She was one of those kids who dreaded vacations. She tried pushing it out of her mind, for the time being just concentrating on the shelves in front of her. But, it kept coming back. The voice.
“Your parents are probably going to send you away.”
“No.” she whispered to herself.
“They will. Remember, they were talking about some stupid summer camp?”
“I can resist.” She tried reasoning with the voice.
“What can you do? Pretend to be sick? They will take you to a hospital and you know what happens in hospitals…”
“Stop it!” she snapped in.
She was angry. The voice always did it. It knew she didn’t want to think about it. There were a lot of things she didn’t want to think about, but it kept reminding her. She hated it. She hated herself for letting it speak to her and convince her.
“You don’t exist.” she tried telling it.
“That’s what others would tell you if you ever told them about me. But, being the clever girl that you are, you wouldn’t. And you know that I’m as real as the books you are touching right now.”
“That was a subtle way of threatening. You know, some day I might get really curious and tell someone about you. Just to see how much that would annoy you and what you can possibly do when you are annoyed… Don’t worry I won’t do that anytime soon. Now, stop annoying me and help me find a book.”
“Why don’t you take that thick one at the corner? It will keep you occupied for a few days, if not the entire vacation.”
“Let me see…”
It looked classy. Hard bound and the words Jane Eyre etched in golden. It had that air of vintage charm around it. She didn’t thank the voice, though. She would have found it anyway. When she asked the librarian to issue the book, she got a glance from the old woman which seemed to say,
“Aren’t you too young to read such books?”
She chose to ignore it.
When she reached home, she was annoyed a little more. There was a power failure and her mother had illuminated parts of the house with candles. It looked so Gothic, but she didn’t know the word then. She just muttered something about the house resembling some haunted house in a Bollywood movie, at which her mother frowned, and then she went to her room and shut herself in there. Determined not to get out till next morning. She lighted a candle on her window-sill, sat comfortably on her bed, with two pillows supporting her back and one, resting on her lap, supporting the book. She began to read.
There was no possibility of taking a walk that day. We had been wandering, indeed, in the leafless shrubbery an hour in the morning; but since dinner (Mrs. Reed, when there was no company, dined early) the cold winter wind had brought with it clouds so sombre, and a rain so penetrating, that further out-door exercise was now out of the question.
She loved the description. She loved winters. And that’s how it all started. From the world of fairy tales and adult fiction, she moved on to classics. The lonely girl who thought love and success (thanks to fairness creams’ ads) were only for the beautiful, and not for somebody as ordinary as her, realized that she wasn’t ordinary. That books were written about woman like her. Not-so-pretty and not-so-rich women like her, who endured bullies throughout childhood. That such women were capable of loving and being loved. That the pretty ones do not always end up as princesses. That the ugly ones are not always step-sisters (and are not always wicked). That there can be men more charming and desirable than the chivalric princes who have nothing to do other than saving helpless damsels and then pining for them (without actually doing anything about it, like the prince in Cinderella).
With a smile, she stepped into the gothic world of the Bronte sisters. But she didn’t know any of that when she was reading about the orphan (as old/young as she was) being bullied and then locked up in the red room as a punishment for resisting it. She shared Jane’s fears. And she cried with her as she suffered injustices during her initial years at Lowood. She admired Thornfield Hall and was as curious as Jane, to see the master. She smiled at Adele’s innocence. She was charmed by Mr.Rochester, and hoped Jane would fall in love with him. When she read that Rochester was going to marry Ms.Ingram, she felt cheated. And then she realized that Jane was hurt too. And then, the unexpected happened:
‘And your will shall decide your destiny,’ he said: ‘I offer you my hand, my heart, and a share of all my possessions.’
‘You play a farce, which I merely laugh at.’
‘I ask you to pass through life at my side—to be my second self, and best earthly companion.’
‘For that fate you have already made your choice, and must abide by it.’
‘Jane, be still a few moments: you are over-excited: I will be still too.’
A waft of wind came sweeping down the laurel-walk, and trembled through the boughs of the chestnut: it wandered away—away—to an indefinite distance—it died. The nightingale’s song was then the only voice of the hour: in listening to it, I again wept. Mr. Rochester sat quiet, looking at me gently and seriously. Some time passed before he spoke; he at last said—
‘Come to my side, Jane, and let us explain and understand one another.’
‘I will never again come to your side: I am torn away now, and cannot return.’
‘But, Jane, I summon you as my wife: it is you only I intend to marry.’
I was silent: I thought he mocked me.
‘Come, Jane—come hither.’
‘Your bride stands between us.’
He rose, and with a stride reached me.
‘My bride is here,’ he said, again drawing me to him, ‘because my equal is here, and my likeness. Jane, will you marry me?’
She didn’t know how happy Jane was, but she felt like a princess. She thought it was going to end there…happily ever after, like fairy tales do. And then, came the heartbreaking truth, Rochester was married. She was shattered (so was Jane, but she was calm and practical enough not to get shattered). A few tears escaped her eyes when Jane left Thronfield Hall with a broken heart and a weak body.
The candle got burnt out (probably the fourth one since she had started reading, or may be the fifth, she didn’t know exactly). She couldn’t find another candle. She was too tired to go out and ask her mother for one. She closed the book, knelt on the floor, rested her head on the corner of the bed where the mattress had moved away and revealed the wooden cot, and cried herself to sleep. The next morning, she woke up with a hurting head. The corner of the cot had left a mark on her forehead. She was glad. She might have slept off till noon otherwise. After a quick shower, she sat down with the book. She told her mother that she is fasting and that she does not wish to be disturbed. It made her religious mother more than happy and gave her a whole day (and night) to finish the book (which was selected in the first place to keep her occupied for a month).
She didn’t like St.John from the very beginning. She hated the fact that Jane trusted him. And then her suspicion was confirmed. St.John was a jerk, who offered to marry Jane just because he thought she would make a good missionary’s wife (ambiguity intended). And then, Jane’s return cheered her up. The ruins of Thornfield Hall somehow suggested an outburst of good events. And just like she had predicted, it happened. Jane finds Rochester. He is blind, but no more married. She felt bad about Bertha’s death, but not about Rochester’s calamity. She knew Jane would take care of him. And then it had to happen all over again:
The muscular hand broke from my custody; my arm was seized, my shoulder—neck—waist—I was entwined and gathered to him.
‘Is it Jane? WHAT is it? This is her shape—this is her size—‘
‘And this her voice,’ I added. ‘She is all here: her heart, too. God bless you, sir! I am glad to be so near you again.’
‘Jane Eyre!—Jane Eyre,’ was all he said.
‘My dear master,’ I answered, ‘I am Jane Eyre: I have found you out—I am come back to you.’
‘In truth?—in the flesh? My living Jane?’
‘You touch me, sir,—you hold me, and fast enough: I am not cold like a corpse, nor vacant like air, am I?’
‘My living darling! These are certainly her limbs, and these her features; but I cannot be so blest, after all my misery. It is a dream; such dreams as I have had at night when I have clasped her once more to my heart, as I do now; and
kissed her, as thus—and felt that she loved me, and trusted that she would not leave me.’
‘Which I never will, sir, from this day.’
‘Never will, says the vision? But I always woke and found it an empty mockery; and I was desolate and abandoned— my life dark, lonely, hopeless—my soul athirst and forbidden to drink—my heart famished and never to be fed. Gentle, soft dream, nestling in my arms now, you will fly, too, as your sisters have all fled before you: but kiss me before you go—embrace me, Jane.’
She was too young to understand the relevance of the embrace and the kiss that followed. But she knew that it had finally come. The ‘happily ever after’ that would never be altered by quarrels and misunderstandings. If Jane was happy, she was happier.
She closed the book and switched off the lights. Her back was hurting. She had been sitting up for too long. She wanted to thank the voice. But, it was not there. She told herself to remember to express her gratitude when it returned. For the first time in months, she had a peaceful, dreamless sleep.
P.S. She is still waiting for her Mr.Rochester, though she would never admit it. That explains her inability to find relationships that would last.