A flaky torn bit of page crumbled in my hand as I opened the bookshelf. The remnant had left nothing to read. The collection is eclectic, but I would not call it my personal library. Along the years, I have stuffed too many things in there — photographs, a replica of a Swiss chalet, wooden toys reminiscent of a time I myself did not experience, fragrances, a chess set, knick-knacks that have lost their sheen and are not fit to be displayed in the more public living room.
My bookshelf is in the bedroom. Unless it is displayed without self-consciousness and intellectual arrogance, I dislike the idea of books becoming showpieces.
As the ash soiled my palm, it struck me that perhaps I was holding on to the books. Just holding on to them. I had read most, skimmed through a few again and again. But now they are old, leaning on one another like inmates at the home for the aged. At dusk, I can see the pallor on their faces, the pages like slightly loose dentures. I hear the mix of squishy-crackling sound. Afraid that they'd break, I have become afraid to open the shelf. Dust has gathered.
I think of burial. I doubt if they'd be hurt. Do books suffer from Alzheimer's? Then would they forget their own existence and make it simple for me? Can they see clearly, has cataract set in? Does the vision of the erudite get dimmed? If only books would talk, they might have asked to help them cross the street or order a warm muffin without nuts, so that chewing is easy. I can see them beneath an awning at a café out in the open with a cup of coffee ruminating over what they are.
Perhaps they might like to turn invisible, like old people often do. But that is because nobody notices them. I want those books to become invisible so that I don't have to watch them degenerating. I don't want those dog-eared pages to stand out stiffly like starchy skin that looks fossilised.
For the past month or so I have been going through this conflict. I want to just pack them up and give them away and yet I have resisted. While I cannot bear to see them falling apart, I think attachment is also an issue. As with most things, I want to break free. The possessiveness is harming, a trophy that rusts over a period of time. Books that I have read are not my achievement. I do not announce with any flourish that I have read a bestseller or the classics, or the book of the year, the decade.
It is a quiet symbiosis. Occasionally, the references may come up in my writing or in conversation. But, they are meant to be for me. I am not sharing the book with anyone, in the sense that reading it has been about me and those words. The joy, the grief, the tempestuous moments are embedded deep inside as well as the wounds inflicted by the mere flight into another world. When the wings scrape against something sharp, they render one immobile, only to later realise that there has been some blood-letting.
I don't want to get this close anymore. I promise myself, but it does not happen. The books that lie neglected are a good enough reason to wake me up, to pick up the courage and stop suffering from the dependency on something that rests inside a shelf and looks so fragile it can never help me.
Was it about help? Books heal. They have gone soggy with tears, sometimes laid by my side, often on my face, smothering me. They have travelled distances and watched the scenery as we drove past mountains and lakes.
We became each other's stories. They must leave if they care about me as much as I cared about them. Our journey is over and I shall not forget. But I want to be free. Free enough to browse again in a new bookshop where smart covers beguile and the pages look pert and smile without making a sound with dentures. They don't need me to hold them. They won't break apart at the seams. Their eyes are clear.
Yes. Yes. Yes.
No. I am already getting attached, my fingers aching to touch their supine bodies, our minds meshing as we tumble in bed and cry over each other's follies.
And we will begin again only to end.
© Farzana Versey