Mr. Burwarim was busy dusting the books on the top shelf when the doorbell rang. “I’ll be with you in a second,” the old man called out while his wrinkly fingers firmly held on to the old wooden ladder that had slightly bent to the side when he had shifted his weight. His free hand shaking a little, he carefully moved the books back to their original places before he started to slowly climb down the ladder. Only those who knew him closely could tell that his features relaxed the moment his feet touched the ground again.
Like his father and his grandfather Mr. Burwarim had spent his whole life in this bookstore. For as long as people remembered, Burwarim’s Crossroads had been the number one bookstore located in Fallen Oak Lane in East London. But since people had started to read books online or on their electronic devices that he hardly understood, Mr. Burwarim had become a little lonely.
On most days, he didn’t mind being on his own. He liked the company of the heroes of his favourite novels but lately, as he was getting older, he started to develop a few worries that had caused him a few unpleasant and sleepless nights ever since.
Straightening his back and running his fingers through the white beard that had now begun to touch his chest, he shuffled around the huge bookshelf behind the small counter to greet his new customer, momentarily stopping short at the sight of a young boy who was hiding behind the bookshelf that held the contemporary bestsellers next to the entrance.
Mr. Burwarim could only see his back for his eyes were fixed on the street outside, watching something or someone the old man couldn’t see from where he was standing. A few moments passed but the boy remained unaware of his presence. Adjusting the reading glasses on his nose, Mr. Burwarim eventually cleared his throat which made the boy jump. He must have used the wrong entrance, Mr. Burwarim thought as he noticed the boy’s dirty clothes. Whatever he was doing, not that the old man particularly cared about what it was exactly, he obviously wasn’t looking for books and Mr. Burwarim didn’t have time for this. He had never understood why youths had started to prefer Gameboys or whatever they were calling their latest technology over a well written adventure story. Maybe he was too old after all. Maybe he had outgrown the world or the world had outgrown him.
Still contemplating his forlorn existence, the old man absentmindedly started to go through a pile of papers and bills that he still needed to file for his annual tax return, suddenly feeling like he had aged another ten years.
“Hello,” the boy said, squaring his scrawny shoulders. Mr. Burwarim looked up and narrowed his eyes. The boy hadn’t moved an inch. “Can I help you?” He sounded a little harsher than he had intended but the boy didn’t seem to care. “I’m not sure,” he said, his head tilted to one side. Standing a few meters apart, Mr. Burwarim couldn’t be sure but for a moment, he thought he saw a flicker of excitement in the boy’s eyes. This wasn’t a robbery, was it? Surely even a child of his age would know that there wasn’t much to take from an old bookstore that people hardly visited anymore.
“Well… this is a bookstore,” Mr. Burwarim stated the obvious. The boy nodded, his shaggy brown hair falling over his eyes. Freeing his view with a quick movement of his hand, the boy looked around himself. “So I have noticed,” he answered as if he had just realised where he was. Much to the old man’s surprise the boy decided to stay a little while longer. Still holding on one of the papers he had picked up from the counter, Mr. Burwarim followed the boy with his eyes until he disappeared behind the shelf containing a selected section of English classics.
“What’s this book about?” the boy’s clear voice called from the back corner of the bookstore that easily resembled a maze room. Mr. Burwarim let out a faint sight and emerged from behind his counter.
“That’s To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee.”
“I know. I can read. That’s what it says on the cover. My question was what it’s about.”
Pulling his linen handkerchief from his pocket, Mr. Burwarim started to clean his glasses before answering the boy. There was something about him that he couldn’t quite grasp.
“It’s the story of an American girl growing up in a sleepy Southern town during the Great Depression, where she encounters acts of cruelty, racism and true friend–“
“I want to buy this book.”
Mr. Burwarim regarded the boy, his own disbelief and amusement reflecting in his dark eyes. Don’t parents teach their kids anything about books anymore these days? “That’s a first edition, my dear. I hardly doubt you’ll be able to afford this book.” Suddenly remembering the value himself, Mr. Burwarim quickly withdrew it from the boy’s grasping hands and carefully placed it back on the shelf among the others, immediately feeling more like himself again.
“But I want to read it.”
“You’ll read it at school sooner or later.”
“But I want to read it now.” The boy’s eyes lingered on the book as he spoke.
“Well,” Mr. Burwarim started in a voice that he imagined people used to explain the world to four-year-olds. “This book is expensive. You might have to find another bookstore and get it from there.”
Listening to his words and contemplating their meaning for a few moments, the boy continued to hold Mr. Burwarim’s gaze, taking some time to think of his answer. When he made up his mind eventually, he had decided to mirror the old man’s voice. “I like it here.” His eyes flickered to the book once more and back to Mr. Burwarim who continued to watch him intently, a mixture of annoyance and fascination playing in the depths of his eyes. “I’ll just come back tomorrow and read it here. We can talk about it more and I can tell you if I like it.”
And before Mr. Burwarim could say another word the boy had turned and scurried out of the door, the ringing doorbell remaining the only evidence that he had actually been there at all.(Photo Credits: Featured Image: Batara via Flickr cc / Image above: uhhhhlaine via Flickr cc)