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The real me, in pen, ink and paper

My mother travelling alone, carryied just one request from my father; that I write him a letter and that she bring it back.

A few weeks ago my mother came to visit me. My father didn't come. He's no fan of flight and his heart isn't as strong as it used to be. So my mother travelled alone carrying just one request from my father; that I write him a letter and that she bring it back.

"A letter?" I asked as if shaking the dust off some antique artefact and wondering at its original purpose. "But he can email sort of."

In the prelude to my mother's trip he had taken to practising his computer skills with the result that barely a day passed without some random missive landing in my inbox.

Still, there it was: the request for a letter. He was asking not very much and an awful lot all at once.

So long has it been since I set pen to paper that I had neither. I bought both, placed them next to the computer keyboard on my "writing desk" and there they sat like undone homework. On the final night of my mother's stay I thought I'd better use them.

It was after midnight. I sat alone on my balcony. I wrote the date. I wrote "Dear Dad", and my pen hovered over the blank page. Then I started writing. Time folded in on itself. I was back at university, writing essays into the small hours the night before the tutorial, my handwriting more erratic with each page and passing hour, thoughts running on faster than I could set them down.

I remembered how my father wrote to me every week then; how each envelope contained a 10 note. He told me he imagined I opened the envelope, shook out the money and discarded the letters unread. I never did. I kept them all. I still have them.

As the night slipped by I asked him questions, emboldened by this one-sided conversation. I was more honest with him, more thoughtful, than I would be via any other form of communication. I wrote myself into every page and when I was done, I sealed it up, put it in my mother's bag and hoped it was good enough.

I have thought of this over the past few days as, under different circumstances, I have been asked to set things down on paper. My London flat is being sold and forms must be filled out and signed.

I completed the last document a couple of days ago, writing my signature alongside that of the man with whom I shared that flat and my life. There have been so many emails and conversations that have led to this point and yet seeing his name, in his hand, alongside my own I felt the ground give way a little beneath me, knowing that it might be the last time it appears that way.

And I understood exactly why my father had asked for a letter. Because seeing somebody's handwriting is catching a glimpse of them. Trace the outline and there they are. It's a powerful thing: heartwarming, heartbreaking.

Oh, and my letter to my father was good enough. An age after he received it he emailed me to that effect. He would have told me earlier, he apologised, had he not - after painstakingly crafting his reply - hit what he thought was "send" and promptly deleted the lot.

lcollins@thenational.ae

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