Return to the Library

Raph al Guul

After so many years he still remembers it all as if it had been yesterday. The library was a little smaller back then – it didn’t have a DVD-section and there were no computer stations in the front. But all in all, this place never changed much. Life did. Back when he just turned twenty-two, he had moved out of his parents’ house for the first time and he was ready to find out what life was keeping in store for him. Like today, he stepped into the library of this small town, a town which at the time offered affordable housing in convenient proximity to the city and the university. It was a Saturday and he came here, just wanting to browse with no particular plan.

Once again, he walks past the shelves like he did all these years ago. The books in this section are different ones now: natural sciences. When he was twenty-two, these shelves were the home of philosophy. By mere chance he found himself here just when a beautiful young woman on a short ladder was trying to get a hold of a massive top-shelf tome. She turned her head towards him, stepped down, smiled, and dropped the two books she had already been carrying into his arms.

“Hold on to these for me, please.”

For lack of a better reaction, he just complied and stared at her using both her hands to fidget the large book down. To this day, he can still see that smile in his mind, that oddly spontaneous and compelling first interaction. He noticed that the books she had asked him to hold on to were a peculiar combination of an atlas and a copy of Peter Pan.

He asked: “What are you trying to do here? Find Neverland?”

Meanwhile, she was victorious in her struggle against the shelf and climbed down the ladder with a heavy, leather-bound collection of Aristotle’s Metaphysics.

Taking the other two books back, she smiled and said: “Very funny. Thanks for your help.”

Her being on the verge of turning away, he said: “No, but seriously! What do you need Peter Pan, an atlas, and Aristotle for?”

“I don’t think I could tell you,” she answered, “but maybe you can figure it out?”

“What? Is it some sort of secret, then?”

She smiled again: “I guess you could call it that. Or just something you need to figure out yourself. And when you do, let me know – I’m Arianne, by the way.”

With that, she left and went to one of the reading tables. He never figured it out, not on that Saturday, or any of the other countless times he met Arianne after that. Initially, he would run into her at the library, where she got the same three books every time and retreated to the reading area. Later he finally managed to summon the courage to introduce himself and even ask her out. And although she kept teasing him about still not understanding the connection between a children’s book, geography, and philosophy, they eventually ended up going on their first date. That he still did not manage to solve the “riddle” she had given him when they first met didn’t seem to bother her as much as it amused her.

As he picks up Aristotle’s Metaphysics from where it is located nowadays, he can’t help but remember the way he felt back then: he thought that by some incredibly unlikely stroke of luck, he had met what many people would tend to call “the one”. Of course he still was almost a teenager at the time, but the sentiment felt all too real. He saw a future with her: suburbia, toddlers, the whole shebang. It all seems like a dream now, because, of course, things changed. He was at a conference abroad when he got the call. Inexplicably, Arianne had died over night. The doctors didn’t know what caused it, but all of the sudden, she was gone. The funeral was on his twenty-sixth birthday.

der bücherwurmWith time and much needed grief counseling, the pain slowly started to fade. Arianne’s death didn’t keep the earth from turning and he learned not to overdramatize an event as inconspicuous and silent as her passing away. A few years later, he got married and had two beautiful daughters; and he was, for the most part, happy. On Saturdays, whenever he had the time, he went down to the library, sometimes bringing the kids when they still were little. He always got the same three books, but not because he thought he would finally be able to solve the puzzle. He was never a religious man, yet he imagined that there was such a thing as an “afterlife”. He thought of it as one huge library that never closed. Here, you could sit down with Darwin and Shelley; here, you would get to share the knowledge of a thousand geniuses at once. And when he was in the back of the library, with the same old atlas and the copies of Peter Pan and Metaphysics, he always felt a little bit closer to a friend that had been long gone. By now he knows the books by heart, but that doesn’t bother him.

On his way to the back, he hears a voice he has been missing for so long, jokingly asking: “What are you trying to do here? Find Neverland?”

He turns around and sees her spontaneous and compelling smile.

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