Joe’s Pen । Khadiza Binte Mostafiz
I was only 20 years old when I started writing. My father was one of those little paid employees, who worked all day on a desk filled with documents and files. My mother died because of an illness 7 years ago. Obviously, we couldn’t spend little money for her medical treatment, because it seemed a lot to us. I also have a little sister. 2 years after my mother’s death my dad committed suicide. And me and my sister were left alone with lots of debts. We finally knew what our father was facing all those years. Unable to buy medicine for his wife, seeing his beautiful daughter wearing ragged clothes, made him feel guilty. He was also unable to help his son with his thirst for knowledge. And when my mother died, my father finally lost it. He didn’t stop working but he got involved with debts. He started drinking too much alcohol to forget his grief and finally committed suicide by hanging himself in the middle of the night with my mother’s old scarf. Well, that’s when my story started. Those loan sharks started driving us mad. Me and my sister who is two years younger than me, knew we had to do something. We started doing some work, earning money bits by bits. And when I finally reached 20, we were free from all debts. And Jenny, my sister was 18. Full of youth and beauty, with beautiful golden curly hair and greenish eyes. Yes, that’s how an ordinary girl of 18 looks like. But Jenny wasn’t like that. She didn’t have soft beautiful arms, she never wore a beautiful gown with a pretty smile on her face. Jenny’s clothes were filled with dirt and filth. She talked in a harsh voice and I’m sure the words she uses will even make a sailor blush. I don’t know if you will believe me or not, but she was stronger than me. I, Joe, was a skinny, weak boy. And those round glasses on my eyes made me look even more hopeless. I really loved learning. But I didn’t have the luck or the luxury to go to school more than 2 years in my pitiful life. There was a book store, not so far from our old house. I remember, I used to go there and I loved staring at those books from the outside of the shop. I never had the courage to enter, or you could also say that, even as a child I realized that I didn’t belong there. After my father died, life was so miserable that I even forgot to visit that book shop. One day, after finishing my work I went back to see that book store. It was kind of late but the store was hopefully still open. That old book store seemed dazzling to my eyes. Suddenly, the owner, an old man near his 60s called out to me. I was surprised, I wondered if he was mad. He kept calling me.
“Hey you, come here. ”
” Are you talking to me, sir?”, I asked being afraid.
” Yes, I’m talking to you. I saw you standing outside the store for a long time. You are not a customer, are you? Are you here for the job? “, the man asked me.
” Job? ”
” Yes, I’m talking about the notice I hanged outside. I’m going to hire a cleaning boy for my store. I’m getting old and it’s not so easy for me to look after the shop as it was before. ”
And before I could think of anything, my mouth started talking on its own,” Yes, sir. You are absolutely right. I’m here for the job.”
“I see. What’s your name, lad? ”
” I’m Joseph Harrison. I’m also known as Joe. I am twenty and a month old. My only family is my younger sister, Jennifer Harrison. I can read and write also I can do mostly any job which doesn’t need a lot of strength”, I sprouted very quickly.
“Hahahaha you are very energetic. I like you. You are hired. Come tomorrow at seven in the morning. Don’t be late. ”
” Yes, sir. Thank you very much, sir. ”
” And people here call me Ben. ”
” I’ll be in your care, Mr. Ben. ”
And then I took my leave. I was very delighted and I couldn’t wait to tell Jenny about it. And when Jenny heard the news, she wasn’t so delighted.
” I think you shouldn’t take that job. The pay is less than the one you had before. But if you really want it, then I won’t stop you. You always liked stuff like this. So, I wish you luck”, is what Jenny said when she heard the news.
And I still clearly remember, that night I was so excited that I couldn’t sleep. Jenny couldn’t sleep either but it was because of the cold not because of the excitement of her brother’s wish coming to reality.
When the morning sun was up in that big blue sky, I rushed out of our home to reach the book store with an empty stomach. There was no food in the house and I was too excited to notice my poor stomach anyway. And I reached there when the clock only turned 6. I was completely one hour early and the shop was still closed. When the clock turned 6 and a half, the owner, Mr. Ben opened the store.
” It’s not seven yet. You sure are devoted, my boy hahaha”, is what Mr. Ben said to me on my first day. And unfortunately, it made me very happy.
And since that day, I started working under Mr. Ben in that small book shop. I thought I would get to read books if I work in a book shop. But I was clearly wrong. Mr. Ben never let me read a single book. Even so, I was still happy. Being surrounded by books felt heavenly even if I couldn’t read them.
After working for some months, I realized that among all the books and magazines, a monthly magazine named “The Pen Friend” was really famous. It was also very expensive. Since I never got a chance to read it, I asked Mr. Ben about it.
“Mr. Ben, what is this magazine about?”
” This magazine is a money-making machine. It sells very well. ”
” Mr. Ben, I know that. I wondered what this magazine was about”, I asked him impatiently.
“Oh. You look very curious. Many stories, novels and poems of different writers are published here. New writers, famous writers send their writing to this magazine. And only few is chosen to publish every month.”
“Say, if I send a writing, will they publish it?”, and I ended up asking him that question.
” Hahahaha ahahaha hahaha”, Mr. Ben started laughing very loudly. ” You’re going to send something to The Pen Friend and they are going to publish it? Hahahaha that’s the wildest joke I’ve heard all day. But still you are welcome to send something. Although, I think you are aware of the fact as well, that they will not publish it if it’s not very good. ”
” Yes, Mr. Ben, I know that. And how can I send it to them? “, I asked Mr. Ben as if I were an amazing writer.
” I see. So, you are serious, my boy. You can give your writing to me and I’ll send it to them. ”
” Thank you very much, Mr. Ben.”
And then I started working again. My little heart was filled with admiration for Mr. Ben. I’ve never met such a kind man in my entire life, is what I thought to myself that day.
And then one day, I appeared with a short story in front of Mr. Ben. The paper and the ink which was used to write the story, seemed very expensive to me. But Jenny didn’t stop me from buying those.
“We are going to die miserably anyway. So, let your dreams run wild, big brother”, is what she told me.
I handed over the story to Mr. Ben. Mr. Ben, without even looking at it, put it on the drawer of his old desk and told me to start working.
“Mr. Ben, will you please take a look at it”, I requested him.
“I have many things to do. I don’t have the time to read a story written by someone like you. So, get to work”, Mr. Ben shouted.
“Yes, Mr. Ben. I’m sorry I asked you to do something like that”, I apologized and then I started working.
The next month, I was very excited. One day I entered the book store as usual and found Mr. Ben holding “The Pen Friend” magazine. It was the newest edition. Mr. Ben looked kind of surprised and nervous. He was so into the magazine that he didn’t even notice me getting in.
“Mr. Ben did they publish my story? ” I asked him.
” Oh Joe! When did you get here? “, Mr. Ben asked uncomfortably.
” I just got here, Mr. Ben. Did they publish my story? ”
” No no they didn’t. They didn’t publish your story. I mean why would they publish your story. You are just a kid. And.. ”
I stared at Mr. Ben as he spoke. He seemed different. I knew more or less that they wouldn’t publish my story. And if they did, it’ll be nothing more than a miracle. And as a poor day dreamer, I was excited to see that miracle. But why is Mr. Ben making such a fuss, I thought to myself.
“What Joe? You don’t believe me? Then look into the content page of the magazine”, as Mr. Ben said that, he looked somewhat angry and nervous.
I looked at the content page. And naturally my name wasn’t there. In the new writers’ corner, there were names of four writers. And the last name was Drake Benjamin. There was no Joseph Harrison.
“Did you see that? They didn’t publish your story”, Mr. Ben looked nervous.
“Yes, Mr. Ben”, I don’t know why but I was kind of upset. I really wanted that miracle to happen.
“Hey, are you going to stop writing? Don’t stop writing. I think you’ll get better, my boy. And then maybe one day they will publish your story. So, never give up. Don’t quit writing”, Mr. Ben looked frustrated.
“Thank you, Mr. Ben, for your kind words. But I don’t think I can continue writing. Because, you see, I can’t afford the paper and the ink. My sister and I are always starving. I can’t afford the luxury of writing continuously”, as I said that, I almost cried. My eyes started to become teary.
“I’ll give you the money to buy the paper and the ink”
“What? Mr. Ben, what did you just say? You’ll give me the money? “, I was completely astonished. And I couldn’t believe what I just heard.
” Yes, I’ll give you the money. So, don’t stop writing. Bring me a story every month. I’ll send it to the publishers. You can also read some books from my store, for story references ”
And then, tears started over flowing from my eyes. I couldn’t hold my tears any longer. I’ve never met such a kind-hearted man in my entire life. And that day, I promised to Mr. Ben that I would never stop writing. I thanked him from the bottom of my heart. And Mr. Ben looked relieved at that moment.
After that day, each month I wrote a story with all my might. And I gave it to my biggest well wisher Mr. Ben. But the magazine never published my story. I never saw my name on the content page. Just the new writer Drake Benjamin climbed up his way to the position of top writer. But I still didn’t quit. Because Mr. Ben used to tell me, only losers quit. He always inspired me to keep writing. And I listened to him, like devotees listen to priests.
And just like that, two years passed. My sister Jenny found the love of her life and got married. Her husband was a fisherman, he lived near the sea. They met each other in the market and then became lovers and eventually both got married. My sister and his husband requested me to live with them. But I kindly refused. Because I had a dream. I wanted to become a famous writer.
After that three more years passed. One day, I went to the book store and Mr. Ben told me that he’ll take a one-week vacation. The store will be closed for that period of time. It’ll be open again after a week. Then after one week, I went to the store, but the store was closed. I was very surprised because Mr. Ben told me that the store will be opened after one week. That day I returned home. This happened for five days straight until I finally knocked at Mr. Ben’s house. An old woman with scary red lipstick on her lip opened the door. The sight was so frightening that I almost forgot why I came here.
“Hey who are you? What do you want? “, the old woman shouted.
” Um I’m Joe. Nice to meet you Mrs. Ben. I was wondering why the store was….. ”
” Who the hell are you, Joe? And why would I be Mr. Ben’s wife? I’m the landlord. Mr. Ben moved away with his family few days ago”, the woman said angrily.
“What? Mr. Ben doesn’t live here anymore? Why did he move away? Where did he go? And what about the store? “, I couldn’t believe my ears. So, I kept asking.
” I don’t know where he went nor do I know why he went. Do you have anymore questions, boy? “, the woman shouted and before I could say anything, she slammed the door closed.
I was very surprised. I didn’t know what to do anymore. My passion, my dream everything was lost. I stopped working and started wandering in the street. Jenny insisted me to go with her, but I refused her proposal. But her one-year old daughter amazed me. No matter how many times she fell down she still stood up and tried to walk again. She sparked something in me and I wanted to stand up again. I remembered Mr. Ben’s words, “only losers quit”. And then I started my life once more. I started working in a bakery shop and it was going very well. The daughter of the bakery owner was very beautiful and she was a nice person. Her name was Lucy. I used to chat with her from time to time. She also loved reading. And the bakery owner was fond of me, so he treated me nicely as well.
One day, I saw a book in Lucy’s hand. It was a short story collection, written by Drake Benjamin. It had more than twenty amazing stort stories, which became famous among people of all ages. I kept staring at the book, I’ve never read his stories. But I saw his name in “The Pen Friend” magazine.
“Lucy, how’s this book? “, I asked her.
” This book? It’s amazing! I love it. Drake Benjamin is my favorite writer. He also won many awards. He is very famous. But now whenever I hear his name, I become very sad.”
“Sad? Why, Lucy? Did something happen to him?”, I asked her feeling curious.
“Actually, Drake Benjamin, in his five years of writing, wrote brilliant stories which touched the hearts of thousands. But due to his age and health, he stopped writing and he ended his days of writing stories. Truly he is a legend in the literature world. Because no writer became so successful and famous in such a short time. And ended his career so soon. Truly sad”, Lucy looked heart broken as she spoke.
“Haha it’s funny. Maybe this Drake Benjamin and I were bound by fate. Because we both started writing in the same year, and stopped at the same time as well. ”
” Wow, so you used to write as well? Please let me read me your stories”, Lucy’s eyes started sparkling with excitement.
“Oh no please Lucy, don’t look at me like that. My stories are not so good like Mr. Drake Benjamin’s stories.”
“Humph, don’t say that Joe. And hey do you want to see Drake Benjamin’s photograph? I have his photo. Wait, I’ll show it to you.”
And then Lucy ran to her room and came back with a photograph.
“This picture is when Drake Benjamin won the writer of the year award. Can you believe that this old man can write such amazing stories? It’s unbelievable, right?”
“Let me see first, Lucy”, saying that I looked into the picture and I became speechless.
That day I returned home without finishing my shift. The owner and Lucy were quite surprised. And that night I stared at the big moon and asked God many questions. Though still I never got the answer.
Life is mysterious. Who knew, that Drake Benjamin was actually Mr. Ben of that tiny book store. He stole my stories and made himself famous in the literature world. He never sent those stories to the magazine with my name, he put his name under the title and changed the title. The photograph Lucy showed me, was a part of the daily newspaper. Mr. Ben looked so proud with that stylish suit and that crest on his hand. The lights and all the eyes were on him as he smiled proudly. “I used to own a book store, reading books was my passion in my life. And I saw the weak skinny boy who worked at my store, write stories. And I thought to myself, everyone can hold a pen but it is the pen that chooses a writer. And the pen chose me”, was written under his photograph in the newspaper. Truly life is mysterious and life is never fair. Say, if I write the story of my miserable life, will it also make me famous? If so, then I’ll name my story, “Joe’s Pen”.