Thursday, February 2, 2017

Two Aisles Across

ABCs and 123s were the building blocks of our lives. We learnt to read and write through it. We stumbled. We mumbled. We chewed on our words. We twisted our tongues. We bit our lips.

Before we knew it, we became fluent.

We started picking up our own books. We started reading alone. We refuse to be read to. We no longer asked to be read to sleep. We wanted more. We exceeded our time limits. We stayed up past curfews. When the guards came making the rounds, we shushed ourselves, held our breaths, and waited till he walked past. Then, we curled beneath our duvets and shone our torchlights and began whispering the stories turn by turn.

We picked up different genres. We knew science fiction. We knew teen romance. We met Roald Dahl. We met Stephen King. We quoted Gibran. We were inspired by Sis Zabrina. We fought over who was the best - Disney or Holmes. The Wind in The Willows surrounded us as The Very Hungry Caterpillar walked past. Our minds drifted with their words and worlds. All the enthrallings and enthusiasm of a teen spirit.

Then we looked over the next shelf, we saw Kipling. We saw Albom. We saw Coelho. We saw Attas. The mid to heavyweights. Oh! Don't forget Dr Seuss too.

And when we looked down the hallway, leather bound philosophies stacked to the firmament, it sank in. This was going to take a lifetime.

But,  where we were right now, the book we're holding - we should finish it.

Of all those adventures we went through together, of all those shelves we climbed and booked we passed down for one of us to catch, of the many rulers we slid in between books to mark the titles we took out and stacked in piles beside us - there's a shelf that we didn't really go through much. We're still at nursery rhymes.

Somehow this shelf had many empty spaces. Books placed in ones or twos far apart from each other level by level. The little amount of books on this particular shelf meant we should've been able to finish the shelf faster, didn't we? Or at least we should've been able to move up the decks faster, didn't we?

But I guessed no. We're reciting Old McDonalds almost daily. We're at Mary Had A Little Lamb on occasions. The same thing day in day out. Making little progress even though we've been here long long since. We wished for the librarian to stock new books.

But she never came.

I wish I could learn more with you about this shelf. I wish I could learn more about you. Someone who  I was in the aisle with for a long time but barely knew when it came to this shelf; as bare as the spaces of the lower deck. I wish I could read more with you. All the wishful thinkings that never left my mind nor came out when you were there.

Is this regret? Am I regretting? Someone did tell me,

"Regretting the past because you think that had it change, it would better your future. It comes with ignorance of what's to come. It comes when there's no trust to what lies ahead.

But all you need is trust to walk forward regardless and realize there's no purpose in regretting."

I know you're tired by the repetitiveness.

I turned my head to you sitting next to me on the floor, our backs propped up against the shelf and our legs stretched on the thick velvet Turkish. We're at the end of the hard, thick pages of the pre-schoolers.

You smiled and I smiled.

I asked you, "do you want to finish this?"
And you said, "yes.."

We both put the book back on the shelf. But instead of picking up a Rowling.. Or running our fingers against the binds of a new title, tracing its words.. Or making an effort to go and ask the librarian for new ones.. Or moving on to a new shelf, even.. Or taking the ruler to mark for continuous future reading..  Or pulling the ceiling-bound ladder, holding your hand and tell you "let's climb this together and see if the upper levels lagi best"..

We went for the door.

You wanted to move down the hall. You wanted to go to a different aisle and so did I. Probably the ones beside us. I think the one by the window. Do you want the window or aisle? 

We held hands. Your hands intertwined mine where our fingers fit perfectly. Like the space between books created whenever we took out one  - hosting its own, holding out the same length of space, waiting for the return of its guest. It slids in, perfectly. Like it's meant to be there.

I looked at you, my dear. And so did you.

We both smiled. We knew it then that this was goodbye. And as much as I hate farewells, as much as I wished to never have to go through any of it, here we were.

So let our smiles be the last thing we remember. Let our reading tasks, bookkeepers, smells of recycled brown papers, thickness of pages, torn pages, makeshift bookmarks, scribbled sidenotes, wrapped book (obviously) gifts, recitals, book meet-ups, bookings, pillow (made up of book) talks, drama enactments where we played pirate and fairytale atop the grand table, the acidity of the coffee, the coffee stains it left, the rough surface of the pages of old books, the paper cuts, the way you sucked on the blood from of my finger, the "ow!" when your little toe banged against the table leg in the dark, the crumpled tissue papers on the floor that were of us at the death of our favorite characters, the spilled water you accidentally kicked because you were too excited for having found an old title you missed so much,

our shoulders against each other when we open that book, the tension and air oozing from the turn of the front cover, the silence of awe when we took our first word in, the smell of your shampoo when we both stuck our face in the pages, your right hand over my right as you began guiding me over the first paragraph, the shee-shick-lip as we turn the page for the first time,

be our remembrance. Anything but this.

So we smiled, as our legs slowly walked away from each other. As our hands slowly separated, our fingers holding out the same length of space, waiting for a return that will never be.

As we slowly move to our own aisle in different directions, turned the door knob, and start afresh from the past memories.


I miss my reading partner.

I miss the sound of your voice reading aloud Charlotte's Web as my small stubby fingers ran underneath the bold letters for you to follow. You stop where I stop - I stop where you stop.

And most of all, I miss the same voice I can hear two aisles across, reading her own stories to herself, as I read mine.

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