When our eyes first met through a gap in the books, there was the briefest spark of connection that flew between the rows. Then we both averted our eyes. Staring in public at strangers is not considered to be polite. A mere five minutes later, I rounded the corner of the shelves to see what new Star Wars books were in, vaguely thinking to find the last installment of a Timothy Zahn trilogy, when I saw him again. He was standing, entirely relaxed, not knowing he was being observed, so deeply was he concentrating on the graphic novel that sprawled across his hands. I took a moment to peer at him, in profile. A lanky, interestingly untidy, mid-twenties computer nerd, and undoubtedly a pen-and-paper RPG player. One of the few types of people who rarely surface, and then, only for a short while. The experience was akin to hunting down some rare animal to videotape it for a nature documentary. By the time he looked up, I was already turned away, glancing down at the titles of the books, not really seeing the presented spines at all. I slowly twirled the stand upon which the Star Wars books were displayed, then calmly left the area of the library, moving away without showing anything except boredom. The game had begun.
Walking along a row of books, "Adult Fiction : D-F", I caught sight of an Umberto Eco book that appeared new, or at least unread. Curiosity piqued, I gently eased it from its place on the shelf. The other books did not fall over to occupy the now-empty space, knowing their own places as well as a child knows their parent's voice. Flopping open the front cover of the book to read the inside dust-jacket, my eyes drifted upwards, and through the shelves into the row beyond. Meeting with the eyes of the man. Again, there was a connection - then it was broken as I returned my eyes to the blurb, pretending to read it. By the time I had regained enough courage to sneak another look through the books, he was gone.
Perturbed at the man's fast disappearance, I crept to the end of the row, and leant upon David Eddings as I peered around the corner. Nothing. An old woman with needlework books under her hand looked up from a Mills and Boon selection to give me a strange look. I smiled politely and withdrew my head, and began to play with the twenty-side die that was always present in my pocket, rolling it jerkily through my fingers. Its angles were not sharp enough to hurt in any way, merely enough to simulate a virtual finger-massage of sorts. I shook my head sharply. I needed to be home within quarter of an hour, and I still hadn't found anything to read.
Strolling along one of the main rows that bisected all others, I kept my head down but eyes busy. Spotting the "Adult Fiction : H" row, I turned on a whim and decided to count how many Dune books were in. As usual, none of the philistines here had any of them out, and the library staff had still not replaced the missing copy of "Dune Messiah". I'd only pointed out that this was missing perhaps five times in the last two years. But then again, the library staff were entirely incompetent themselves, so this was to be expected. Several of the librarians who had received my complaints had never even heard of Frank Herbert's work; this place had a grand total of no books by Chuck Palahniuk; and I discovered Edgar Allen Poe's "Tales of Mystery and Imagination" filed away in the children's library. When I queried this with the librarian in charge of children's books, a dumpy blonde with a vapid smile, she took the colour-plate edition of the book that I had pulled out of the shelf from me, and gave me a puzzled book.
"It says 'Tales of Mystery and Imagination'," she said, still looking at me strangely. She flicked through the pages to show me the entirely-obvious coloured plates, "And it has pictures. It's a children's book."
Now I was looking at her with puzzlement. "But it's a book of short stories by Edgar Allan Poe!" I returned as my trump card, sure that this point would be appreciated by a librarian, "And surely that means it is not a suitable read for six year olds!" I was basing this assumption upon the stories contained within, stories that I had read as a teenager which had chilled my blasé spine.
The librarian's vacant expression told me that I may as well have been speaking in tongues, and I shrugged, saying "Thank you for your time," and moving off, hiding my annoyance with her obvious relief. A year later, Edgar Allan Poe is still considered children's reading, at this library.
Standing in front of the ignored Dune books, I wondered if I should report the library's lapse once again. At my high-school library, I got on well with both the full-time librarians, and they always asked me to second-opinion the books they had ordered in. If I recommended something, it was bought. If I disliked something, it wasn't. Yet here, the recognition between fellow book-lovers was not something I felt when talking to the librarians. Turning my head to the side so I could see around the metal at the end of the row, I saw the librarian in charge, and almost groaned. Dumpy blonde had been promoted. I didn't want to waste any more time, and certainly not in speaking tongues. The old sewing woman was passing by again, and this time shot me a malevolent stare and grunted slightly. Her demeanour screamed her thoughts - "This young generation have no respect for libraries, playing games in them, causing a disturbance. And they're probably on drugs as well." I didn't even bother giving her a smile, there was no point. Her mind was already decided about who I was, so I ducked back to the shelter of Herbert, and planned my systematic attack on the shelves.
The memory of speaking tongues got me thinking. Snow Crash was a book that I hadn't read in some time, and I was quite partial to a bit of Neal Stephenson. H row was close to G row, and G held William Gibson. I still hadn't read Mona Lisa Overdrive, and this was reasonably pathetic, considering that I had first read Neuromancer at age twelve. Gliding to the neighbouring aisle, I tracked down Gibson, only to find him standing there, reading the back of Idoru. Now I was annoyed. He had no right to keep me from what I wanted to read, and it was certainly what he was doing. I breezed past him, pocketing my die, noting that he had a Linux book clamped firmly under his upper arm. My eyes narrowed as I turned the first right that I came to, feeling his eyes on my back. He was definitely in on the game, and I was not at all pleased. Playing games of subconcious manipulation and noting strange occurences was my right, and he was invading this right as surely as if he had cracked it.
I stopped my angry walk when I reached Stephenson, and I perused the titles emblazoned on the varied-coloured spines... then froze when I realised that every single Stephenson book was missing. That had never happened before. It was rare for any to be missing. And I thought I knew who the culprit was. Jaw set and eyes blazing, I turned on a heel and marched towards the sign at the end of an aisle "Adult Fiction : M", wanting to find solace in David Mitchell. Ghostwritten was out, but that didn't bother me in the slightest, as I had bought it a couple of months earlier, but thankfully number9dream was waiting especially for me. Stroking its spine for a moment, I tugged it from the shelf, thinking that it was time the M shelf got expanded, and popped a couple of other books onto the floor in my enthusiasm. Stooping to pick them up, my eyes landed on a pair of grey pants that were visible through the shelves. I internally groaned. Is this some joke? How on earth did he keep finding me so quickly? This was not a small library, exactly.
Thankfully, the pants, and person who wore them, were in motion, heading towards "Adult Fiction : P". Standing again, I slotted the books back in place, wondering idly as I did so why I was almost helping out the dumpy librarian, and tucked number9dream under my arm. It only took a moment of self-analysis to figure out why I was tidying up - it was simply my personality. Moving amongst the shelves with an ease born of familiarity, I soon arrived at "Adult Fiction : W", where I stopped at David Foster Wallace to decide whether it was yet time to re-read Infinite Jest. No, not yet. I wanted to read it when I was a bit older, to see if my perceptions of it changed. Same idea would also be applied to Catch-22. Again, this was just me.
Still, there was something that I had been holding off reading for a while that I spontaneously decided to read... Gravity's Rainbow. I had known for some time that this book could possibly be one of the defining books of my life, so I had attempted to hold off reading it until I thought I was capable of properly appreciating it. I did not know if this was now the case, but with only one book under my arm, I would be back here the next day, and I only had five minutes to go before the credit on my parking space ran out.
Backtracking somewhat, I began scanning the shelves in the P row, looking for 'Pynchon'. Having overshot it, somehow, I turned my head back, just in time to see him disappearing around yet another corner. In my preoccupation, I had seemingly walked right past him. I was disgusted. If you didn't concentrate at the game, your opponent would eventually win. This was a giant game of cat and mouse... but who was which?
Finally, my gaze landed upon Thomas Pynchon, and Gravity's Rainbow was available. I easily pulled this from the shelf, and added it to number9dream, then moved its old neighbours closer together, pushing on the bookend that held up the final book of the row. Then, I noticed them. A pile of books, comprising a mere seven. Their titles were facing into the back of the shelf, and any odd passer-by would not have given them more than a glance. But I did, as I was most certainly not any old patron, and life's inconsistencies never escaped my attention. Slowly, I wrapped my fingers around the top book, and flipped it with a gentle motion. Cryptonomicon. Moving the book aside, I turned the next, Snow Crash, then the next, Zodiac. By now, I was impatiently shoving the Stephenson books aside and grabbing raptly at the next book, a larger one which was revealed to be a Far Side Gallery from the graphic novel section. The next was a Terry Pratchett, Moving Pictures, and the following book was the modern classic Ender's Game.
My fingers came to rest on the final book, and I speculated for a while, drawing out the moment until I could not bear it any longer. Suspense made the last surprise all the sweeter - the library's only edition of Tolkien's The Silmarillion. This was a book that I had been hunting for a long time, but which was constantly on loan, and I silently saluted the taste of the person whose books had been left. Placing the books back into the pile, I stepped away from them, resisting the temptation to snatch them up and run wildly from the library, giggling. One of the cardinal yet silent rules of a library was that you did not disturb other people's books. And yet... looking around, the area was deserted, and I could see nobody who had left them so temptingly. Then it was obvious. I let out a soft laugh of surprise. Him. And I was sure, in that instant, that these books were for me.
I couldn't afford to waste any more time, as I didn't wish to explain to my parents how I had managed to get a parking fine. Some people simply didn't understand the rapture that books could hold you in, the state of nirvana from which there was nearly no escape. And why would you want to escape, anyway? It confused me. Placing my two previous acquisitions on top of the pile, I pulled the nine books towards me, and hugged them safely to my chest. I hurried to the issue desk, and gave the blonde librarian a smile without really realising what I was doing. In any other circumstances, a stern personal reprimand would be required for fraternising so blatantly with the enemy, but I was on cloud nine. In a number nine dream, even.
Passing over my issue card, I couldn't help but wonder why he had done such a thing. A cough from the lady broke my reverie, and she shoved the books towards me, card lying on top, irritatingly not squared up with the edges of the topmost book. I murmured "Thank you," gathered my precious books into me, and made my way slowly towards the exit. Stopping by the doorway, I put the pile on a nearby desk briefly as I paused to inspect some new titles on display. Nothing interesting. Lifting my eyes back towards the shelves, they travelled towards "Adult Fiction : P", and locked onto the man. He stood at the end of the row, leaning against the shelves, just as relaxed as the first time I had seen him. And he was observing me. Our eyes met, and again, a spark of recognition travelled right through the other patrons, linking us together. Smiling ever so slightly, I brought my hands up before me, and clasped them, then gave a half-bow, ignoring the needleworker who was watching me with disapproval from her place in the "Queries" queue. I couldn't make out his face at this distance, but I could easily tell that he returned the strange courtesy, just as unmindful of the others as me. I inclined my head towards him, then turned, picking up the books, and left. If he had wanted to speak with me, he had had many opportunities, so I chose to recognise his right to silence. He had given me the same courtesy in return. I did not look back.