[Writing Prompt] As a child, you had a very unique diary; whatever you wrote, something would respond, their words magically appearing on the page. Years later, while searching a library hundreds of miles away, you rediscover the diary you thought you'd lost. Inside is a pen and your first entry: "Hello".
The smells of betel leaf, spices, and the unique stench of pollution wafted through the narrow streets as vendors began to move their carts beneath the awning of buildings; it was going to rain. My cycle rickshaw driver was weaving in and out of the traffic, a determined look on his face as he pedaled carefully over the potholes and puddles. He was determined to get me to the library before it closed. It was my fault, of course, for putting off getting a rickshaw until the very last minute. I’d been lucky to find one willing to pedal me three neighborhoods over during rush-hour traffic in bad weather. I would be tipping him handsomely in American dollars. I’d been warned that female foreigners should not travel alone here, but I urgently needed to catch a glimpse of Sufia Kamal National Public Library, the biggest library in the country.
It was my last night in Bangladesh. I’d come here for a ten-day international photojournalism workshop held by one of my favorite documentary photographers. I’d photographed faces, so many faces: children breaking bricks to earn less than a single US dollar a day, malnourished mothers nursing their babies in the street, men in small villages who’d survived tiger attacks, and the sun-worn faces of the men and women that fished in Bangladesh’s 700 rivers. I’d photographed grief, happiness, fear, anger—everything. While photography was my passion, it was books that were my true love.
When we arrived outside of the library, I paid the rickshaw driver and then bounded up the steps, shielding myself from the rain with my backpack. I could smell the sweet, musky scent of old books the second I walked in through the doors. The library would close in half an hour, giving me just enough time to browse and get a feel for the building’s history. My hands trailed along the bindings as I walked down the aisles, and old memories came bursting forth; the summer when Mom had lost her job, having nothing to our names as we moved from shelter to shelter, our futures so bleak that even the sunlight couldn’t brighten our days. Mom had taken me to the local library, gotten a card made for me, and pressed it into the palm of my hand.
“We don’t have money,” she said, “but we do have our minds. No one can take that away from us. I want you to go find a book and read it, Ginny. And when you’re done, read another, and another, and another. This library card is your ticket to freedom. You can go anywhere you want with the books on these shelves.”
It was the summer of my ninth birthday—a birthday that I’d celebrated with a Hostess cupcake and, to my shock and delight, one of those single-use cameras. It was a summer of dusty library books, of sitting for hours in the children’s section, of reading everything I could get my hands on, all while snapping the occasional photo. It was also the summer the library had held a writer’s workshop for kids, and for participating, we each were given a diary all of our own.
I stopped in my tracks, and the memories dissipated. I hadn’t thought about it in years. The diary that had done so much for me, that had gotten me through my teen years, that had been my one and only friend in this world of lean, broken hearts.
The diary that, in a fit of rage, I’d thrown away on my eighteenth birthday.
I was still walking down the aisles of the library when my hand brushed over the spine of a thin book. The texture, weathered and worn, a star carved into it with an X-Acto knife—I’d know that spine anywhere.
“Oh, god,” I whispered, pulling the book out of the shelf.
It was the diary.
Why had it appeared now, after all these years? And here, in Dhaka, Bangladesh? It was as if I’d called to it, as if it had known, as if somehow, we were connected.
I knew, of course, that we were. I’d known since I was nine, since the day I’d first written in it.
And it had written back.
Taking the diary with me, I went to the nearest table and took a seat, flipping it open to the first page. There it was.
Tears welled up in my eyes as I read the next line.
I laughed a sniffly sort of laugh, remembering the way I’d thrown the diary across the room. God, that had scared me senseless. It had taken me hours to pick it back up, and when I had, there had been a new line in the book.
I’d written back, “It’s okay. How is this happening? Are you magical?”
“In a way, yes; in a way, no.”
“That doesn’t make much sense.”
“It’s not supposed to. Tell me your name.”
“I’m Ginny. Tell me yours.”
“I am Diary.”
From there, I made the first of many mistakes. I engaged. I replied. I opened up. And it wrote back every single time, responding with kindness, compassion, and, if I’m remembering correctly, a little humor. Dry wit, smart as a whip, Diary quickly became my closest companion—my ride or die. The pages never seemed to run out, and I could never fill them fast enough. Everything that happened, every single little thing, I’d tell Diary, and it’d be there, offering advice, showing sympathy, or even replying with a “Ha ha” if I cracked a joke. Childhood had been easy; Diary had been what a bullied kid who kept switching schools needed. Loneliness crept up in my bones at school, but then I’d come home and tell Diary about it, and it’d tell me that I was special, that those kids were stupid, that life moved on.
And then one day, I hit puberty and everything changed. I suddenly couldn’t share everything with Diary. Secrets stayed locked up inside of me, and I’d swallowed the keys, determined not to tell a soul that being a teenager sucked balls. The hormones, the acne, the mood swings, and the shitty, fucked-up kids from school who only got worse. I couldn’t tell Diary about most of that. A, because some of it was gross, and B, because my feelings had changed.
The problems began in those teen years; the problems began when I fell in love.
“Are you a boy or a girl?” I remembered writing.
A simple answer, one I could accept. It was just a diary, after all. It wasn’t human, so why was I trying to give it human characteristics? The answer to that was simple too.
I’d fallen in love with it.
“I love you,” I’d written.
“I know. You shouldn’t, though.”
“Because,” it wrote back, “there’s nothing I can offer you. I’m just a notebook, Gin. You write to me and I write back. That’s all I can do.”
“You don’t understand. I feel so strongly. I want to be with you.”
“How? How could you possibly? There is no way, no future.”
“Tell me about the magic that makes you possible,” I’d written back.
“I know what you’re thinking, and it’s not possible. There is no magic spell that will turn me human. I am what I am.”
I’d cried then, and I cried now. In the Sufia Kamal National Public Library, I wept, thinking of the life I could’ve had if only my best friend, the love of my life, had been a real person. That kind of pain doesn’t just go away; it stays with you, seeps under your skin, makes its home there, and infects every breath you take. Every second since that day I’d written that first “Hello” had been an uphill climb to happiness.
And Diary had known it. That was why it had driven me away.
“I don’t love you, and I never will. I am not capable of love. Throw me away. I am only holding you back from making relationships with real people.”
Yeah, that one had stung.
“Gin,” it continued, “I don’t care about you. I just want to be alone. Please, throw me away.”
So I’d done it. I’d taken Diary to the trash on trash day and thrown it away, just as it had asked because, of course it didn’t love me. I wasn’t lovable.
I laugh now thinking about it. I hadn’t understood it at eighteen. Diary had pushed me away for my own good, to force me to be present in the world, to be a participant in living. I’d let that anger consume me, and I’d done exactly as it had asked me to out of pure spite.
Stupid. I’d been so fucking stupid.
I turned the page. Diary had written back after I’d thrown it away, but I’d never gotten the chance to see it.
“I love you, Ginny. I’m sorry I lied to you.”
I dug a pen out of my bag, my eyes filled with tears, and wrote, “Hello.”