The Postage Stamps 

Once upon a time there was a young postman who loved walking all of the many roads in the old capital and its outskirts, delivering letters and small parcels, stopping to drink tea in the warm afternoon grass, admiring the golden pears dangling over the edges of cinder block walls, walking in deep trances as he thought of the lips of a woman he had kissed in a riverside bar, pressing his uniform late at night as the iron hissed and steamed. Then he fell ill, and quit his job, and fell into a deep depression. Even after he got well, he did not return to work. A large inheritance made it unnecessary. The man hid himself in his ramshackle home by the train tracks, and began to collect stamps. What a remarkable thing a stamp was! There were so many worlds of beauty in those squares and rectangles of paper smaller than the average chewing gum wrapper. In his small, dark, wooden house, he smoked, drank tea, and looked over his collection, arranging, rearranging, and occasionally framing unusual or especially beautiful stamps. There were series of old castles, renowned night views of cities, tributes to historical figures, calligraphic characters in seal script, famous portraits of women in kimonos from colorful, old woodblock prints, and even a few movie stars. He especially loved stamps depicting cats. Surrounded by such pictures, he felt he lived a rich life, even with his otherwise spartan, monastic existence. He only went out to purchase necessities, or to buy and sell stamps or acquire books of stamp lore. He only traveled if he had a stamp market to visit or needed to meet another collector. One day, he ran out of cigarettes and went out to go to the store. As he was walking, he passed a glazier and saw his reflection in a sheet of glass being handled by the shopkeepers. The face in the glass spoke of twenty lost years. Disturbed, he walked on. Ona bridge overlooking a river and its willows, he saw a beautiful woman in a pale blue dress with white polka dots holding a stoic, white cat. Close to the tobacconist, he watched a worker soldering pieces of metal at the entrance to a small factory. The tobacconist was lazily reading a magazine devoted to calligraphy as he counted out the change. All around him the old capital came alive at dusk with the incandescence of streetcars, cafes, motorists, shops, temples, and castles. A red postal truck drove by, and his heart sank. Throughout his walk, he saw the greater world that his personal mosaic of stamps only partially reflected. He wanted to work in a factory, ride trams, drink coffee with a beautiful woman, stroke a cat’s fur, practice calligraphy, have some children, and travel to the distant cities of the night. When he got home, he remembered a name or two from the past. Lighting a cigarette, the man began to write a letter by lamplight. 

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