ANJALI’S SWASAN OS – HIS WORDS Written Update
I looked out through the window and saw the rain still pouring cats and dogs. It didn’t look like the power was going to return anytime soon. I looked over at my dog, Zozo, sitting relaxed next to Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë. His soft brown eyes stared at me, listless and uninterested. He brought a golden paw up to his mouth and then turned his attention to that. I smiled, more to myself, and continued talking.
ANJALI’S SWASAN OS – HIS WORDS Written Update
“No one reads books anymore, Zozo.”
My parents owned a bookstore and we lived on the top floor. We had a decent space, but it wasn’t pretty. There were many shelves along the bare cream walls filled with books. In one corner, was the register counter and in the middle of the room were 4 sofas arranged neatly so that people could have a quiet read. On the other side, it led to another room with more shelves of books.
There was also a cafe right next door, so people would come shop here and then go grab a cup of coffee. The place wasn’t fancy, but to me, It was everything.
I always enjoyed this place. I found comfort in the yellowed pages and faded covers around me. The musty smell that I’d get s I turned the pages, There was nothing like it. During summers I’d sit on the floor reading through pages of Charles Dickens and Jane Austen, as I sipped cold fruit juice. In the winter I’d settle down with a large cup of tea and curl up in one of the sofas, engrossed in William Shakespeare. And on rainy nights like tonight, I wanted to fall asleep to the sound of my mother’s voice reading me Chronicles of Narnia.
“Yes, No one reads books anymore. It breaks my heart.”
Zozo looked at me with mournful eyes as I went and sat on one of the sofas dejected.
“Nowadays people only love to read those classic love stories where the guy is the jock and the girl is the sweet meek kind one who falls in love with him. Every story has the word awesome or cool or some other slang like that. What happened to using English? What happened to the alluring nature of the language? Why are there stories about boys, various boys falling in love with a single female lead and her falling in love with the arrogant and handsome athlete simply for the fact he toys with her emotions and has a great outward appearance.”
I lightly crossed my arms and stared pensively at the wooden floor.
“Isn’t it too bad, Zozo?”
“How else should a girl fall for a guy then?”
The voice startled me and I jumped from the seat, standing straight with my muscles tensed. I had thought I was here all alone, I felt myself blush at the thought of someone hearing every word I had said.
I saw a boy entering the store, completely drenched. He had black hair and was wearing a black jacket over his white T-Shirt. He looked at me and sheepishly nodded.
“I….. I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you. I….I just s…saw that the store was open and since it’s p….pouring out there…”
“—Do you want a towel?” My offer cut him off. I never enjoyed listening to people read in class with stuttered words and bad enunciation. Yes, it was rude of me, but it was a personal belief that words spoken should be delivered clearly and precisely. As his head rose I watched as droplets of water glided down his cheek and against his gorgeous jawline before falling onto the floor. I had never seen someone so attractive stand in my store before.
“I-If you wouldn’t mind, then…..”
“I don’t mind at all. If you want, Take out your jacket, it’ll dry faster if hung out to dry.”
He quickly removed his jacket, revealing the simple white shirt. He handed it to me and I made my way to the back room, returning with a towel. I tossed it to him, in a swift motion he grasped it. I rose an eyebrow, but decided not to ask about it. He quickly rubbed it against his head and then held it out to me. His hair was going every way, but it was hardly near the point of being considered dry. I kept my eyebrow raised.
“Is that really how you’re going to dry it?”
He looked at me confused. “I beg your pardon?”
I let out a sigh and took the towel in my hands.
“Sit,” I pointed to the dark blue chair placed in the corner of the store. He stared at me, so I said it again. “Sit.”
He made his way over to the chair and sat down. I made my way behind it. He looked up at me puzzled, but I gently pushed his head back down and faced it forward.
“If you don’t dry your hair properly you’re going to catch a cold,” I said softly.
I began drying his hair for him, rubbing the towel against his damp, black locks. At times, my fingers would brush in between them and I found that his hair was incredibly soft. I watched as Zozo gracefully leapt from his bookcase and made his way over to where we were. He rubbed up against the boy’s leg and let out a soft bark.
“Zozo likes you.”
The boy chuckled and ran the back of his hand against Zozo’s fur. I felt him tilt his head slightly upwards in my direction.
“Do you always dry the hair of your customers?”
His voice was soft and his words were warm. I liked the sound of them. I felt my lips curve into a smile
“Do you always go into the rain without an umbrella?”
His ears got red. His embarrassment was rather adorable. His innocence was refreshing, like opening the pages of a new book. He got quiet and he relaxed into my touch.
“I was hoping to buy a book here”. His voice was in a whisper.
“A wrinkle in time.”
“Oh Wow! That’s one of my favorites,” I was smiling at the memory of reading it for the first time. “I’ll find it for you.”
I stopped drying his hair and he rose from the seat. He followed me to the back area where more shelves were there.
The smell of old paper and ink was always stronger up here, I always found it a welcoming scent that enveloped me like a warm blanket. Most of the popular classic literature was stored here, I had spent countless nights curled up with many of these books. It was the coziest place I knew in the store, comfort emanating from all corners.
“You never answered my question,” he said from behind me.
“Which question was that?” I asked him as we came to a stop. I turned a corner and slowly started skimming through the shelves noting the titles and author’s.
“The question from before… How should one fall in love with a guy, Rather, how would you fall in love with a guy?”
I thought about my rant from earlier and how he had heard it and flushed slightly. I took out To kill a mockingbird and then looked at him, thoughtfully.
“If I ever fell in love with someone, I think it’ll be his words,” My voice was quieter than I expected it to be. In truth, I had never truly fallen in love with someone. I had always wanted to know how it felt and though I had dated a couple of boys, I had never really experienced what it was like to love someone in their entirety.
“It’ll be the words he says, the way he says them…” I slowly moved my eyes towards a section of Shakespeare.
“The way he manages to enunciate them, pronouncing his S’s, lazily stretching his vowels… It’s words above anything else.” I moved my fingers across the works by Charlotte Bronte.
“Yes,” I whispered more to myself than it was to him, “if I fall in love, it’s surely for his words.”
I found myself looked down at the wood beneath my feet. I thought of the Disney movies I had watched as a child, the fairytale books I read under my blanket by flashlight, and the romantic moments my friends shared with their own partners.
I thought of the way the princes told I love you to their princesses, the chick flicks I’ve seen like 27 dresses and the proposal where the heroine poured her heart out using her words.
My heart started to throb gently. Thinking about this hurt. I was so envious of all of them, the way they had someone to hold, someone to call their own. Meanwhile I was cooped up surrounded by fantasies written simply in ink on paper. I was surrounded in fiction because I had no power to make it reality. I wasn’t the girl people wanted in reality. In fiction, I could be the suave, s*xy heroine who achieves her dream in the end. I could be the dark, dangerous warrior who risks her life to save humanity. I could be anyone.
“Because of all the phrases in every language there’s no just comparison they can find to their feelings towards you.”
I looked back up and my eyes caught the work of Madeleine L’Engle.
“Yes, if I were to fall in love, I think it’ll be because of his words.” I pulled the book off the shelf and turned to him with it in my hands.
The way his gaze fell on me was something I had never experienced before. His eyes were glowing softly and his lips were tipped upward in a smile. He looked entranced. My cheeks grew warm under his sight, I glanced away.
“That was beautiful,” he murmured. “And really poetic.”
My face grew warmer. “Here, I’ll bill this for you.” I moved past him.
As I did our shoulders brushed and I felt warmth seep its way into me and spread through the rest of my body. I had never felt something like this before. I stopped in my tracks and looked back at him. He was gazing at me in the same surprise I was looking back at him. There was a rosy pink dusted across his cheeks. I broke my gaze away and returned down to the register. His footsteps soon followed after mine.
We exchanged no words over the counter as I rung up the price and he handed me the bills in his pocket. We said nothing as I headed to the back room and returned with his jacket that had mostly dried. We barely looked at each other as I handed him the small plastic bag that held his novel.
“A-Ah, thanks,” he mumbled, putting his jacket on and taking hold of the bag. I could only bring myself to nod in reply. I pulled an umbrella out from behind the counter and held it out to him.
“Here,” I glanced out at the rain beyond the windows. “You’re going to need it.”
As he took hold of that as well our fingers brushed against each other and I felt another surge of warmth slip into me. My heart jolted into a quicker pace. He fumbled and almost dropped it. His face was crimson. He didn’t look at me as stammered another ‘thank you’ and began walking towards the door. I watched his back and glanced at the empty air that stood beside him. As he reached the door I felt something in me push my voice out.
My stuttered farewell echoed through the store and the air around me suddenly felt too warm. But I watched as he stopped moving and turned around to look at me. A grin blossomed on his face.
He had taken my words a little too literally.
As the months passed, I began to notice how often he came in through the door. Sure, I realized that I was always watching for him, waiting for his arrival. His visits became like clockwork, every day at the same time. But as soon as I would see him enter, I would lose him among the books and I would never see him leave. The times I relished were the times when he was buying a book. We barely exchanged conversation, but occasionally he would ask me for recommendations. I would always point him in the direction of the books and offered to help look for it, but he used to deny my offer gently. That was the extent of our talks now, it was nothing compared to that rainy night, but I was okay with it.
Lately, he hadn’t been coming in. I assumed that it was because the holidays were soon approaching and he didn’t have time to come here. Regardless, his absence made me a bit sad. I had hoped to see him before the holidays.
“Swara beta, Is everythig ready for the reading?” My mother asked me as she went behind the counter to work for a little while. I leaned on the front of it.
“Yeah, there should be plenty for everyone now.”
I looked back out to the middle area of the store where people had gathered and were sitting in various chairs, their attention pointed to a single person sitting on a sofa. It was the monthly readings the bookstore held to support young writers in the area, most of them between the ages of 17 and 25. Writers, young and old, were always encouraged to share their works—poetry, essays, whatever it was. Teachers often came with recommended students. I recognized few faces from school.
“Looks like a good crowd tonight,” my dad walked up beside me and leaned onto the counter as well. “Lots of people are buying books, too. We are doing good.”
My mother and I smiled at him. She went into conversation while I simply looked back at the crowd of people. Suddenly, a familiar dark-haired boy rose from a seat and took his place on the stool. With my interest peaked, I tuned in my ears to listen to him.
“W…Well, What I wrote isn’t as good as everyone else’s,” his voice shook. “I’m no good at this sort of thing, but I hope you like it anyway.”
He looked down at the piece of paper in his hands.
“She told me, She’ll fall in love with his words.”
Every cell in my body froze and felt colder than the air that tumbled inside. He continued on.
“At first, I couldn’t understand it. How can you fall in love with someone’s words? Words are just letters put together. Words are just meaningless things on paper. I tell a sentence now and it doesn’t have to mean anything to anyone. What is the big deal about words? I don’t understand it.”
I found myself leaning forward.
“Because… I don’t know words. I don’t like words. I like math. I like numbers. I like the feeling of opening presents on my birthday and I like getting an A on a test I didn’t prepare for.
There was a small murmur of laughter. I was smiling.
“I don’t know words. But I want to know them. I want to know the words she’s talking about.”
I stared at him.
“They say the pen is mightier than the sword. I always thought I understood that statement. Abusive words can hurt people. I know that. But the way she spoke about them. She understands them.”
I wanted to cry at that. No! I wanted to smile. God, I wanted to do both.
“I want to know the words she’s read. The words she’s talking about. The words that she indulges herself in every day. The words that make her laugh. The words that make her smile. The words that make her heart beat fast. The words that surround her. Because when she walks she runs her hands along the shelves soaking in all the words through her finger tips. I want to know the words she knows.”
My heart was beating uncontrollably.
“So I spent days on days throwing myself into these words. These words she’s come to love. His words, her words, their words, new words, old words. Words, words, words. But I still don’t understand. I don’t get it. These words go over my head and I’m drowning because I just don’t understand. I don’t know words.”
He no longer stared at the paper in his hands. His fingers had stopped fidgeting. He was staring straight at me.
“But I know her. I know that she likes to talk to her dog. I know that she smiles when she reads Shakespeare, or any book. I know that she’s not tall enough to reach the top shelf. I know that she likes to dry hair. I know she can talk perfect English. I know she wants others to love this language as she does. I know that she can lose herself in her book. I know she can become one of the characters in the book even as she sits right in front of me. Those are the things I know.”
I brought my hand up to my mouth. My heart felt like it was going to burst.
“Enunciate, she says. I know that I like how it rolls off her tongue. I know that I like her eyes. I know that I like her smile. I know that I like her voice. I know that I like her voice when she says words. Any words.”
I had started moving away from the counter and walked through the bookcases. My hand still covered my mouth. I wanted to cry I was so moved. I could still hear his voice between the shelves, my heart beating in accordance with it.
“I’ll fall in love with his words, she says. Even though I don’t know words, even though I don’t understand words, I think for her sake I can still try. Yes, for her sake, I want to fall in love with words, too.”
The audience gave him a loud round of applause as I made my way to the back room. I turned the corner and pressed my back against the spines of Rudyard Kipling and Charles Dickens, my breathing was heavy and I felt tears brimming my eyes. This wasn’t happening. This wasn’t real. I heard footsteps racing up the stairs and when I turned my head I saw him standing there, staring at me, slightly out of breath and blushing. I looked away from him.
“Were you really watching me this whole time?” My voice was a whisper.
“I first came here to study,” he said. “And you were always working, you were always so interesting. I couldn’t help but notice you. The way you held the books, the way you smiled as you turned the page, you loved every single word you saw and every word that was around you. The way you hugged a book after finishing it just reminiscing the story. Before I knew it, I was watching you from afar. I was entranced by everything you did. I wanted to talk to you, but I didn’t know how. What the hell would I say?”
I stayed quiet and he took a step towards me.
“Would I have anything in common with you? What was there for us to talk about?”
He took another step.
“That rainy night I decided I wanted to start reading all the books you read. But all I really wanted to do was talk to you. Your voice…”
He was standing right in front of me now. I kept my gaze on the floor.
His hand lifted my chin up slowly.
“They were so much better up close.”
His eyes glinted in the dim light. His face was so close to mine. His warm breath fell onto my lips like the summer air.
“Shh,” I whispered. My eyes locked with his. “Enough words.”
I pressed my lips against his.
Surrounded by my loving friends, my yellowed paged, faded lettered friends, I felt my life switch from reality to fiction and back to reality.
Words? They really do matter. The books that I read, the essays I wrote, the stories I thought. The words floated through my mind.
They enunciated themselves so well now.