Friday, 7 February 2020

part 1 : The Bookstore: An AR story


She was taking an inventory of latest dispatch to her book store when she heard a soft rap on the door. It was a dreary Monday evening, complete with unexpected autumn showers lessening the in flow of customers. It had given her time to catch up on inventory and go through the accounts for past months in detail. She co-owned this quaint little book store which had a touch of old-fashioned library to it. Any book lover would immediately fall in love with the store; at least that's what she always thought.

"We are closed", she yelled. The book store closed at eight everyday and it was already few minutes past the deadline.

After a few moments, there was another rap on the door. Only this time, it was a little urgent. For a minute, she contemplated on calling cops. It was late in evening with very little traffic outside and someone was knocking on the doors even when there was a predominant "CLOSED" sign was on display. She rolled her eyes at her own paranoia and decided to check it out. Through the glass, she could see a man, perhaps in same age group as hers ' mid-twenties, had traces of rain drops in his hair and had was intently looking at the sky, watching the lazy drizzle. As she opened the door, he turned his head to her and gave her a tentative smile. The first thing she observed about him was his eyes. It was dark green, like the color of a young leaf in deep parts of the forest which is untouched by civilization. It reminded her about '

"Harry Potter" She wasn't aware that she had said that out loud. When he replied, his tone was full of amusement.

"Damn. I really thought I hid my scar well." She chuckled.

"Can I help you?" There was something intriguing about the man who stood outside her door. She was drawn to the intensity of his eyes, which looked as if they held a million secrets. His gaze on her was strong and unwavering.

"I need a book and shelter for a while from this rain." He told her honestly. She looked around the street to see couple of cafes open and bursting with people taking a refuge from the rain.

"It's too loud in there; not to mention there are too many people absorbed in their own little world to talk about anything else." He added.

"So, you prefer a book store with absolutely no one except for me that is, over a cafe full of people and warm food?"

"Always" The certainty in which he said the word made her move out of the doorway and fully opened the door for him to enter. He gave her a thankful smile.

"Are you looking for something specific?" She asked him as he took off his coat to hang.

"I would like to look around, if that's OK." She nodded. Once he disappeared behind racks of books, she shook her head to clear invisible cobwebs and started to arrange books from the latest dispatch. After nearly thirty minutes, she walked with a bunch of children books to place them in their own shelf. She saw him sitting on a small stool which was hardly a feet tall at the end of the aisle where she kept books for children. As she neared him, he looked up from the book he was reading and gave her a tiny smile.

"Interesting read?" She questioned him as she arranged books in their designated places.

"Charlotte's web is my all time favorite children novel. It's been a while since I read it though. I lost my copy of this book over the years of moving across towns. I don't know why but I never felt like picking up a new one." There was a hint of nostalgia in his voice. She could understand that to an extent. She sighed and took a place across him on the floor. She was attracted to the kinship of his company.

"I was six when it was read to me for the first time. The whole idea of a spider writing words from cobweb was extremely fascinating. In that age, I simply enjoyed the story for just the story itself and not how it could be interpreted as."

"You miss that innocence." Reading young adolescent books always made her nostalgic for that reason only.

"I miss taking words for their face value. I miss taking these stories as simple stories but look at it as allegories."

"Why Charlotte's web? I am sorry if you feel that I am intruding."

"No, you are not prying. This is actually nice." They shared a smile. He continued.

"As I said before, it was just the cool factor of spider creating cobwebs in the form of words which made me fall in love with this book. But as I grew up, I could actually relate myself, to an extent, with Wilbur."

"Wilbur the pig?"

"Yes, he is the one. I wasn't exactly the runt kind, but was of different kind. I loved reading and playing piano when compared to outdoor activities. It wasn't like I was bad at sports, but organized games held my interest for a very short duration. My parents were happy with me. But sometimes, I wondered if my parents preferred me to be more similar like my siblings." He had a faraway look on his face and was running his index finger on the spine of the book.

"So you didn't play any games as kid with your siblings?"

"I did, a lot actually. But deep down, I was never too satisfied with it. Games have rules and regulations, the outcome of which depends on a tangible evidence which requires an amount of intelligence and physical stamina to obtain."

"You don't like rules?"

"I like rules just fine. But for little kids, the whole idea of outdoor activities with lots of rules is defeated. As a kid, I preferred board games which made use of dice where winning and losing is solely dependent on sheer dumb luck. I loved rain as a kid because my siblings and I would coop up in family room and play board games for hours. Instead of my brother telling me how to hold bat he would clap my shoulder and wish me better luck for next round. In most board games, all kids were equals irrespective of their intellectual and physical capability. I liked that."

"That's one way of seeing things. Organized games teach kids to have discipline. It teaches them that no matter how good they are, they can always be better with more training. It gives them opportunities to pursue passion and makes them realize that there are some sacrifices required to achieve a goal; be it a game or be it life itself."

"I agree." She was mesmerized with the conviction in which he said certain things; as if there is no further room for doubt from the opposite party. She loved that aspect of certainty in others.

"Did you cry when Charlotte dies?" She wanted to know what he was like a young man. He must have been one interesting kid.

"The first time when I heard the story, I bawled my eyes out. Even my elder brothers were very supportive when I requested them to light a candle in memory of Charlotte when we visited church." They chuckled.

"When did you first feel that you shared a connection with Wilbur?" She was suddenly curious about it. She was a voracious reader even when she was young and she had started branding books as "kid stuff" when her peers had barely skimmed their book list.

"I think I was eleven when I noted that there was a change in the way I had started to perceive things. It was either that or it was because my perception about things was a lot different from kids of my age."

"It's definitely the latter, trust me." She grinned at him.

"I found out that some kids took competition to whole lot of different level. I was good at sports but I always believed that foul play happened only in TV series and never in real life. That was the first lesson I learned. On that day, I had cried for hours burying my face in my mother's lap. And on that day I lost a shard of my innocence." He grew quiet for a while until she broke the silence.

"It was inevitable, wasn't it?"

"Inevitability is a way of life. Now, I feel that it was more of a resigned acceptance of the way things were rather than being delusional about how perfect it has to be. As I grew up, I kept trading innocence with reality or I don't know if I was trading 'what I can be' with 'what I have to be'. "

"Aren't they the same?" He smiled at her. He was attracted to her natural curiosity and the way she accepted his long boring monologue with a simple statement.

"What do you think?" He was interested to know what she thought about the whole innocence thing.

"When I was young my interests varied between being part of a fairy tale to owning a rainbow of my own. Once I got addicted to reading, interests changed. They changed with time and with my growing intelligence. I would not say that innocence is lost. Innocence is never lost. We simply accept an alternate reality and call it our own. But deep in our hearts we always live in our own personal reality, where we truly can be what we want to be." For few moments the only noise in the bookstore was a faint sound of rain splattering on the window panes. They were both contemplating on their childhood, innocence lost and intelligence gained. When their eyes met, they both smiled and got up together. He picked a copy of Alice in Wonderland and handed it over to her.

"I will take this, please." She noticed with a frown that he had kept Charlotte's Web back in the shelf. After he walked past her towards counter, she silently picked it up. He paid cash to cover for the book and noted in surprise that there were actually two books in the bag that she had handed over to him. No words were exchanged and he simply stared at her.

"A little gift to remember that innocence is never truly lost." He continued to stare at her for few minutes and he suddenly smiled. He waved a good bye and walked out of the store. Just before he closed the door behind him, he uttered his parting words.

"Next time, I am bringing coffee." When she looked up from whatever she was doing, he was already gone. She felt a thrill going down on her spine when she realized that she would be seeing him again. She hummed an old tune as she prepared herself to lock the store.


Tomorrow (Tuesday): He visits her again, as promised with a cup of coffee and to buy a travelogue. They talk about traveling, moving out, epiphanies during road trips and back packing.



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