Monday, 1 August 2016

The old man in the second-hand bookshop

The man in the bookshop waits for me. I assume he does, a little bit in his heart every day.
When you come up from London to Edinburgh you notice how nice life could be. When it’s sunny it’s even more striking. Better dogs, more frequent snatches of conversation and shared nods and alrights. And here in Edinburgh you get called ‘pal’ in tempered tones of aggression always, and it feels nice. Manageable. Friendly without overdoing it. Not wanky.
I passed Greyfriar’s Bobby with his metallic snub nose, all naked and shiny from being over-rubbed. I got crisps with my sandwich instead of salad, because eating out means not having to be healthy and enjoying life. I pass a charity shop every five hundred meters filled with cardigans and desks (and one cat in the window) and it makes me happy. Edinburgh has to be one of the most pleasant cities to live in. But likely if I said that to someone in passing they’d condescend the comment like a Londoner with ‘If you can afford it’ but then again maybe they’re all just capitalising and hitching up the prices threefold whilst the Festival’s on. I would. Because the southerners coming up here with their selfie-sticks and lack of self-awareness think coffee is worth £4.50 so serve it to them for that.
There is one second-hand bookshop with its shelves immaculately ordered in to categories: modern drama, crime, classical drama, poetry, fiction, non-fiction, American literature, history, ancient history and gardening. Everything really. I asked the white-haired man in the light-blue short-sleeved shirt, ‘Do you have any books by Jonathan Coe?’ because I had finished one of his stranger novels on the train ride up and I was totally intrigued.
The bookshop owner had in fact approached me whilst I was in the fiction section looking up authors’ surnames, I was in section C already and he had just caught me in the nick of time to lend me a helping hand right when I needed it. Good intervention. He seemed glad I knew what I was looking for; so he could actually be helpful I predict because you must get nonsensical requests working in a book store, as we all remember from Notting Hill and Dylan Moran’s acting part.
‘You're in the right place,’ he said with a smile that said I’m proud of you for knowing your alphabet and index systems ‘let me have a look for you.’ He bends down and searches the spines with his index finger.
‘Anything will do’ I say trying to be helpful, but of course I do want that specific author so not anything.
‘Nothing on the shelf.’ He says with not a slump in mood but a wistfulness.
‘Sorry. Coe comes in a lot but we don’t seem to have him in stock.’ He seems amused by it, like he should know where the author was hiding in the book store but has lost all recollection of where he saw him last.
‘That’s absolutely fine.’ I say.
I’m more pleased to have met the old man than to have found this book. I won’t tell him that because that’s too much feeling from a customer I presume. It’s sunny outside and I will keep welling up with feeling whilst my romance with this city lasts (two more days at the most).
The next day and the next day, and the next few days after that, I pass his second-hand bookshop and I see it every time but daren’t go in.
Not out of fear or awkwardness as such, I am not sure why, maybe because I like the illusion of the story I am playing in my head every time I walk past and see in the shop window display not one but two Jonathan Coe books staring at me from behind the glass. I don’t even pause infront of the window incase he sees me and waves at me to come in, or points at the two books with his friendly face and warm heart.
I should just go in.
It would probably make his day.
But what if I did.
And he didn’t remember who I was.
What if he went to all that trouble.
To find those books and put them out.
But what if they’d been out in the window all along.
And he had forgot.
What if they are meaningless.
And the books don’t mean a thing.
That's why I’ll leave it.
Yes much nicer to leave it.
Because I like the story better.
Than ever finding out the truth.