Early morning in the city, I sighed. Is there anything better? A time for quiet contemplation; a meditation on stillness.
Birds chirping and leaves rustling. Sidewalks sparsely populated by dogs and the humans they tethered. Passing the library, a queue of people caught my attention. How curious. Lineups were the norm before doors opened, but rarely did they snake around the building. And why were so many dragging suitcases, large duffel bags and assorted trolleys?
Then I saw it. BOOK SALE the sign announced. Well, I shrugged, I don’t need any more books. Then again maybe I do. Where to put them? I’d need to release some into the wild before bringing in more. I wasn’t ready for that. Besides, the last book sale I’d surveyed had garnered nothing. Not a one. This unprecedented experience was disheartening and I still wondered what was wrong with me. Was I losing my imagination? My curiosity? My spark? My interest in everything in this great big beautiful world of ours? I should take a stroll through these offerings as a scientific experiment then review what I was doing with my life.
Breakfast first. I’d be fortified and skip the line. A quick change of plans for the morning, but this detour wouldn’t take long if the previous book sale was any indicator.
The line was even longer upon my return. Despite the fact that the doors had been flung open to the hungry masses. How had I miscalculated so? It dawned on me that I hadn’t before attended the first minutes or even hours of the first day of a multi-day book sale. A competitive environment hadn’t occurred to me. I smiled at my naivete.
I cut to the front of the queue–ignoring death stares all around me–and asked the security guards flanking the doors the wait time. I added 20 minutes to their estimate and weighed the value of this experiment. Wi-fi was available and I decided to sacrifice my meditation on stillness.
When security finally nodded my admission to the arena, I scanned the tables to identify a pattern. FICTION, ART, SCIENCE, SOCIAL SCIENCE, HISTORY, LITERATURE, CHILDREN, and, assorted LANGUAGES the table cards announced. A little broad. A truncated trek through the maze of overflowing tables–and overflowing boxes under said tables–revealed an excellent selection in equally excellent condition. Crowded aisles, boxes, suitcases, trolleys, and elbows everywhere. Price lists were posted at regular intervals as a reminder of deeply discounted prices.
Recon successful, I nodded and formulated my mission. Had my competitive spirit been activated by the tension in the air or had my dormant love of reading been shaken awake? There was no time for introspective analysis. I plucked a Nobel Prize winning novel in pristine condition from the teeming field of books and identified my strategy: focus on fiction, starting at the perimeter circling inward.
Soon my arms were overflowing and a bespectacled cadet retrieved a book I’d dropped while the mercenaries stepped over me. I needed supplies. Taking my life in my hands, I reached to extricate an empty box that had been tossed toward an emergency exit. My books almost filled the box and I hadn’t even covered half the terrain. I sighed then reminded myself I didn’t have the luxury of indulging weakness.
“This isn’t Sparta!” An exasperated voice implored above the din. “There are enough books for everyone!” I smiled at the guilelessness of what must be a philosophy instructor or commune inhabitant, or both. When I looked back down, a stealth commander had infiltrated my location. Let that be a lesson to not break concentration again.
I regained lost ground, rescued a beautifully tragic book then struggled to maneuver my box to the next target. Halt and re-strategize. Pushing through the pain, I culled hard covers to reduce weight. Paperbacks from here on out. Priority to trade paperbacks, I conceded.
Completing one tour intact, I looked upon my spoils with satisfaction. Some tough decisions had been made but my results were noteworthy. Time to emerge and debrief. But the box was too heavy to lift and couldn’t even be dragged very effectively, and the cash registers were clear across enemy territory. Quietly nudging it forward inch by inch with my pink boots, I was surprised when an officer asked, “How are you going to get those home?”
“That’s a problem for the future.” I replied, keeping my eyes on the horizon.
He looked at my matching pink tote bag and estimated capacity against the contents of my cardboard box. “Here,” he said, emptying his backpack and handing it to me.
“Thanks,” I said, incredulous. “But how will you carry your things?”
“Just like this.” He gestured to the few items in his hands.
“Don’t you need it though?” I couldn’t just take his backpack.
“No, I got it free at a trade show.” He said, showing me the emblem. “They gave me a lot of things.” He told me about the show, which did sound pretty good.
“How long will it take you to read all those?” He asked.
“The main purpose is inspiration,” I replied.
“Are you a writer?” He asked.
“Well,” I hesitated. “I’m trying.” I winced at how this sounded. What was wrong with me?
“What are you writing now?” He asked.
“A story about an antiquities dealer and a couple of other characters….” My voice trailed off. “Still formulating.” We talked about some stories I’d written as well as the festivals and conferences he’d attended recently. I couldn’t place his accent, a somewhat diluted Irish or Scottish, probably.
“I’d like to help you with those, but–” he started.
“No, this is great,” I replied. “Thanks again.” Both my tote bag and his backpack were filled to capacity. Transporting my spoils of war would have taken two trips without his assistance.
Allies were never far, even in Sparta.
Now, about that antiquities dealer and those other two characters….