Swing in. No pause. A brief greeting; eyes straight to the shelves. Eyes either light up or narrow slightly. Both are good signs. Silence, or an exclamation. Both are useful.
A lightning fast assessment, or the dithering on the mat.
Apology for having brought in a cup of coffee.
Apology for bringing in other books.
Apology for letting in the cold air.
Asking for directions.
Some visitors give surreptitious glances over both shoulders so as not to miss anything. Some boom greetings. Others whisper the whole time they are in the shop.
Some need no directions. Others want NO directions, ’It’s ok, I’ll find my way.’
Pronounce me lucky.
Some people peer in through the window for a long time. Shading their eyes, hunched and purposeful. When I look up, they are still there, staring from side to side as though watching trains come in.
People say, ‘Sorry, sorry, sorry, can I just get around,’ gentle voices, understanding each other’s absorption. Hands in pockets. The smile, not at me, but at the books – but including me if they can. Some people can walk and read with ease. Most can’t.
Feeling around for reading glasses that are now on a different shelf.
Gasping; young people.
Paying. ‘Awesome.’ Voices now loud and confident. ‘Thanks very much.’ Even louder, almost shouting, ‘We always come here! Bye, bye bye…great, thank you, bye….’ Growing fainter.
Low laughs. Low discussions.
‘Are you actually going to read it?’ Parents.
‘I’ll get it for you.’ Lovers
‘I’m not paying for that.’ Siblings.
‘Go and wait outside.’ Retired couples.
Some people stand and read their book right in the doorway. Some move onto the footpath but cannot go any further. One family stood in a group on the footpath around The Two Towers and talked for another ten minutes. They leave things behind, drink bottles, hats, a torch.
Small children bring random books to the counter and are called from beyond to put them back. One child bought and paid for The Lord of the Rings and said, ‘This is for me.’
A lady standing behind him said, ‘Well done indeed.’
People help each other get books off the high shelves, laughing laughingly. Tell me about the weather, or the traffic, or their shopping.
Tell a long story and ask me where they were going with it. But I can’t help them. Some people lean their foreheads on one arm against a shelf and thus read alone. Some people talk loudly to strangers about what they think and the strangers edge politely away. Once there was an argument about Scott Morrison which became ugly. Once, an argument about racehorses which became boring. Children pile and count coins on the floor which go clink, clink, clink in desperate piles of hope. I liked to change the prices on their books so they get half of their coins back. But then they look at me in shock, unhappy at having counted wrong. Now I count with more respect, offer the discount at the end. But many children remain uneasy with this.
Older men have a habit of demanding a discount, looming over me, tapping the wallet, confident, assuming I will ease their $9. I don’t.
Once a teenager brought me a box of his own books and would not take any money for them. He said it was to help me stay open because things had been hard lately these days. He told me about each book; they were not discards; they were his own library.
Children keep jacket hoods on, peek at me as they pass the counter. Parents press books toward them, the children press them away again politely and look at me again.
Women meet unexpectedly and laugh loudly, ‘What are you doing here?’
‘Oh you know, getting on with it.’
A parent says, ‘I don’t want you buying books just because of the covers.’
A child stops still in the doorway, stops walking forwards and steps from side to side in an astonished rocking movement, ‘This is like the movie.’ He holds up his book, and his family stumble and fall all over him. ‘Move, Marcus, don’t stop like that.’ But he is too happy. He can’t hear them, and he stays right there staring at the dragon, rocking gently and forces the family to divide and flow around him, finally scooping him up at the rear – by his father, who says, ‘Gotta go, little man.’
They go, they’re loud; I guess they will take the little man to the bakery…..goodbye…
Illustration by Rudi Hurzlmeier