In the name of Allah, Most Gracious.
I could not sleep last night and the heart was not at ease. As a result, I wrote this short story. Why don't you try reading and let me know what you feel about it? :D
"A first book has some of the sweetness of a first love."
–Robert Aris Willmott
Do you know what I hate the most? A big crowd.
No, don’t get me wrong. I don’t hate people. I love talking to friends; having casual chitchat with colleagues or talk about life with my best friends. But I hate – if hate is too strong a word, then I guess, I should replace it with ‘dislike’ – yes, I really dislike a big group of people. Whenever I find myself in the midst of a crowd, my breathing intensifies and my heart pounds faster and my vision seems to narrow and as I begin to sweat, I can practically hear everything! Yes, everything.
As you may now know, big crowds make me feel anxious and my only escapism is reading. And writing – to you.
It was December 5th afternoon. The day was fine just like any other day – the high sunlit clouds drifted across a clear blue sky while soft breeze pecked softly on my cheeks. Fresh air filled my lungs and I felt refreshed and exhilarated, until I had to walk through a big crowd gathering in the square. I took a deep breath as I quickened my pace. I began to breathe heavily and I was soaking in sweat; my hearing often became more sensitive in this situation. I could hear people talking about soccer match last night, people talking about where to eat their luncheon, couples whispering to one another how much they love each other. And all I wanted was to get out of there. Find the bookstore where I could bury myself between the shelves, away from this maddening crowd.
Can you believe what happened today? After I escaped the crowd’s clutches, I found myself entering my safe haven. You know, the Safe Haven, my favourite book store? Yes, I went there. It was a little weird when I was greeted by another person instead of Mr. Kinsley, the store owner. The new assistant, she is a girl wearing a pair of spectacles. Affable and kind too. Since I was the only customer at that time, she followed me everywhere I went while offering me the assistance I didn’t need – you know me, diary; I never needed any help in bookstores. I prefer to take my own sweet time browsing through the books, no rush.
So I politely dismissed the girl and she smiled at me as she left. It was the most brilliant smile I’ve seen today. Honestly, I lost track of time whenever I have books in my hand, though I noticed the girl came to check on me every once in a while – if I needed her assistance, that is. It was finally the time for me to leave. I took the books I wanted to buy to the check-out counter and watched the girl scanned the barcodes on each book.
I took out my wallet. As I was about to hand over the cash, I realised that I was $1 short. I checked my coins but there wasn’t enough.
“Guess I have to cancel my purchase. I don’t bring enough cash, $1 short. Sorry to trouble you after checking out these books...”
The girl reached out for sling bag near the counter, took out her purse and handed $1 bill to me.
“Take it, Liam. It’s the $1 you lent me a decade ago.”
Have I told you how I began to love books?
When I was 14, I used to go to our state library because it was just a stone’s throw away from my parents’ house. No, I didn’t go there to read nor did I borrow any book. In fact, I never borrowed a book. I frequented the place because of its quiet and relaxed ambience – a perfect place to sleep for someone who hates big crowd like me! Yet mom always thought I went to the library to do revision with friends. Hush, now, diary. This is our secret.
Books were the perfect sleeping draught for me. I open one, read a few lines and I’ve confirmed my ticket to lala-land. But what happened that fateful day had changed everything.
I went to the library as usual and slept one long hour there. I woke up, feeling refreshed, and was ready to return home. I walked slowly by the circulation counter where people borrow and return books loaned to them. I usually slipped by the front door unnoticed but a voice stopped me on my track. A voice so sweet I had to turn around and see which angel it belongs to.
“Can I please borrow these books?” the voice belonged to a little girl in green long skirt. The librarian took the girl’s library card and scanned it. There were wrinkles around her brows when she looked at the computer screen but she forced a smile at the little girl,
“I’m sorry but I cannot check out these books for you.”
“It seems that you have $1 fine on your card. Unless you pay the fine, I cannot check out these books for you.”
The girl remained silent for a few moments before she asked innocently, “Can I pay the fine tomorrow? I don’t bring any money today.” But the librarian shook her head and dismissed her polite request. The girl looked devastated and tears started to well up in her eyes. I could see how much she wanted to borrow those books, so I fished in my front pocket for one dollar bill as I approached the counter. I placed the $1 note next to the books,
“Excuse me, ma’am. This is to pay her fine. Can she borrow these books now?”
The librarian looked at me, shifted her eyes to the $1 note and then to the little girl. She nodded, took the money and scanned the books. The girl was beaming with the most brilliant smile I have ever seen. I could feel blood rushing to my face and my cheeks started to get red.
You see, diary, I am shy around the opposite gender – especially the cute type. So I quickly escaped the scene so that nobody could see me blushing. I wanted to go home but the same sweet voice stopped me in my track, again.
Diary, you know how nervous I get around girls. As I heard her voice, I quickened my pace hoping to lose her but she was persistent. She tried to catch up to me, walking briskly, with the books she borrowed in her arms.
“Hey! Wait for me!”
The louder she called for me, the faster I walked. And faster. Much faster.
I stopped. I turned around. I saw the girl lying flat on the ground, her books scattered around her. I ran towards her, helping her to get back on her feet.
“Are you okay?”
“I’m fine. Thanks a heap!”
My face was red.
That brilliant smile again. “Tasha. That’s my name. What’s your name?”
“Call me Liam.”
Tasha and I, we became close friends after that. We often went to the library together. She loved to describe the books she had finished reading, always telling me to start reading them too. So diary, that’s how I began to view books differently.
“You didn’t recognise me? Don’t tell me I look fat now,” said Tasha jokingly. I shook my head and explained that seeing her in the bookstore I visit three times a week is the last thing I could think of because I had never seen her in the bookstore before. After all, it was a decade ago when I last saw her in the library after her family had to move following her father’s redeployment.
“I’m so glad I meet you today,” I confessed. My heart rate increased, my forehead began to sweat.
“Same here,” she smiled. “Uh-oh, can’t chitchat with you now. Boss is back from his errand. How about we go out this weekend?”
My heart skipped a beat. Tasha beat me to asking her out this weekend.
“S-sure. I’ll see you soon.”
I approached the entrance, ready to leave.
“Don’t forget to call me tonight,” she winked, then continued her work as if nothing happened. I walked past the entrance and my heart almost exploded with joy.
I am such a fool. How am I supposed to call a girl when I don’t even have her number? *sigh*
P/S: Don't worry, diary. Everything's under control. Tasha left her number at the back of the receipt. Now I'm going to call her. Good night, diary.
So. How was this short story? Kindly leave your thoughts and comments. I really appreciate it. :D