I saw that face. A sad face it was. It hurt. I could see the culmination of a lifetime of experiences on it. The rosy cheeks were streaked with the epiphany of a morose existence. It was a beautiful face, though. Chaste and ethereal in its sweet innocence.
Those azure eyes searched for something in the void around them. They did not know what they were searching for. They did not know if the search would ever be over. How the hopeful deductions of a gentle soul work was lost on them.
That face remained radiant, though, as if the glittering hope will ever be fulfilled. You could feel it staring into your soul, realizing your deepest secrets and desires. It spoke into my being in a low, silent whisper. The enigma of life unravelled inside, a torrent of emotions overwhelming my heart.
All around me were the immaterial sounds of shells ringing, as the world itself unravelled to the whims of man. The silence screamed. It spoke to me. Just me. It spoke to me as the world fell apart. It spoke to me as ambitions clashed. It spoke to me as innocence died.
I could notice on that pale face, the apparent freedom souls fought for. In that moment, I melted into a surreal expanse. I remembered the day I met her. Between the dusty bookshelves of the public library, where ancient knowledge met modern wisdom, where lives were created, worlds destroyed, where enlightenment occurred every day, she stood.
She was the simplest being in my entire world. Her simplicity bewitched me. I had always believed that I would find love amidst the cozy warmth of my beloved books. And I did. The old books emanated that beautiful perfume, which carried my feeling through the air. Our eyes met. Those were the eyes of a reader. We glanced at each other for a second. That was enough. It was as if the world had been composed of us for a moment, just us.
I have always heard people say that some things stay with us forever. I had not known what it meant until that moment. No matter what, that face and those shimmering eyes are something I will never forget. That tinged visage, gurgling with the amazed curiosity of a child, holding a book as if it meant the world to her, and perhaps it did, was inexplicably satisfying. When we finally met, it was not us that did. It was a union of those tantalizing words, words that broke free and enriched us. The world of books was our common love. It was what we lived for, and would die for if need be. We never recommended each other. Both of us were aware of the fact that reading is a discovery in time. A journey. An imposition is the worst thing for a reader. I admired her for that. So it went. Those days tripped by on rosy wings, each moment captured in the frame of time, preserved in the glory of calm. Until.
The public library was where we ended up at the end of the day. That feeling of being among the silent guardians of humanity was what we craved every moment. Whatever book she picked, she also had to pick a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird. Not just any copy, a particular first edition, with its spine damaged, with an intoxicating smell, the pages a warm yellow. She never borrowed it, just picked it up whenever she came and read a few pages. It was always there, in that same spot, waiting to be caressed by her tender hands, to be felt and breathed in. It was not just something as transient as her favourite book, it was her life.
That was when the turmoil of mankind ripped apart the heart of civilization and chaos took control of that sanctum of peace. Our life was burning in front of our eyes. I pulled her and we ran. Just as safety was a few feet away, she stopped. A moment. I stared at her. “The book. My book.” I could not say anything. She turned and ran back. I tried to stop her, but I couldn’t.
Sounds rose and seized. Everything vanished. I held that unapologetic face in my hands. A teardrop from my eyes stained it. I wanted to drown in that sea that were her eyes. The book was there. It was in her hands. Even in that eternal sleep, she held it with all her life. I could just stare at her and weep. Weep for myself, for my love, for my life. It was over.
To this day, the thought that it was a wrong decision strikes my mind. But then, I realize how hollow I sound. I would have done the same. One who understands our world knows it’s not just about the book. It’s what it holds. A part of her soul resided in those ruffled pages. Waiting for her, calling for her. As I mentioned, it was her life. What broke me was that she was mine. I still read passages to her grave, and I can still feel her cold whisper in my ears. As long as I have her book, I have her. Her soul, her life.