Life in the Library

There is a blond toddler in a polka-dot dress standing in front of the elevator doors, making funny faces at her reflection.

Yesterday, a mother walked out of the elevator not bothering to look at her two-year-old who still stood inside with a cheeky grin on his face and my eyes widened as the door closed on the chubster.  By now, the mother had glanced behind and calling out his name (was it Alex?) she came back and repeatedly pressed the button.  It took a few seconds but the door opened again and there was the imp still smiling in the elevator.
The mother did not scold or grab the child’s arm; just muttered something I couldn’t hear and walked away again – this time the boy decided to follow after a moment of hesitation.

Although our house is right by the intersection, which means that often it feels like I’m next to a radio that somebody keeps changing the channels on, flitting from rap to pop to pop again, and the car noises right out of an auto-show – the three buildings adjacent to our home are: post office, funeral services and library.  Just in that order.

And almost every day, I give my life in Nottingham a semblance of routine by walking over, getting a 60 pence coffee from the machine downstairs and settling on the first floor at a table to work or write or search for jobs.

As much as I love books, I don’t always enjoy libraries.  They’re almost always too cold, too dim, too quiet and full of nervous students.

This one is nothing like that – the skylights and wide windows make it a bright place to be, even if it is cloudy outside.  Every Thursday morning the librarians are singing nursery rhymes and shaking some tinkly instruments.  Almost every other day, a group of teenagers gets told off for something or the other. 
The other day, this young girl flopped down on one of the couches with two of her friends.  She put her feet up on the small coffee table in front of her and pitched her chair back, her languid confidence and no-shit attitude making me more envious than disapproving.  They talked loudly for a while and then I’m not sure what it was, but one of the elderly librarians came up and shooed them away.  They walked off slowly, lazily, mimicking her scolding as they sauntered off.

Teenagers in groups seem to be doing everything but reading in the library –
For example this trio of 13 or so-year-olds in front of me.  Give you three guesses what they are up to – talking to each other; working on a puzzle; fiddling on their smart phones?

The library has a desk of computers that is almost always occupied by older people.  They do use Facebook quite a bit.  But generally, I think they are here looking for jobs.  I know because I eavesdrop on their conversations to become more knowledgeable.

And there is Wifi for anyone who wants to bring their own laptop and work at a nice Beech desk.

The best news is – it is free for all residents! All you need to do is sign up.  And you have access to the warm space and all these books and resources here.
Ah, developed countries.  Do they realize how cool these resources are?
It is really a community space.  People know each other’s names, the librarians help out to make photocopies or take out print outs, there is a space for artists to showcase their work for free, book readings and children’s story times makes it such a nice bright bustling center.

Once I’ve applied to a few jobs or reviewed scripts for my old job, I set about discreetly observing people and making up stories about them.

Here are a few short ones to share –
Belinda, with her short brown hair and large thick glasses, was collecting a lot of books.  She piled them on a table in front of me after an apologetic ‘are these bothering you?’, which I brushed aside with my sweetest smile and an ‘of course not!’.  From self-help guides to David Bowie’s life, it felt like she had a deep thirst for knowing something about everything.
The pile of books grew bigger.
“Do you want me to help you carry those downstairs?” I asked and she thanked me breathily, “oh I’m just finding some more and then maybe I’ll put some back, I’ll ask you when I’m ready!”
Sure thing, learned lady.

A few minutes later, the pile was only bigger.  I suppose she had decided not to cut down anyways.
I helped her carry some 27 books downstairs.
“You’ve got some intense reading to do this weekend,” I smiled at her and she blushed, “oh, yes, yes, I really enjoy reading …”

Belinda had a small square bag with wheels that she now piled the books into and with a stubby wave, she was off.
She crossed the road and stood by the bus stop, wondering if she had managed to get an even number of red books and an odd number of blue books like she was supposed to.  I guess I’ll just have to hope for the best, she told herself just as the bus rolled to a stop in front of her.
“Thank you, love,” the driver smiled at her as she tapped her card and then went to sit down, clutching her trolley tightly.

Belinda lived in a small one-bedroom apartment not too far from the library.  As she opened the door she heard the mews of her cats.
“Hello Lucy, hello Kramer,” she greeted the tabby cats that rubbed against her shoes as soon as she walked in.

The living room was dark save for the orange halos cast by her old lamps. 

She scuffed off her shoes and wheeled her bag into the center of the carpet where a few books already lay on the floor in three piles: red, blue and black.
Belinda started taking the newly issued ones out and putting them in their designated places.  Once the correct number of books had been collected in each stack, she smiled happily.

Getting up from the floor, she slowly made her way to the kitchen to make a cup of tea.
“Don’t worry my dears,” she told Lucy and Kramer who were following her. “I’ll build you your home after my cup of tea.  Imagine that.  A lovely little house made of books.  Isn’t that just like a fairytale?”

The woman in the red sweatshirt was there before me every day of the week.  She sat with her books on data analysis and management spread out around her laptop, next to her notes neatly scribbled and underlined in a pile by her thermos.  She sipped her drink from the thermos in its small cap and every now and then, she would get a coffee from the machine downstairs. 

I wondered about the orange pram that stood next to her.  Where is her child?

Nadya, who was in her late 30s, moved from Warsaw to Nottingham after her marriage dissolved two years ago.  She chose that particular city in England because her favorite aunt lived here.  She was her favorite because she agreed with everything Nadya said, and at this stage of her life, Nadya needed that more than anything.  Someone who nodded at her and patted her arm comfortingly.

Although she had studied art in college, Nadya decided a change of fields was in order.  I think data management will lead to better paying jobs, she had said and Aunt Missy had smiled and said, Yes dear.  I do think you’re right.

While Nadya prepared for her certification exam, she took on babysitting jobs because she needed to make some money to pay for food and such.  So she went around the neighborhood with her special walnut cake and introduced herself.  She had a worn out, trustworthy face and soon she had built up a clientele.

When Nadya started babysitting, she realized it was much easier to take care of families where there was an older sibling.  In such homes, she would have a serious conversation with the older child and stress the importance of ‘helping’ her.  This gave her time to spread out her books and get some work done.

And then Nadya had a better idea.

She visited a neighborhood two miles away, in Stapleford.  She would take Greta with her, the 9-year-old girl who lived two houses down and often skipped school to hang out with Nadya.  There, Nadya would study while Greta took care of the babies.  Pretty soon, Nadya felt comfortable enough to walk over to the community library and study in complete peace, managing her time efficiently to get all her studying done and then going back home just before the parents came.

“Time to go,” Nadya looked at her watch and got up to leave.  She packed away her books into the baby’s pram and with a quick smile, she went back to relieve Greta, tuck the baby in and get 40 quid from the grateful parents.


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