The door swings open, a small bell tinkles, and the door creaks shut, feet are wiped and then a pause to allow the eyes to catch up with the sudden change from sunlight to twilight. Disembodied footsteps appear from a back room followed not long after by the body that produced them; an oddly solemn man of about 50 (or perhaps more) who forces a ‘hello’ then sits behind the counter partly to watch you and partly to look at empty documents so he looks busy. It is not clear if he is watching and waiting for you to buy something and leave him in peace or making sure you don’t nick anything, either way he is clearly not a customer friendly man – they never are.
But one does not waste time looking at a dragon when you are surrounded by his gems; shelves hug all the walls and extend into the room in row upon row, another room through an archway reveals even more shelves all laden with treasure. One’s mind struggles to contain its exquisite joy and the mouth clamps shut to prevent the escape of a childish squeal as the eyes widen in order to take in the whole shop; it is too much, there are so many, what hidden delights are tucked away in this place? Maybe there is nothing, just the usual fare, or maybe lady luck herself will spring off a shelf and shower you with wonder.
A deep breath to calm oneself before the plunge, the smell of must and varnish and old carpet and then that unmistakable aroma of age that only books can acquire wafts into your nostrils, the air is so still it feels like being in a photograph, only dust motes swim through the open space like microscopic seeds while the slightest breath of movement is absorbed by the masses of paper. A short walk finds the right section; eyes flick over the bookshelves like computer scanners – sifting through the piles of beautiful books, the experienced can isolate a desired volume from a stack with little difficulty.
A possible treasure is spotted; it slides out and into the hand, fingers gently stroke the spine tracing the title and author almost sensually, it opens with a rusty creak and the yellowed pages make the same noise as a dried leaf. All the necessary details are noted and ticked off – it is the one that was hoped for: the thrill of the chase is over, replaced by a warm feeling of satisfaction, relief and joy, a hint of anticipation is also in the mix – one can barely wait to read the long awaited words and then have it slide into its rightful place in the collection. A brief exchange of moneys with the dull seller is barely registered in the conscious mind which is preoccupied with clutching the prize book like a fragile vase; but patience is needed for there are still other bookshops on the same street; waiting like unexplored cave systems with unknown bounty lying within.