Sunday, 9 February 2020

part 2 : The Bookstore: An AR story


Her roommate had badgered her relentlessly for information about the stranger who had visited her bookstore on a rainy Monday evening. She had gushed about the things that they had talked about and had felt very shy when she confessed to her roommate that she was mildly attracted to that person. When her pixie roommate had asked for a name, her face had become blank. Over the past few days, she had rerun that conversation with the stranger more than she liked to admit. The two of them had not bothered for an idyllic chit chat or formal introductions. It surprised her to realize that it didn't matter at all. Every evening when clock turned eight, a discreet nervousness settled in her stomach and an unexplainable disappointment when she had to lock the store without a visit from him.

It had been a tiring Tuesday and she had decided to relax with a nice classic before she locked up for the day. She was startled to see a tall cup of coffee on her table as she raised her head from the book that she was immersed in. As she raised her eyes to look the face of the owner of coffee, she got lost in the intensity of a pair of green eyes and her lips curled automatically to give him a smile. He didn't return her smile.

"The door was unlocked. Do you have any idea how irresponsible that is?" She found that she liked it when he scolded her. She ducked her head to hide a smile. After a few moments, he spoke again.

"I am sorry if that was out of line. There were too many bad scenarios running in my head when I saw that the door was unlocked." He gave her a sheepish smile.

"Its alright. I will assure you that it won't happen again. Thanks for coffee." She grinned at him. They walked in silence around the store him leading, her following. He stopped at travelogue section and pulled out a book which seemed to have caught his interest. She sat on floor and stretched her tired legs.

"How have you been for the past few days?" She broke the silence. He sat on the floor across her still flipping through pages of the book that he had picked out.

"I was traveling. It was purely business." He didn't know why he had to add that information in the end.

"Was it fun?" He sighed. She wondered if that was a wrong question to ask since he was flipping through the book and not looking at her and was being really quiet. But she had seen this side of him the last time they talked. It was when he was contemplating on something and collecting his thoughts before he could give her an answer.

"I am not sure. Traveling stopped being fun a long time ago. My office prepares my plan for the stay; flight tickets, hotels, car rentals everything is taken care of even before my plan is confirmed. All I have to do it follow the plan and utilize any non working days according to my wish. Apart from that there is nothing else that I would have to do."

"And you don't like it?"

"Its not that. You know almost all air ports look alike; a touch of local culture intermingled with international brands. It's like a city in itself. Given the time frame in which I hop between cities, I do most of my shopping in airports itself and I completely miss out on local markets and local culture."

"But that's how life now is, isn't it? Airports cater to those people who have less or no time to go and explore local cities in detail or even shop. Even you, who I think love to travel, have no time when you are on business. Hence airports morph into a dizzy metropolis."

"That is something I can understand and I believe which is good for local economy and is also a good solution for busy travelers. But internationalization of the local community is what bothers me the most. In a small town in central Europe, amidst charming little cafs you can see a McDonalds safely tucked. For many tourists, seeing McDonalds gives them a sense of familiarity in a foreign town. For some, it even reminds them of their home and is a place of comfort. But for some tourists, for example me, it is a reminder of the life that I have left behind during my travel." He took a sip of his coffee and smiled at her. She found that the way he saw things was very different from the regular mass. The last time he had told her that he was of different kind, she was thinking along the lines of having different tastes than an average male. It was not that at all. His perception of everything was different from the rest. It made her more intrigued of his personality.

"I come from small town so I guess I see your point. Lot of local restaurants, cafs, gift shops, bookstores struggle to survive around bigger brands. It's not as if these international brands are bad in any sense, but they sure bring down the uniqueness of a place." She felt a lump in her throat. She was having a tough time maintaining the finances and her partner had told her the other day that they wish to move out of partnership. Her option was to buy it out from them, if she wanted to retain the bookstore or sell the bookstore to some buyer and give her partner their share. He cottoned on her faraway look and badgered her to give him answers. She told him about the finances eventually. He sensed that she didn't feel like talking about it much so he came back to the subject of traveling.

"Which is the place that you would want to visit the most?" She took a moment to answer.

"Eastern Asia, I think. There are so many places to visit there. Places that we have heard about talked about and read about. The cultural, language, food, everything is fascinating. What about you?"

"It would be the same. Mostly because, my business has not taken me to those parts of Asia and I never had the time to take a vacation there, but yeah, it is something that I want to visit once. My most enjoyable vacation would be a road trip; alone or with really close friends. What is your most memorable road trip?" She blushed at that.

"I haven't exactly taken a road trip." He stared at her for a few moments.

"Not taking a road trip is like your passage to adulthood is incomplete. I am not talking about the romanticized road trips that you see in movies and read in teen novels. I am talking about those which lead to self realization." His eyes were amused. She raised an eye-brow at that.

"What did you realize?"

"During one of the road trips in the early days of college, I had an epiphany. I realized why I preferred brunettes over blonds." She burst out laughing. He joined her a moment later. He continued after he managed to catch his breath.

"What, you expected it to be some kind of a philosophical rambling about existential complexity or something equally inane?"

"Knowing you till now, yes." She giggled.

"Road trips are for fun, to be with friends, to see the world around us without any filter attached to our eyes, to mend mistakes and to think. When everything gets overwhelming, I drive towards horizon, without any goal for hours. Many a times, this self imposed loneliness has helped to bring down my stress level. Its lot better than drowning sorrows in alcohol."

"Maybe I should try it once. You know, to drive without an aim in mind."

"Maybe you should. Take couple of days off. If you think that world around you will stop operating because you are not there, then you are mistaken. The world might slow down or skid or have too many problems overnight but it will never stop turning." She felt tears sting in her eyes. She could not remember the last time she took some time off for herself. During her spare time, her roommate dragged her off for outing or some other outdoor activity. She decided to think about taking a break from normalcy in coming few days. But at present, she didn't want to think about the influence this stranger was having on her. It was too soon to think in that direction. His words cut her off from her thoughts.

"Oh, by the way, I have a present for you." She was surprised. She wasn't that big of a fan when it came to gifts but she was excited about his gift. He placed a small book in her palm. She laughed when she read the title - 101 things to remember when you travel.

"I picked it up in some cheesy gift stores that aim tourists. But I did learn one good thing though."

"What was it?" She was curious, as usual.

"Always check for water supply and toilet paper before using a toilet." She burst out laughing.

"This is the most useful tip anyone has ever given me. Do you know how humiliating it is when either or both of them are absent?"

"No. But do you?"

"Yes. But I am not giving you any details." They shared a silent laugh.

"Thank you for this book, your words and everything." He simply nodded and smiled at her.

"Your bookstore gives me a feeling of home. Its strange how I have not felt this feeling after moving out of my parents' house but in my second visit, I feel I am at home here."

"Moving out of your parents' house was difficult for you?"

"Definitely. I am one of those people who are very much attached to their parents. I have always looked up to my parents and they have supported me in every walk of my life. Leaving sheltered life and being in open for the world to see and judge is a brutal experience. Little things that I had taken for granted when I was at my parents started to look like a great responsibility; things like laundry, clean underwear, ironed clothes, fresh socks, changing sheets et al. I chatted with my mom when she did laundry. I held other end of sheets when she changed them. I missed those little interactions when I moved out." His tone had a faraway ring to it. It was nice to hear someone sharing this kind of details. Most of her friends, including herself, had seen moving out of parents' house as a ticket to freedom. She had never thought about it from the perspective of a parent. It could have been because she was never close to her parents that much. But she did miss her mother and her craziness from time to time. She shook her head. She remembered her early years in college.

"The euphoria of moving out of my parent's house died within hours of landing in my dorm. Suddenly I was facing a world that I had never seen before and I was on the other side of the country. It was disheartening to see the obvious prejudice in peoples' eyes when you get yourself introduced. Overcoming this is a slow and tedious process. But I realized that this attitude in people was something to be expected for the rest of my life. I think that was the first and biggest lesson I learned right after moving out."

"They gave you a hard time?"

"Not really, no. Sometimes, their words hurt. Later on I simply shrugged them off and moved on. But it took some time to get there." He got up and held a hand out for her to get to her feet. She saw that he still had that book in his hands - Global soul: Jet lag, Shopping malls and the search for home - Pico Iyer. Once they reached the counter, she asked him.

"Shall I ring it up?" He nodded and handed her some cash. Before she could bag it for him, he gently took the book from her hands, took a pen from table, scribbled few words and handed it to her. She accepted it without a word. She didn't question the reason behind his action nor did she try to find a reason behind her actions.

"I will see you again, with coffee, of course." She smiled and waved as he left the bookstore. As if remembering something, she checked what he had written in the book.

For you, in the memory of this evening, road trips to come, continents to see and epiphanies to be realized. Make your own adventures!!!


Tomorrow (Wednesday): They share their innermost fears, insecurities and talk about B grade horror cinemas, spy fiction and their affliction to night.

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