On each tour Nancy and I would investigate a different section until we thought we knew our way around Durham well — for two Yankee women. It was a Tuesday in June. It had been raining, which is as natural here as a summer in Seattle. We had taken refuge in a cafe for a tea and a sweet. Sitting at the window my eyes kept searching the street for some clue to the meaning of this day, when I noticed a shopkeeper rolling out a wagon of books onto the wet pavement.
“Nancy,” I said. “Do you remember a bookstore on this lane?” Nancy shrugged, lost in the thick cherry filling in her pastry.
“I’ll be back in a minute, Nancy. I’m going to check this bookshop out before closing time. Here’s two pounds for my bill.” Nancy nodded and I picked up my purse and umbrella and ran across the empty street in great anticipation. For what? I didn’t know, but that cart of books was calling me as surely as my name is Gwen.
There were the usual paper back novels, used chemistry texts, outdated dictionaries, German grammars, and medical tomes. A cookbook looked interesting, but as I put my hand out to retrieve it, I was jostled by a passerby attempting to avoid getting splashed by a mini careening up the slippery stones.
When I turned back to the book cart — There It Was. It was old and worn. The dark leather binding was smooth to my fingers which trembled as I opened the cover. Undecipherable symbols reminiscent of some unknown language flowed beautifully across every page. I was not a scholar of Chaucer or the ancient Celtic tongue of my Druid sisters, but the book itself spoke to me as I felt the pages. CONNECTION.
This was an important document. Had the shopkeeper put it among the cheap sheets of romances and recipes by accident? Was it fate? I hoped the price would not be too dear. Just then a young woman emerged from the book shop (which I swear had not existed before tea) and asked if she could be of assistance. I explained that I was an American teacher taking a course at the University and want to purchase this old book if it was not too expensive. She smiled took the book, and disappeared into the shop.
Afraid of losing my find, I tagged right behind her. The cool mustiness of the shop’s inside contrasted sharply with the humid warmth of the afternoon sun, and I shivered. I approached the counter, piled high with books, as was almost every space in the small shop. Books seemed to have grown from the floor, and as I stepped upon the creaking boards they shifted slightly — breathing.
An old man behind the counter spoke quietly to the girl who turned and said, “That will be twelve pounds, mum.”
Twelve pounds! Please let me have that much in my wallet! this was not a Visa/Mastercard establishment, for sure. I saw the old man smiling at me over thick-lensed, horned-rimmed glasses.
“Thank you,” I said.
“That book chose you.” said the old man in his soft northern dialect. He kept smiling. Her teeth were as crooked in his mouth as the books on his shelves.
ZARDA is available as a paperback ore eBook on BookBaby.com