When Tom first arrived in England, he wrote a letter to Gemma every week.
Of course, the task grew dull, or England did, rather. At first it seemed exciting, Eton especially. His little sister was made known of every minute detail—the colors of the sky on a rainy day, the taste and feel of snow, the grand nature of certain monuments and palaces. Some things were left out, though their details still remained. There were no mentions of hazing or the particular loneliness he felt some days. He never said that he missed India. He hoped that his feelings could still be portrayed on some unconscious level, though, even if feelings of despair and lonesomeness were ones not enjoyable to discuss.
His letters waned, though, as his time away from India, which he now did not regard as home, became greater. Perhaps Gemma was the one to stop writing first—she was a girl yet to blossom into womanhood, pleased by her father's tall tales and juggling tricks in the market. At first Tom remembered this naïve side of her, and of him, quite fondly, but what seemed like comfortable memories at fifteen became quite improper to him two years later. That Gemma was still a girl in a sari half a world away quite displeased him. Perhaps he was jealous, but he never said so. No, jealousy was not the factor; it was a matter of propriety. Any young lady of fourteen should be in London, taught by a governess, or sent away to finishing school. None of his classmates had little sisters in India, nor did they find the idea amusing in the least.
There had been a time when stories of the marketplace and tigers and blue-faced Krishna had appealed to his classmates. They had gathered around him in the common room on evenings and enjoyed the exoticness of his tails. Now no one wanted to hear about India. It was a country learned about in the classroom and best left as it was, not concerning boys who quite fancied themselves to be gentlemen, though they were often far from it.
The incoming students sometimes wanted to hear a tale or two upon finding out that Tom was, in fact, an import, but after months of not mentioning the subject his want to discuss his childhood had faded. It was at this point that his letters to Gemma became even less, and, if he wrote them at all, terribly sarcastic and bitter.
Her responses, in return, were always witty and degrading. Her tales of the happy times in Bombay ceased. Secretly, Tom longed for stories of his mother and father and Sarita, and perhaps Gemma, most of all. But none of these were delivered. Their letters became monthly, and then simply biannual occasions. He was neither excited nor upset to have a letter form his sister in his hands, but rather indifferent. Caustic remarks were not enough to get him by for the next few months until break, and, ultimately, until commencement.
Tom's last letter to Gemma before their mother's death was his shortest one yet. Moments after posting it he didn't have a clue what he had written on the page—it had been a spur of the moment thing, a duty, perhaps. The most loving sentiment was, Happy birthday, since it's coming soon, though I am not about to send you a present, and not just because you never sent me one. He never said what other reasons he had for not sending her a gift, but only because he had none.
And so when he finally left Eton, a place that he had never much liked, though he'd pretended to love it in various ways, it was with great discontent that he learned of his mother's suicide just a few weeks later. His discontent wasn't of the tragic sort, though he did mourn her in his own way—a good cry in the privacy of the nearest necessary and then he was on with it. Rather, he felt let down. India was a place that he'd held a certain disdain for for years now, though in all reality he loved it. It was like Eton, only backwards.
He convinced himself, slowly over the next few days, that his mother had not committed suicide. (Surely he should have seen it coming. People didn't just kill themselves on a whim. Had there been a depression? An underlying mental illness? Something wrong with her relationship with his father? He'd never know now.) Nor had she been murdered, like Gemma insisted. Cholera had gotten to her. India had gotten to her, and it had gotten to his sister and father as well. They must leave that terrible place and join proper society. It was where they belonged, though deep down Tom knew that none of them ever really belonged anywhere proper, anywhere where being accepted meant being a paragon of perfection, someone who never frowned and always wore his best suit and whose biggest trouble was trying to find a half-decent coachman.
It disturbed him sometimes when he thought about how his view of the world and his goals had altered over the past five years. At nearly twenty he still had the same goals—to study medicine, to be happy. But happiness wasn't what it was when he had first arrived in England. Of course he still felt the same disproportionate desire to be accepted and loved and wanted, but now this feeling of not belonging was not one he felt around his family. None of them belonged anymore—they were all missing pieces. He felt it more around his peers, around society. Their acceptance was all that could make him happy. He'd have to get in with the right people. Marry rich. Marry his sister off even better, if he could. Never frown and always wear his best suit and hire a coachman who was more dapper and a much better driver than all the rest.
Inevitably he'd come crashing down, and there were moments when he did, though the next day he'd pick himself up as if nothing happened, with only the bruise of humiliation to remind him and those who had witnessed his fall. His father was an addict. His sister was surely insane. Consumption was taking its toll on his father and on his family, including himself. His sister apparently had magical powers. Surprisingly enough, that was the easiest of his problems to accept, perhaps because it stopped their relationship from being a complete mess. It put a certain level of understanding between them, though he masked it as fear and annoyance and she masked it as power and annoyance of the same level.
He didn't mind when Gemma asked to be sent of to New York to study at a women's college. In fact, he was quite proud of her, if only a bit disappointed that his sister wasn't normal in even the vaguest sense of the word. Something amazing happened a few weeks after she left for America, though: They began to write to one another again.
New York reminds me of Bombay and London and somewhere entirely different at once. I am boarding with a girl who is half Irish and half French. Though this seemed like an exotic combination to me before, I have met people with much more diverse heritages.
I am not supposed to write about my patients but I cannot help myself this time. I will not mention her illness, but there is a young woman at the hospital who I think is half in love with you. I know, you expected me to say that she was in love with me, but that is not it at all. Though it is not something I would normally do, I ended up making conversation with her the other day, and she loves the idea of you off studying at a 'proper university', as she said. Send a photograph for her. You said your friend Milly knows how to operate a camera.
Milly's camera broke this weekend. It is a terrible wreck and she is still cleaning it up. Patrick, another friend that Milly and I recently met, though, has one, so we had him take a few photographs. I have sent some to Ann and Felicity, too. I doubt you ever hear from either of them, but if you ever do see one of the two you must let me know, especially if you so happen to see Miss Bradshaw performing on stage! You said that "Merry Maidens" was enjoyable, and I hope that you were telling me the truth in saying that you went. Go see the next show that she is in, if only so you can tell me everything about it.
The task of writing a letter never did become dull again, perhaps because it wasn't a task. It was something that both wanted to do, and so Tom felt a certain level of excitement upon receiving a letter from his sister. He swore that he could smell the scent of New York on it, though it was somewhat childish of him. And Cassandra, who now no longer was a patient but he still conversed with nonetheless, however unprofessional, now had a small collection of photographs of Gemma's escapades in London—the grand, copper Statue of Liberty, suffragettes with painted signs (which Tom didn't quite approve of, though on some levels he sometimes did), and Gemma herself in her dormitory, book in hand.
He missed India still, but he was freed from his disdain towards it. He'd learned over the past few years that gaining society's or his father's approval was not necessary to bring him happiness. He, and people in general, needed someone to talk to, someone to share their passions and secrets and desire and psychological longings with. And there were people to do this with. There were people all over. He just had to know where to look.
Often enough, no looking was required. The answer was almost always before him.
Now that you've read, review or Tom will cry. And he apparently has really good self-esteem right now so you don't want to ruin that.