Haven’t been to bookstores in a while

Especially those old dinky ones, with tall walls of books. Where you need to wait patiently for your turn behind someone’s head with hardly any space in between. Sometimes you are so engrossed with scanning the titles that you accidentally bump into a people or two. They don’t mind. They know what’s it like to be lost in this world. But you mumble a sorry anyway. You tiptoe on those creaky wooden floors while browsing the aisles lest you break anyone’s reverie. If you happen to meet someone’s eye, you don’t greet. For no greetings is necessary. A smile will suffice. You smile, they smile and a bond is formed. If they happen to pick a book you had previously read, you either assure or warn them with your eyes. Or if they allow, you may suggest something else.

Haven’t been to bookstores in a while.
Tracing the dust of time on the bookshelves, and reading the names of the titles as you go through, remembering the authors, judging by the covers. One book to the next. One row, and then another. Standing on your toes to reach to those on a higher level. Crouching to see those on the lower. You can be on your knees crawling and no one would judge you. Because they have been there, doing exactly that. You stand up again and move on to the next shelf. Like that you cover each aisle, each floor while stacking the ones you like on your arm. Holding them closely, delicately like a baby. Sometimes you get a whiff of the yellow pages.
If you see a vacant chair, sit down with your stack. Let people and the world pass by. You flip through the books now. You look for ink marks or scribbles left by the previous reader- “Dear Janet, For your sixteenth birthday. Love, grandma”. “Dear love, no one else can have you. Love, me”. You wonder why would anybody give up on the books gifted with such love and affection. You wonder if someone else did have him.

Haven’t been to bookstores in a while.
But, thank God for people I can talk about books with. These people talk in references. They will pepper their conversation with what Maya Angelou had said in an old interview. What Neruda wrote about in a lesser known poem of his. What book critics called a messy patchwork of brilliant idea. They will draw your attention to something nondescript and make you see its significance.

They will tell you about what they are reading and what they intend to read next. They will tell you what you must absolutely read so that you can discuss it together enthusiastically the next time. They will draw weird inferences and analogy between fiction and real life. They will tell you their own bookshop stories with proper name and location, and you silently add them to your list. And, if you happen to visit a bookstore with these people, and if they really love you, they will buy you a book.

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