Another ordinary day. Blood was not running that hard throughout the body. Did not read the newspapers in the morning, as they would have been full of crap that I had already read yesterday through apps. Did not switch on the television. There were few messages and image files on Whatsapp. Someone who had blocked me for some unknown reason had unblocked me. I did not unblock that person. I was seeking vengeance. Deleted all the images forwarded by others even without looking at them. Afternoon was also cloudy and suffocating, except for occasional flashes of humid sun. The wet roads were full of stranded vehicles and there were few good-looking women around. I went to the library and took a few detective fiction. a journal and a management book. I wanted to read contemporary stories. A woman in a black T-shirt came to where I was browsing and left immediately. She was later seen checking her mobile while sitting near a desk. I had to go back to the library, as I forgot and left a book there. That was very unusual of me. The cab driver who drove me back home appeared stressed because of the traffic pile-up on the main roads. There was no traffic pile-up, I thought. Without changing the dress, I started reading another of the Inspector Rebus novels. After a few hours it started raining heavily and the light was so dim to continue reading. I slept for a while. I remembered the books that I had returned to the library without reading.
The building sat on top of a mini-hill surrounded by high trees that looked green and similar. When I stood on the terrace and looked at the fading sun in the silent evenings, the trees still looked dense and mysterious. A green layer of rustling and silken presence living in undisturbed vitality. The trees belonged to the Eucalyptus species and on the upward slopes on the side of the road a few buildings stood in between. The trees sometimes created a silken, thin layer of dead, gray leaves that enveloped the hard earth. I had seen protruding rocks in between the very few shrubs that existed. Rocks that were black and sturdy, rugged and pointed at the edges hidden behind the woods of trees and concealed under the layer of leaves. Kind of camouflage.
Red laterite sand lay underneath the silken leaves and through which wooden branches of the trees emerged seeking something under the dead layer. I had to be careful while walking through this route instead of the curving road that went parallel to the trees. I had hoped that I would see a reptile somewhere concealed in those leaves or crossing the road: a silvery flash of throbbing, viscous skin wriggling across the road. I had seen lovers adjusting their positions in those bushes; I did not look back as I was not interested and my mission was much important than the momentary rush of blood. My friends said they were drug addicts.
The building to where I was walking to stood on a flat piece of land surrounded by labs and an auditorium shaped like the Sun. The auditorium was interesting because I had not seen any activity in that building. In the night, somebody did switch on the white lights, but it was a mystery why that building stood there without any activity.
I usually walked through the paths created by students, and used to imagine that I was a slowing train on the outer yards of its destination. As I approached the building, which was a library, the vegetation cleared and the place grew more brighter until I entered the building through the front door manned by an aged security guard. There was a small shed outside where people used to park their bicycles and bikes.
It was by accident that I discovered that there was a section in that library that did not interest many. On certain days, I could not find the book I wanted. On another day, there were so many that made selection difficult. The unexplored section stood on the fourth floor and it was much more cleaner than the other sections. The books here remained more or less well stacked and in order, untouched or undisturbed. There were new and old books, but the old ones did have a peculiar smell that indicated that they were still fresh. There was Thomas Mann, Samuel Beckett, Marquez, Soyinka, Kafka, Hrabal, Chekhov, Greene, Maugham, Canetti, and several others, free and undisturbed on those shelves. And I, with just two cards, used to stand looking at them, touching them, opening them, reading a few lines, and stretched to take another one with a couple on my other hand already. At times, I saw a bestseller in between, and I get enraged. I used to throw the bestseller to a vacant part of a shelf as a punishment: my punishment for that book being part of the esteemed group. By dislocation, I meant to teach the librarian a lesson. I was sure that the librarian would one day understand why a particular book deserved not to be on that shelf.
Tired and after spending some time there to make others suspicious, I used to take the road back, down from the fourth floor of that library, instead of the tree-covered slope. From the road, the trees now looked darker and lifeless, while a mysterious scent wafted in from a flower that bloomed late in the night, or something that I had failed to notice earlier. I could not remember whether I walked back slower or faster, but I do remember I walked back alone. Even if I saw someone, I did not speak besides the casual greetings.
In a library, there are corners or areas that people frequent less. May be people are afraid to walk alone to dark or ill-lit corners or they don’t want to explore less comfortable territories. These less explored corners are not empty anyway; there will be books stacked in these areas, books untouched, tight against each other, as if they are children looking for some warmth. There may not be lights or glass windows letting in filtered natural light. You might see an empty chair. Somebody must have sat on it and read a book. There may be a table close to a window with books scattered on top of it. Did the same lonely person use the table and the chair regularly?
If there is a window, you can stand near that window, hold a book, and look outside – at a road busy with people and vehicles, or at the library backyard full of shrubs, or unkempt sheds made of sheets, or aluminum plates, or empty bottles. Sometimes, the windows may be dirty, dust-laden, and rusted. You might also see a few dogs sniffing the plates or leaves containing food leftovers, or just sleeping. There may be birds clinging to branches ready to fly down if the dogs lose interest.You might also see something stirring inside dry leaves. You see it only once.
You might see the evening sun depending upon which window you stand. You turn your head to see whether the sunlight caresses the books on the shelves. As you turn your head back, your gaze falls on the golden letters of a spine cover. Nobody seems to have taken or lifted that book from the shelf for a long time. May be that is the book you wanted to read. Looking at the spine cover, you know that it is an old book. But the golden letters look fresh and inviting. It is never a ploy.
You hear a sound, someone stepping closer but hidden from your view. Or a reptile inching closer to bite or to feel the warmth of your body. Slowly, the moisture of the corner and the books get into your head. You step back and see whether you are late. You still want to remain there. You know that if you hide somewhere nobody will notice it. If that is the case, you have the entire floor at your disposal for the entire night. You can then sing and dance like a madman throughout the dark floor of the library. You have hundreds of books, old and new, ancient and reprints, books with missing pages and torn pages, books with that refreshing smell. What will you read? If you decide to read only the first page, how many will you read without sleeping that night?
You decide to leave and go back. You know that the books also would love privacy. When the library is closed and all lights are switched off, the letters may start speaking. The words may arrange themselves in paragraphs. Who knows? They cannot remain silent forever confined to dusty and unclean shelves. You look back and feel the hushed tones from the end of the room. Someone might have risen from those books and may be following you. Someone who likes you and want to see that you leave the floor safe. The books may be saying that you will be back before it is too late.