttering in the breeze. To anyone else, it wouldn’t have been something that registers consciously over the sound of rustling leaves, but to her, it was different. She was a librarian; books and pages were the story of her life.

Someone must have forgotten a book on one of the benches around the hedge. She walked the last few steps and took a turn, expecting to see an abandoned novel on the bench. What met her eyes was a little unexpected.

She was right about the book; there was one, lying near the clawed foot of the wrought iron bench, its pages flipping in the strong wind. It was the boy sleeping on the bench that took her by surprise. Judging by his size, he was around 10 years of age. His sleeping face had the appearance of someone who hadn’t heard of a shower or a bath tub. His hair was matted and falling untidily over his small forehead. The clothes he wore were ratty and old; definitely not something a decent ten-year-old should be wearing on the onset of the English winter.

She leaned down and picked up the book.

“Pygmalion – George Bernard Shaw”

Her eyebrows shot up into her well kept hairline. Wasn’t this too heavy for such a small, probable street kid? Thought pleated her brow and she slowly sank onto the bench, next to the child. Her neat and clean mind shrank from the obvious dirt on him but unexpectedly, she felt a stronger urge over-riding her mind, making her want to brush back the child’s hair from his face. She put out a hand and gently moved his rough hair off of his forehead. Something in her stirred; probably in that closet of her heart that she’d locked and ignored for over a decade now.

A year after her marriage to Howard Remington and months of trying to conceive, Claudia had held the test results in her hand, feeling lost and unable to comprehend anything. She’d waited by the fireplace all day for Howard to return home. When he’d come, she had wordlessly handed him the reports that were spelling doom for her, tears brimming up. She’d wanted him to take her in his arms and tell her that they’ll find a way out; that everything was gonna be ok. She’d wanted him to console her, suggest adoption or maybe even cry with her. But what he did do was run his hand agitatedly through his short dark hair a few times, pace the room then leave. She’d frozen then. Her tears had dried up and her heart had grown cold. She’d buried all emotion deep within her and had moved on with life’s daily chores.

A week after that, Howard started coming home much later, drunk. He didn’t yell or scream or make a scene. He just came and dropped in a chair in front of the fire. She kept his food on the table and went off to sleep.

A year later, Howard lost his job. She’d already started working as an assistant librarian at the town library and provided for both of them. Then a few months later, they found Howard’s body in the river. He’d lost his balance and fallen over, too drunk to save himself.

When the cops had left her doorstep, she’d sighed, called up his relatives to give them the news and taken out her black clothes. No one was to come for his funeral, so she finished the needful like a chore. For someone just 24 years of age, she’d seen a lot. Her eyes had grown empty, like two endless tunnels to nowhere. There was no pain, no anger, no compassion, nothing that she mirrored. Three years after that, her grand aunt; the only relative she had, passed away and left her a sizeable fortune. She cried at the old lady’s cold feet but only for a brief moment. Quietly, like it was a private grieving not to be shared with the world. She’d continued living in the home she’d come into as a bride and she’d continued her job at the library as the librarian. She’d walk from her home to the library and back. She didn’t talk unless spoken to and that too, only in monosyllables if possible.

But after a decade, today, she felt something. This child stirred in her, emotions that she knew she’d left behind in another lifetime. Compassion, tenderness and a storm of sorrow.

Silently, a tear climbed out of her eye, rolled down her cheek and quietly splashed onto the bench. She stroked the child’s grimy cheek almost lovingly. The touch awoke the boy. He blinked slowly and moved, trying to make himself warmer. He registered her presence and sat up with a shock. He jumped to his feet and launched into rapid speech:

“I’m extremely sorry Madam! I had no intention of falling asleep like that! I don’t intend to encroach upon public property and I shall leave immediately. Please do not report me to the authorities!”

She looked at the boy with astonishment. His language had been crisp; the pronunciation correct with no hint of the mannerism of a street mongrel. He was trembling in his oversized clothes not just due to the cold but also owing to fright. She looked at the book in her hand, “Is this yours?”

“Yes ma’am. I haven’t stolen it. I saved up and purchased a copy from the scrap dealer. You may ask him yourself if you please.”

At that, she let out a small laugh, the merry sound of it surprised her ears. “I believe you, boy. I was just wondering how someone as young as you could be reading the works of G.B. Shaw. Do you understand it?”

He gave her a slightly puzzled look, “What’s not to understand? His wit is unmatched and so is his language. It could be taxing upon someone unused to literature but I find him quite amazing.”

Claudia’s astonishment was climbing new heights. “So you read a lot?”

“Ma’am, I have been on the streets for three years now. There isn’t much to occupy the mind of one such as me. So by day, I do what it takes to keep oneself alive. I save up and buy a book whenever is possible. But most of the time, I sit by the window of a fine home ten blocks down and listen to this fine lady, teaching her daughter the niceties of the language. If I may say so, she’s a good tutor for I owe her a lot. Some day, I shall save some more and buy her flowers.”

Claudia looked at the shining zeal in the boy’s eyes. She had never seen anyone quite like him and he intrigued her. “What’s your name?”

“I don’t remember what I was formally named but I call myself Charles.”

“Well, Charles” She said, patting the bench next to her. “Sit down and tell me about yourself.”

With the mannerism of a gentleman, Charles gracefully sat on the bench next to her. “I must say, I’m honoured by Madam’s interest in me but I fail to see much point in narrating what’s already past.”

“Humour me. I feel intrigued. Tell me, how old are you?”

“I shall complete 12 years of age this winter.”

“How come you are on the streets? Do you not have a home?”

“I did. But circumstances took away my parents from me. My aunt wasn’t too fond of me and thus left me to foster care. I couldn’t endure the flavourless life that it entailed and thus took to the streets when I was 9. I remember my parents to be of good upbringing. My father had promised to teach me the manners of a Gent but sorrowfully, graceless fate kept him from living upto it.”

Charles had been looking at the ground as he said this. When he lifted his head, Claudia saw the sparkle of a tear in his eye. Graceless fate indeed. She put her arm around his little shoulders and wondered at the adulthood that was forced upon this child.

As if some invisible wall was broken down, the little boy dropped his demeanour, turned into Claudia’s warm embrace and began crying. Silent sobs raked his little form, bearing testimony to the torment of emotions. Claudia held him close, not bothering to suppress tears of her own. She knew what it was to be alone. She couldn’t imagine how the child had lived three years of that at such a tender age. No wonder he liked reading; she knew how people found the world of words easy to escape into when reality had a bitter bite to it.

Charles cried for the better part of ten minutes and so did Claudia. Then he sat up, wiped his eyes with his sleeve and looked at Claudia, still on the brink of tears. “I do miss them a lot. Especially my Mamma. But..” A sob raked his little frame but he continued, “I don’t remember how they looked…” and he gave in to tears again.

Claudia slid off the bench and sat on her knees before Charles, trying to look at his face. She held his little face in her hands and lifted it, so she could look into his eyes. “I’m sorry Charles. I really am.”

Charles nodded, trying to get a hold on his tears. She continued speaking for she knew he was listening. “I know it has been difficult for you. But I want to help you get out of it.”

Charles looked at her, his tears a little subdued. “I know no one could take your Mamma’s place. I don’t want to try and do that. But I want to help you…” She took a deep breath and said it, “Would you like to come and stay with me?”

She couldn’t read his expression; it had flattened with surprise.

“You mean, live with you?”

She nodded.

“Like a h…”

“Yes,” She said, “Like a home”

His young brown eyes brimmed up again as he said, “Yes, please….” And he flung his arms around her and broke down in right earnest. All the stress of months of bearing the streets finally broke the dam of emotions. His silent sobs became the honest crying of a small child.

Claudia held on to his little form and stared crying too. Gently, she got up, lifting him up into her arms, like she’d dreamt of hold her own child. He’d dropped into her life out of nowhere to complete that part of her which she didn’t want to acknowledge as missing. She knew him only for the past half hour, yet he’d become the most precious thing to her.

She picked up the book from the bench; she’d read it to him later. Oh she would read him many more books and she’d do a lot more in life than just run a library. Plans formed in her head; of a future for both of them, full of joy and laughter and no signs of loneliness.

Someday, she’d tell him about herself too so he’d understand what he meant to her. He may not be her own flesh and blood, yet he was the son the doctors had said she’d never have.



  1. its beautiful.the charachters have been etched out perfectly.I don’t blame you for its length.Its lovely. 🙂

    • thanks Meher! Glad you liked it…. As far as stories go, I just write a part of the character… the rest of the thing, the characters tell me… 😉

  2. Sweet…! 🙂

    • thanks sam.. 🙂
      Glad you liked it… 🙂

  3. I should say…..while readin i was actuallly visualizing the whole scene…..i could hear the boy speaking….excellent narration…..
    super liked it

    • Thanks!

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