Written by Nandini Sethi
It had been 2 whole years since Tammy got out of her house. Of course, she did make a weekly trip to the supermarket next door and took her dog on walks, but that was only till the basement. Since before the pandemic she was introverted, and her daily prayers of a world where work could be done from home, were finally answered.
Two months into lockdown, her family rationed with her to come back home, but her argument lay in ‘I enjoy the freedom of the city life.’ One particularly heated argument with her mother ended in, ‘I can see through all your lies! Staying all alone, locked up in an apartment is not a city life!”
But Tammy didn’t care. In fact, living alone with her poodle, she even began adopting some dog habits. When one day she found herself licking water from a glass rather than picking it up and gulping it down, she knew if her mother ever found out, she was done for.
As the winter of the second year in solitary confinement was closing in, Tammy stocked up on all essentials- red meat, packets of hot chocolate, Christmas DVDs, and warm, ugly sweaters, both for her and her little Poodle Coco.
In the kitchen, as she was stirring her broth, simultaneously attending an office meeting, her phone began to ring unforgivingly. She sighed when she saw it was her mother. She was tempted to not answer, but she knew the consequences, so she immediately answered.
“Tammy! Any news on when office is opening again?” No hello, no how are you, just straight into the nagging.
“Hi mom, how are you?” Sarcasm reeked through Tammy’s words.
“Very funny. Hey, did you ever download that dating app I was telling you about last week? Buzzle, was it?”
“Mom, it’s literally Bumble! You know what, I’m busy right now, I’ll call you back.” She abruptly cut the call despite hearing the beginnings of a protest at the other end of the line.
She left the meeting too, poured the aromatic broth into a big bowl, and sat down in front of the TV, ready to devour her dinner. But something caught her eye. At the door there was an envelope. It was sealed with a little red heart, and it was addressed to her. She was taken aback. Who could be writing Tammy letters?
Bending down and reaching for it, she was shocked to read the contents. It was all loved up, her unnamed crush complimenting her red sweater (she knew that one wasn’t ugly!), and her long, jet-black curls. He even mentioned that he looked forward to the Monday mornings where she would visit the supermarkets.
She threw the letter away because she realized she was blushing. It seemed like this boy really liked her. She racked her brain for potential suitors- could it be the old man from next door? Or the milkman? He did always give her the eyes when they met. She even considered the flight attendant from upstairs. She was rarely ever home, but on the days that she was, she made sure to send cookies and pies.
Tammy’s mind wandered to her neighbor, 3 flats away, on the same floor. He was tall, built well, and had the smile of a prince. He was probably Cinderella’s Prince Charming in a parallel world, and she often caught herself daydreaming, imagining scenarios where her scarf got stuck in his watch or she bumped into her, then helped her pick up her books. When was the last time she even held a book? It didn’t matter – she let her imagination run wild. Secretly, in her heart of hearts, she always thought he was out of her league, but this letter got her thinking that maybe she was wrong.
She couldn’t wait to call her mother and tell her that she had been wrong all along- that someone could like her too and that it was the hottest guy in town! But she knew this was wishful thinking, and she decided to let it go for the time being. Maybe she’d bring it up at the next family dinner when she needed a solid comeback for the constant taunts she received.
She went to bed early, allowing her mind to wander and her thoughts the freedom of reality for the first time.
Her suspicions were further instigated the next day when she opened the door of her apartment to pick up her stack of newspapers, to find cute-boy-next-door doing the same. He gave her a crooked smile, but before she could react, he was already inside.
Her heart skipped a beat. He was probably shy after sending her that letter and made sure to pick up his papers at the same as her, because he had never done that before, always getting out an hour after her.
She giggled and walked back home, ready to start her day on a positive note.
At 8:00 PM, she looked towards the door to see if another letter was there, awaiting her. But she found nothing. Deciding to not let it upset her, she sat back down on the sofa, flipping through channels on the TV, looking for a fictional companion to eat dinner with. Through the corner of her eye, she sensed a swift motion. It was a letter, someone pushed in through the door. She ran towards it, opening the door in record time, but she was still not quick enough. She gave one look towards Flat 306 and smiled gently.
On opening the letter, she was once again bombarded with sweet nothings, flattering her, and asking her to cook her famous tamarind curry again, because the smell ‘lit up his day.’ Well, she knew what was on her menu for tomorrow.
The next morning, once again, he came out at the same time as her, even giving her a shy wave. This time she mustered up enough courage to wave back. When she got home she skipped and jumped, over the moon about her romcom inspired love story. She sent a text to her mother: you were wrong! I don’t need to step out to have a life!
Sure, the lack of context would have confused her mother, but she would clarify it next week over their phone call. She couldn’t wait to rub it in her and her stupid sister’s face!
While stirring the tamarind curry lazily, she ran towards her door and left it wide open, allowing the scent to waft outside, towards his house, just to give him a little teaser of what was coming. Once ready, she packed the curry along with a little (expensive) jasmine rice in an air-tight container and walked over to his house.
Awkwardly, she rang the bell. He came out, looking a bit puzzled, scrunching his nose slightly, as if in disgust.
“Hi,” he said.
“Um, so, I, um, I made some tamarind curry, and I was wondering if you wanted some?” She said, wincing, because it came across as more of a question than a statement.
“Oh, I’m allergic to tamarind.” She was left utterly confused.
He probably sensed her anxiety, feeling awkward himself, so he stretched his hand forward, “uh, you know what, thanks anyway, I’ll just take it.” She was so stunned that she only nodded, dumb enough to just hand over a curry she knew he was just going to trash.
Closing her door behind her, she knew something was wrong. But that night when she received a letter, and another one the day after, she couldn’t place her finger on who else it could possibly be.
Come Sunday night, she snuggled up to her cushion, put on a cheesy romcom, and for the first time in her life, wished for some company.
When making broth and attending company meetings the next day her mother phoned her, she eagerly answered, finally gathering enough confidence to tell her about her secret admirer. Although the details were still a little unclear on who was sending these letters, her nagging mother didn’t need to know the specifics.
“Hi mom! How was your weekend?” Tammy was sure her mother was caught off guard with her chirpy tone.
“Hey honey, it was alright,” she sounded morose.
“Why so down mother? Did you hear from Betty? About my boyfriend I mean?” She had already texted my sister about my secret crush and Tammy was sure she was wallowing in jealousy.
“No mom, for real! I have been receiving letters from this handsome hunk! He talks about my hair, my cooking, my choice in films, it’s like he knows me better than anyone else.”
“Tammy, I think you should forget about this boy.”
Tammy was furious. She knew her mother couldn’t tolerate being wrong, but the least she would expect from her is to be happy that her daughter had finally found someone she loved.
“Mom, I understand you barely have a love life, and I understand that you just want to show the world your daughter is nothing without you, but it’s true – I have finally found someone,” Tammy screamed into the phone, broth long burnt, and meeting over.
“No, you haven’t,” she simply said.
“Of course I have!” By this point, Tammy was sure her neighbours could hear her.
“No, you haven’t because I have been sending you all those letters!” She was screaming too now.
“I felt so bad that you were lonely, so I hired your cousin Peter to deliver those messages at your door,” she breathed, “I am so sorry! I didn’t know things would turn out like this.”
“Will you please forgive me?”