The Robbery of a Life

The frail, papery hand reached over the pile of papers on the wooden desk towards the red, hardbound book. Green veins ran crisscross under the pale skin, and the slender fingers looked like they would break and give way as they lightly held the book and flipped through the pages. 

The owner of these hands loved books. 

She had lived a quiet life, a single woman who had worked as a librarian in a small corner of the city. She loved her routine, you see. She would take her morning tea and breakfast as she immersed herself in the morning paper, precisely an hour before she boarded the bus to her workplace. At the library, she went through the day walking between shelves and running her beautiful slender fingers over the books as they were borrowed, stamped, and returned. This affection for these containers of words only deepened with time. Her lifeline, these were. 

She would chat with her customers in her quiet and kind way. Her memory for details was uncanny, which made the members of this quaint little library feel very much at home. The backroom would be her place of escape for an hour, within the cocoon of brown paper and newspapers and freshly printed books. She would unpack her tiffin box and eat her light meal as she immersed herself in a romance novel. As the day unwound, she would do her final rounds amidst the neatly stacked books and ensure that every book had its rightful place. Like clockwork, she would catch the bus back home at 4:00pm and get off at her bus stop. She would buy her usual selection of snacks at the nearby store and have them with tea as she immersed herself in a magazine. 

Television was her only escape that didn’t require words on a page. Still, she did enjoy subtitles that added an element of understanding to an unknown language spoken by foreign people. Hours passed like minutes as she immersed herself in worlds created by halfway decent actors. 

Every Sunday, dressed in her Sunday best, she would make her way to Mass. This was the only day she would catch up with old friends and their growing families. She would smile graciously and ignore the light twinge in her heart.

Life went on. And on. And on some more.

One day, she woke up with the sudden realisation that she was 60 years old. Her retirement had been without fanfare. They had arranged a small tea party with snacks in honour of the faithful librarian with a handful of library members, at least those who hadn’t moved out of the country. They spoke fondly of her, and the moment she walked away from the library, she was forgotten. They didn’t mean to forget her. It just happened that way. We often forget people we don’t know much about.

Days merged into weeks, which ran into months, which very subtly turned into years. 

She had created a new routine that involved more books, more paper, more stories, and ultimately, more words. Her home was soon covered in pillars and stacks and piles of books and paper. Her curiosity for other people’s lives grew and overwhelmed her.

In her mind, she walked alongside these people and travelled to new places, visited new cultures, tasted new cuisines, and met interesting people.  

Now in her 80s, she had only lived the life she wanted vicariously through the stories she had heard or read.

Real life requires courage, you see.

The most courageous and vivacious version of herself died as a child.

Nobody had noticed. There was no room for grief and mourning when dreams die.

In this room filled with hoarder’s treasures and books and knick knacks, life was lived in silence and seclusion. Not the kind that had been richly lived. 

Her life had become a mere vessel. Just a vessel to hold ghosts of lives lived, in real life and in imaginations.

And eventually, almost inevitably, the pouring stopped.

They found her two days after she had breathed her last at her desk. 

The papery skin had bloated. There hung the stench of death heavy in the air.

That day was merely a date to record in her death certificate.

She had died a long time ago.


Lilly had always sensed an uneasiness about Ms. V whenever she dropped in to see her, maybe with a few pieces of cake or some cookies that she had baked.

For a moment, the reserve on Ms. V would melt, and this child-like expression of delight would slowly start to spread across her face as she took eager bites. She loved sweets.

It was an unlikely friendship that tentatively grew during the last few months of Ms. V’s life. 

A 20-year-old and an 80-year-old couldn’t have possibly had anything in common…

Except for books, it turned out.

Lilly was every bit a voracious reader that Ms. V was, and Ms. V had a wealth of reading recommendations that surprised her. She was so widely read that she could tell you just off the top of her head the best books to be found in each genre. 

It eventually turned into a bi-weekly meeting where Lilly would bring snacks and make tea in Ms. V’s kitchen as they chatted about different things.

Lilly stood in the small, neatly arranged kitchen. She took hold of the edges of the butter paper lining the round box and lifted it slowly, carrying within a round lemon cake that she had just freshly baked and set in on a large plate. 

“How come you never became a writer, Ms. V?” Lilly called out from the kitchen as she sliced the cake.

“Me? A writer? I don’t think so, dear. I only read other people’s writing. I did consider becoming an editor once.” Ms. V said, lost in her thoughts.

“Then?? What happened?”

“Nothing. I just stayed with the library. Got used to it. How could I learn all those computer things at this age? Anyway, I loved my work… so I stayed there.”

“That’s a shame! You would have been an amazing writer, editor, and literature professor all rolled into one,” Lilly said as she walked in with a tray that contained slices of cake and tea.

They sat down that day and sipped on hot tea and bit into their cake, talking about imaginary worlds and the power of words, as the drizzle and then the stormy rain lashed against the small windows.

That was the last time they met.


It had taken them a week to sort through all the stuff in Ms. V’s apartment. Lilly often broke down whenever she came across books that she had borrowed from Ms. V. The memory of those kindly eyes and those frail, papery hands came to her. She partly blamed herself for not having found her sooner. The whole apartment complex felt more than a bit of guilt surrounding this, but they quickly went back to their lives, as if it were all just a bad dream.

A box of Ms. V’s papers and journals sat on her floor. She forced herself to take out the diaries and papers in a split second. Her neat, small print handwriting only half covered most of these pages. Some had just a few sentences. Some others were just a few words that had been gingerly written and then struck out. It looked like she had something to say, but she always stopped short.

Her journals were filled with lists of how she had spent her money and what tasks she had to do. Lilly didn’t find any of her thoughts on anything or anyone written down. Years and years of meticulous household administration. 

The sadness spread through Lilly’s body, and she felt heavy with grief. 

She didn’t know Ms. V. Nobody did. It couldn’t be helped. Words didn’t seem to come easy to her, in speech or in writing. But oh, how she relished the words others wrote down. She decided that she would never forget.

It took her a weekend to go through the box. As she began to pack the papers and journals away, two aging sheets of paper tied together with twine fell to the ground. 

Unlike the other pages, they were filled with a child-like scribble.

Curiosity overtaking her, she began to read the naive love story of a child, infatuated by an adult. The date scrawled in the right corner of the page would have placed Ms. V at 10 years of age. Her writing was prodigious, to say the least. There was vivid imagery and depth of feeling. An eye for detail and a surprising ear for dialogue. The love story quickly devolved into an account of another kind. Apparent to an adult, oblivious to the author. The words painted a wallpaper of abuse amidst the loud descriptions of alcohol, spicy meat curry, appalam, music emerging from a vinyl record, and drunken laughter. 

The story ended in an optimistic tone that only a child under the spell of magical thinking could evoke. 

There was a footnote by a masculine, adult handwriting:

Keep your words to yourself, or else… 

Note from the Author:

I believe that life and death are in the power of the tongue or the pen. Oftentimes, what we say and what we don’t, especially in matters of injustice, can determine the direction of destinies. Be it our own or of others.

In this short story, I wanted to paint a picture of what silence surrounding abuse and injustice can do to a life.

By Rachel Pamela Joseph

Rachel Pamela Joseph is a freelance content developer, a full-time lover of the Arts and an eternal bookworm. She finds the power of the Arts to communicate important ideas and reshape society’s thought processes intriguing. Caffeine, trying recipes from around the world and binge watching web series are a few of  her guilty pleasures. She is currently based in Chennai, India.

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