Saturday, 30 January 2016

My Dusty Loves

The day I walked into the bookstore it was raining peach flowers outside. But even then, when the world seemed mellow and existence felt crisp, all I could think about was how in sometime people were going to slip on those flowers after they had been crushed into a putrid black paste by boots and tires.

I cursed under my breath and pushed the glass door open. The girl at the cash counter who talked to me occasionally smiled at me and I acknowledged her with reluctance. With feigned urgency I walked towards the corner where they kept the kind of books I read.

I like free spirited women and 300 page books that tell a story, the kind you can pick up at an airport the kind that will keep you good company for a couple of days before ending, disappearing with out a trace, the kind that doesn't linger, the kind that doesn't tug the heart strings the wrong way. I was at the brothel of words now trying to pick a book that would keep me company for a few nights. I looked at them, ran my finger over the cervices of their spines, whispered lewd things in their ears, smelled their virgin pages, checked the prices stuck on their bodies. I felt a familiar arousal coursing through me. But that day it felt too familiar. Their slender bodies, their banal plots, I felt I knew them too well. The heroes, the villains, the damsels, the intensity of our encounters, the shallowness. Perhaps I needed another kind book. One that could touch me deeply, which could address concerns buried in the deep recesses of my heart. I looked around, hopeless, expecting to find nothing of that kind.

Then I saw her, huddled away in a corner of the bottom shelf, almost shy, trying to avoid any attention. She was thicker than the books that were around her, more prudish. Her name was written on her spine with golden letters in a black background, unlike the cacophony of designs and colours on the spines around her. I got to my knees and slid her out with my forefinger. The backside of her dust jacket was filled with praise from vaguely familiar names, men who had had her before. But I knew enough about literature to not take them too seriously. I opened a page at random and read a few paragraphs, the writing was simple and unadorned yet enjoyable. She felt good, her body felt supple in my arm and I thought that her price was reasonable. I decided to take her home. I took her to the girl at the cash counter, paid the price and walked out to the street with her in a brown paper bag. Outside people were already trying not to slip on the flowers. I walked towards my apartment looking down taking one step at a time.

That night sitting up on my bed in the yellow light and soft darkness of my table lamp I opened her to read for the first time. Like any new lovers we needed time to get accustomed to each other. I approached her with trepidation opening her first page and reading the words slowly, sounding them out in my head only to lose my self in her sometime after the third page, forgetting all caution, sweat, trembling, soft caresses, pleasure and doubt. After 32 pages I felt good but a bit disoriented, as if my soul had just entered my body after being elsewhere for the last half hour. I put her on my nightstand and went to sleep satisfied. Over the week I got to know her more. I became more aware of the fluidity of her motion, the flourishes of her language, the enjoyable inconsistencies of her plot. She was unlike any other book I had read before and every night she took my heart to places whose existence I barely knew of. Every night I fell asleep happy and exhausted, it was a magical time.

But as time wore on inevitable boredom started creeping into our relationship, poisoning it at a slow pace. I started to mistake our familiarity with lack of excitement and started seeing only her negativity, I was becoming blind to her light, her pages seemed endless, her story pointless. I started to crave the slender, virile little books that I used to read not long ago. On lazy evenings I found my legs taking me dangerously close to the book store, I overheard voices in my head conspiring, pushing me to go in, take a book, just look at them, that's all, no buying, just look at one book, they whispered.

I went in with my head buried deep in the upturned collars of my trench coat, perhaps the girl at the counter didn't recognize me. I moved towards my favorite corner in quick steps, there I saw many familiar names in familiar shapes and sizes, I gasped for breath. Here I was again at the brothel of words, but this time I could not shake off the feeling that I was committing an act of infidelity.

I took them out, one after another, trembling with a heady mixture of guilt, pleasure and forbidden arousal, smelling them, reading pages in between, plot summaries on their dust jackets. There is nothing wrong in reading two books at a time, the voices were trying to convince me, these are small books I could finish in a week, I wanted to be convinced. I picked one that raced my heart the most. I took the book to the cash counter, paid for her in wrinkled noted pulled out of my pocket in a hurry and walked out with her hidden under my arm. Outside it was snowing salt, children on the street were looking up at the sky with their eyes closed and with their tongues out.

That night I read the new book. She was much lighter in my arms. I savored every word of her even though I knew exactly what was going to happen next. We made love with out thinking too much, with out feeling too much, with detached pleasure. I was satisfied, even excited by the way she just skimmed the surface of my soul, not even trying to probe its depths. Before I turned off the lights I kept her over my old companion, who seemed to be asking me, glassy eyed in a trembling voice, 'Why?'. I had no answers.

The next night I choose to read her, mostly out of guilt. But as I labored through her lines in the soft yellow light all I could think about was the slender beauty that I enjoyed the previous night. Perhaps the old girl saw it in my face, as she too was terse and our love felt forced, mechanical.

I tried alternating between them, but somewhere I lost that thread. I found excuses, flimsy arguments, to read the new book, that I left her at a cliff hanger yesterday or that I will only read one page of her before going back to the other book, weak and pathetic lies that I told myself. I finished the new book in 10 days. I went to the bookstore and brought home some more like her. A thin layer of dust was settling on my old companion. I have almost forgotten her now. She has become a permanent fixture on my nightstand, almost one with the varnished wood. Sometimes as I reach to turn the reading lamp off I see her black thick spine begging me to take her back and I turn the light off before the guilt can hit my heart.


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