LETTERS FOR ALEKSEI by Elise Braun

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I forgot what it feels like, the study-induced waking coma. It has been two years since I last had an exam. This last exam was followed by working full-time and gradually increasing concern over my future. Entering postgraduate study had been a long-term goal challenged by bursts of doubt. Is this what I want to do? Is this my passion? Too late to question it now; I enrolled in the course and now I have reached my first round of exams.

When you need to study, the most mundane tasks became appealing. With nothing to fill up my day but a vague plan to consolidate my statistics notes, I find myself checking the letterbox twice daily. I do not expect mail for me, except maybe election flyers or letters requesting charity donations. But there are nearly always letters for the previous tenants of my apartment, which I moved into just two weeks ago. I ponder over the envelopes, examining their scant information like evidence in a crime scene.

From what I have gathered, there are at least three previous tenants who have failed to comprehensively redirect their mail and change their addresses. First is Jack. From his mail, I picture him as a middle-aged white man, a business owner who had invested too much into a failing café and was forced to live in my reasonable-priced but very small apartment. I think at least one of his letters was a parking fine; perhaps he parked his too-good-for-this-suburb car in the wrong spot for too long, thinking ‘they’ll never fine me’. Second is Priya, who likes a bargain; she frequently receives shiny promotional letters from big-brand, semi-fancy businesses. I picture her as a short woman, teetering about on high heels in a compensatory fashion, spending most of her income on rent and whatever is leftover scouting sale racks in David Jones. Third is Aleksei, who receives the most mail, but I know the least about; his letters usually arrive in envelopes I can’t interpret.

It is a standard day of study. I spend the morning procrastinating in front of the Food Network, an unfortunate habit; I know all the words to the advertisements in between food-based reality shows. Once I force myself to my desk, I refresh Facebook and occasionally become distracted by the rumbling of bins being taken to the street (I don’t yet understand the system – are we meant to rotate the duty of taking out the garbage bins? Are we only meant to take our own? Regardless, our bins are taken out and brought in weekly). I decide to take a ‘break’ and start to boil water for my third cup of tea for the day.
Someone knocks on the door.

The man on my balcony is shorter than me, with heavily lidded eyes and a prominent nose. His shiny black hair flops over his forehead.

“Hello,” I say. It is almost a question.
“Hi there,” he says. I can’t pick his accent. “I used to live in this apartment.”
“Oh.” My mind automatically conjures ideas about what this stranger might say. Perhaps he has left behind something, or there is a dead body in the roof.
“I was wondering, have you got any letters for me? My name is Aleksei.”
“Oh. I have some, yes.” I move inside and pick up the letters on my bench, wondering if Aleksei is peeping in and judging our mismatched second-hand furniture. He takes the letters with a gloved hand and tucks them into his coat. “The others I’ve been returning to the sender.”
“Okay. I’m still waiting for some more, but I’m going overseas tomorrow.”
“Where are you going?”
“Germany.”

I nod, but remain confused: his accent definitely isn’t German.

“My brother, he is still in Melbourne. He can pick them up if more arrive.”

And so I find myself putting a stranger’s number in my contact list, promising Aleksei to contact this man if anything else is to show up with his name printed on the envelope.

I watch from my window as Aleksei walks out of the block, past the messy clothesline of #1 and the girl from #6 smoking by the gate. Where had you fit into this apartment block, Aleksei? Had you rushed home from work to secure one of the few off-street parking spaces, a competition that occurred daily? Had you befriended the reclusive couple next door, who I discovered had a toddler just two days ago? Had you laughed at the occasional pieces of underwear that ended up strewn across the driveway, blown from tenants’ clotheslines that elbowed for space on the shared balconies?

A week passes, and a handful of letters arrive with my strange acquaintance’s name. I text his brother, who thanks me and says he will take them from the letterbox when he has the chance. I feel like I’m making a drug deal.

Four days pass. I check the mail and the letters are still there.

I look Aleksei up on Facebook, and learn that he is Finnish (hence the accent I couldn’t quite place) and he has a degree in Applied Sciences. He is also a fan of inspirational quotes overlaying low resolution landscape photography. I contemplate messaging him, to let him know that the letters were still sitting in my letterbox, but decide against it.

What are you doing in Germany, Aleksei? I hope your mysterious mail brings you joy.

***

Elise Braun is a Melbourne-based reader, writer, researcher and student. She spends her free time baking, drawing, laughing at cute animal videos and fighting writer’s block.

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