Love, Paulo

Words by Khoo Wei Shawn
Art by Serena Ang

In this age of text neck and 10 second stories, postcards are a novelty that not many of us use anymore. The earliest postcards were created with hand painted designs by Theodore Hook in 1840. 

He would post them to himself for reasons unclear. He was either trying to test the endurance of the cardboard pieces or it was some sick prank on the post offices—your guess is as good as mine. But now, the concept and usage of postcards are fading without an authentic replacement. Today, they’re mainly used for tourism, by collectors and by people with incredible patience to wait for a reply in the mail.

Postcards, in essence, are vehicles for stories. They tell stories of where you’ve been, what you’ve done and who you cared about enough that you went through the hassle of sending a piece of paper by post. 

So what would you do when deeply personal postcards start showing up at your doorstep addressed to a stranger?

Back in 2018, I lived in a share house with a few tenants not too far from uni. All was well until a postcard was delivered to our house. In our quiet, brick-clad neighbourhood, this postcard whispered stories of lands unknown and lives well lived. I remember holding the slightly-creased card in my hands. A painting of a lady in a purple dress playing a guitar stared up at me. She had a large smile under her equally large purple and yellow sombrero. To the side of her read, “GREETINGS FROM MEXICO CITY!” It was addressed to a person named Jie, from what I assume to be a dashing man with wavy hair named Paulo. 

A bit of me felt uneasy about going through someone’s private mail. But I’m not going to lie, I’ve never received a postcard before and I was a little jealous. I left it on the kitchen table, hoping someone in the house would claim it. A week went by and a thin film of dust began to dull the bright colours of the girl’s sombrero. 

When my housemates confirmed that no one in the house was named Jie, we caved in to our curiosity. We picked up the postcard and started reading it.

Dear Jie,

How are you? Are you doing well? I’m doing fine.

Been struggling to get a job. If I don’t get one soon, I can’t pay rent. 

But don’t worry, a friend would let me stay with him. 

I hope you reply soon, thinking of you makes my long days a little bit shorter.

Love, 

Paulo

My housemates and I exchanged looks. Our hands were stained with the blue ink that it was written in and the guilt of what we’ve done. This was super personal and we just intruded on their privacy. We shoved it to the back of our minds and left it on the kitchen table once again. Eventually, the postcard was thrown away and we sort of forgot about it. 

Until the next one showed up.

Dear Jie,

How are you? Are you doing well?

I’ve got a job now as a waiter.

It doesn’t pay enough to cover rent, but I’ll be ok for a few more months.

I hope you get back to me, I miss you and really want to know how you are doing.

Love, 

Paulo

These postcards were developing into a full-on soap opera. Wanting to know more, we decided to look into Paulo and Jie. We tried looking online but only went so far with having only their first names as a guide. We asked the other housemates about previous tenants but it came up short. Once again, we were left hanging and just like the first one, the postcard was left on the edge of the kitchen table until it discarded. 

At this point, we were fully expecting a third one to appear. So we waited patiently for more clues. A couple of months later, Paulo delivered.

Dear Jie,

How are you? Are you doing well?

I’ve quit my job as a waiter. 

I couldn’t keep it up, rent needs to get paid.

Found a new job at my uncle’s tour agency as a tour guide.

Things might finally start to look up. 

I hope it’s the same for you.

Miss you,

Paulo

As the months went by, a few more postcards came in, most of them the same and we followed the story as if it was a novel that would only send us a chapter at a time. Paulo talked more about his job, their happy and romantic times in Melbourne and fantasies of a future that my housemates and I knew was never going to happen. 

In late October, the last postcard arrived. This one had been soaked by the spring rain, its blue ink bled to one side. Luckily for us, enough of the postcard was preserved for us to piece it together. 

Dear Jie,

How are you? Are you doing well?

How are your parents? If they are stopping you from replying, you can tell me.

I have a good job now, I’m making people happy.

In a few more months, I will have enough to fly back to Melbourne.

We can talk to your parents together, help them understand. 

Please get back to me, I really miss you.

Love, 

Paulo

This last postcard we received gave us the most clues but we were never able to see its conclusion. We were forced to move out of the place as our landlord decided to scrap the house. The place we came to call home, the place where Paulo might one day return to, the place that Jie will no longer be. 

Who were Jie and Paulo? How did they meet and what happened to them? Were they in an interracial relationship that wasn’t approved by Jie’s family? So many unanswered questions that can only be filled with speculation and a healthy dose of fanfiction.

Every postcard tells a story, but a string of them from a stranger tells an epic tale of forbidden love, long-distance relationships and promises that will never be fulfilled.

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