The Library

If you can believe it, I’ve never been in love.

I’ve read about it, but I guess it’s different from really being in it, no?

My bros in school tell me I need to get a girlfriend before high school is over. Kissing and having sex is fun, they tell me.

It doesn’t sound that fun to me really. While they spend most of their dollars on clothes and their hours in the gym, I spend mine on books and in the library.

I’m not a nerd. At least that’s not what I like to call myself. I’d rather call myself… knowledge curious. You can say it means the same thing, but – I just like it that way.

It’s not that I don’t think about having a girlfriend. I’m a normal guy, after all. But, I just don’t have the time for anyone else – I’m married to my books.

One of which is about to be taken from me.

Two hours ago the librarian called me to return a book: The Chronicles of Narnia. I’ve read this book cover to cover more than ten times but to be real honest with you I’m still not ready to return it.

‘Can I keep it for another two weeks? I still need to read it one more time,’ I try my sweet talk on Ms. Jong, the head librarian.

But it’s not working today.

‘No, somebody already reserved it. I can’t renew it again for you Brian,’ she tells me, ‘and besides, you’ve had that book for two months! What else do you want to find out from it?’

‘Bu-‘ I wanted to try my sweet talk one more time. Normally I would ask to get a ‘friendship’ extension. I’ve known her long enough to not be embarrassed to ask for leeways here and there.

But not today. Today Ms. Jong’s voice was stern. She was serious. My chances of getting an extension was pretty slim.

‘Alright, I’ll head on over in a bit,’ I told her and ended the call.

I kiss the book – I know, it’s disgusting – and bid it good bye before putting it inside my messenger bag. I was one hour late for my morning class but I hopped on my bicycle and cycled to the library anyway.

Late or early – it didn’t really matter to me. I never paid attention in class anyway.

*

‘There you go,’ I slammed the book in front of the librarian, producing a loud THUMP. A few students nearby looked up from their books, annoyed. I reciprocated their annoyed faces with a smile.

‘Shhh!’ the librarian hissed at me as she took the book from the table top to be scanned.

I looked at the librarian as she scanned my book. Her face didn’t seem too familiar. Was she new? As I observed her, I notice an intense wrinkle form between her eyebrows.

Then, she let out a quick huff of air through her nostrils, seeming extra annoyed.

What had happened? I wondered.

‘Sir,’ she said to me, ‘your book is overdue one and a half months!’

Astonished at what I heard, I felt my eyes almost pop out of their sockets.

One and a half months? What did she mean? I had been renewing my books all these weeks. It couldn’t be.

‘Huh? What do you mean?’ I asked her.

She turned the screen in front of her toward me and pointed to the section on dates.

‘Twelfth of March, you borrowed the book,” she said, still annoyed, “that means it was due on the twenty-sixth.”

She pursed her lips as she took out a calculator to calculate how much I owed the library for not returning The Chronicles of Narnia on time.

‘Ten cents a day – you are overdue for forty-two days. That’s four ringgit and twenty cents,’ she said, placing the calculator with the value four points two on the table top.

Still shocked, I stood there stunned in front of the librarian in disbelief for a full minute.

‘Hold on a minute,’ I said.

She rolled her eyes, probably thinking I was one of those students who was planning an excuse to get out of paying for my mistake.

‘Eh, can faster or not? There are a few students behind you okay,’ she said, motioning to the queue that was quickly forming behind me.

‘Okay, okay, I just need to make a call,’ I replied.

She rolled her eyes again.

I check my call log for that morning and clicked on Ms. Jong’s number. But, this time, instead of hearing Ms. Jong’s usual ‘Hello, this is Ms. Jong speaking’, a voice from an automated machine replied, ‘The number you dialed is not in service.’

I tried again.

‘The number you dialed is not in service.’

I looked at the number. It was correct. It was working this morning, why wasn’t it now?

‘HELLO SIR,’ the librarian said to me, almost shouting, ‘PLEASE – can you pay first so I can service the other students?’

Shaken, I didn’t really know what to do.

She pointed at the calculator again.

‘Four ringgit twenty cents also don’t have ah?’ she said, her annoyance growing.

‘Have, have,’ I replied, searching all over my body for my wallet.

Shit, did I leave it at home? I wondered when I couldn’t find it at its usual spot in my jeans pocket.

I smiled at the librarian and motioned my hand to ask her to wait a little more as I ruffled through my bag to find any carelessly dropped notes inside.

The librarian’s face wrinkled some more. Her impatience growing, she started tapping her fingers on the computer keyboard, producing a cheek, cheek, cheek sound.

After about three minutes, I found a crumpled up five ringgit note in my pencil case. Today was my lucky day.

I neatened the note on the table top before handing it over to her. Once again, she rolled her eyes at me.

One, two, three. Three times – she’s broken the record for the most number of times a woman has rolled her eyes at me.

She opened the drawer in front of her to look for my eighty cents change.

‘Nah, your eighty cents,’ she said, passing me four twenty cents coins.

‘Thanks,’ I say, packing up my bag, preparing to leave.

Just as I was about to step away from the counter, the librarian suddenly called out to me and said, ‘Sir ah, wait!’

‘Huh? What’s up?’ I ask her.

‘Your other books – all also overdue. Wanna pay now also?’

I winced in disbelief. I couldn’t believe what I had heard.

I thought there was a glitch on the renewal period of The Chronicles of Narnia but now all my books were overdue?

How could that be? I clearly remember calling Ms. Jong on the day the books were due.

‘Um,’ I chipped, ‘doesn’t calling up a librarian to get a book renewed still work here?’

‘Yah, still can do that,’ she replied.

‘Yeah, so that’s what I’ve been doing for all my books. And now they are overdue. I’m so confused.’

She wrinkled her eyebrows.

‘Who did you call?’ she asked.

‘Ms. Jong,’ I said.

On hearing the name, the librarian jerked in her seat. Her eyes, which were half closed before, were suddenly fully opened, starring straight me, unblinkingly.

The two other librarians on duty turned themselves slightly toward us, then laid their eyes on me.

A deafening silence fell around the area surrounding the four of us.

What was going on? Why were they acting that way? Don’t they know her? I wondered.

Finally, after a pause that seemed to last forever, one of them stood up and said, ‘Ms. Jong – she…’

‘Just tell him,’ another probed, then looked away.

‘She doesn’t work here anymore.’

She didn’t? Then why was she taking all all my calls and helping me extend my books?

‘No wonder!’ I exclaim in relief, ‘I’ve been asking her to renew my books this past month and a half. Maybe there was a mistake somewhere.. I guess if we could just call her to check-‘

Before I could finish my sentence, the librarian interrupted me. ‘Sir,’ she said, ‘Ms Jong… she died in a car accident two months ago.’

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