Enigmatic Man

May 13, 2008
By Stephanie Campbell, Clarkston, MI

I shelved the books on the cart one by one, each into its own place with a multitude of thought and care. I breathed them in; they smelled of dust and mothballs, peace and quiet. This was more or less meditation to me.
A library is a legacy; one man’s books mean much to him and say something about his place in time and the knowledge of his world, but a library chronicles the knowledge of the whole world and all of history in all regions. The library both contains and refreshes the ever growing understanding of the world as an impartial public facility made and maintained to expand the comprehension of individuals. That is why I loved it so and why I applied to spend hours committed to familiarizing myself with its system. What I did not realize is the reality of the public that didn’t understand the importance of this place I considered so sacred.

At first I loved my job. It involved familiarizing myself with the dewy decimal code, and putting away the books in their proper place. The reality of the job came after the second week of work. No matter how slowly I managed to put the books away I was always done within the first hour. Then, my job involved sitting behind the desk. People would assume that it is great to have a non-strenuous job. But, oh, how wrong they would be. Four hours of staring off into space and not going crazy is the most strenuous thing in the world. You would think that working in a library one would be allowed to read a book on their down time. But Martin - my superior- considers reading not working, and at a job, one must work, reading is for leisure time. So I would just think about things for a while: physics, philosophy, art, etc.
I ran out of things to think about a week later. I could not think any more. So I began staring. At first it was at an indeterminable point in space between the stairs to the non-fiction floor and the window to the cathedral across the street. But, then it became about the people in the library. They varied so much. Mothers reading to their small children, men in suits silently reading the tanned pages of large law books through their spectacles, young boys who came only to check out the computers that we had to watch over- just in case, or old women in dusty wigs, loaded down with beads. She perused the aisles but never laid a hand on the books. I had begun to imagine reasons for their behaviors. Reasons became stories and stories became lives. Soon, sitting behind the desk was no longer idle and dull, I watched them and studied them and made up their lives.
The Beaded Woman had lived her life around fashion and adventure when she was younger. Her beads and hair were her best accessories. But the all years of curling, ironing, and coloring destroyed it in the long run. Her hair grew brittle, thin and the bluish gray that all things must turn before they become dust, and she hid it from the world with her elaborate and unrealistic wigs. She moved with a certain grandiosity that suggested she lived a posh and exciting life in her younger days. She admired the books but never touched them. Which led me to believe one of her lovers was a librarian. She was one of my favorite subjects. She came in on Sundays in the early afternoon and wandered dreamily through the Fiction and Mystery rooms watching the books as if they were staring back at her.
In order to confirm or deny the likelihood of my stories I would, when checking out the subjects of my observations, look at the name and address that came up when I swiped their library card. Though the beaded woman never touched the books, she did once ask to check the newspaper archives. Her name was Miss Astrid Johnson. She lived on the top floor of Kent Suites on Monroe Avenue. She was wealthy, and she must never have married. I watched the people meander through the library day after day for four months or so before it became a nuisance.
Besides Astrid, most people checked out books (or movies, or computers or looked in the newspaper archive or something), except for one young man who caught my attention. He looked studious, but he also looked messy and many other things that I can hardly describe. He could have been college age, or older, or younger. He came in three times a week, and I took to following him as quietly as I could, for he never revealed any information about his character. He walked straight, wore no odd clothing, just regular sweaters, suits, running jackets, and jeans. Yet, they somehow seemed irregular on him as if they didn’t fit his personality. He was ever-changing in style and persona. I felt he existed as my ideas of him were forming. It seemed like he was unable to make up his mind about who he was, too. He unshelved many books from every area and subject (and put them all back correctly, thank goodness). He read them so quickly that I sometimes wondered if he ever actually read them at all.
Then one day I saw him taking notes in a thin composition notebook. He could write without looking. I couldn’t determine anything about him besides that he was rather literate, and an approximate age: somewhere from seventeen to twenty-five. There were three colleges in the area. He could be from any of them, and yet he didn’t seem to belong to any of them, either. His character consumed me for months on end. Sometimes he felt unrealistic to me. I desperately wished he would check out a book or something so that I could just know his name. Just a name can reveal so much, let alone where he lived, did he have an apartment, or a house? Did he live in a dorm, and if so, for which college?
I began to make up unrealistic things about him. He was a spy, who previously lived a life of adventure and intrigue. His career was cut short because his love was also a spy and she turned against him. He could never spy again –or do whatever it is spies do or do not do. He was an explorer who was currently in between expeditions and consumed in his extensive research of arbitrary exotic things to seek out. The more whimsical his stories became the less I longed for a name or location. I dreamt the most interesting and wild things, and by association I felt that my life had become more exciting.
No longer did I just walk to the library in the morning; I sprinted and watched around the corners. I wasn’t paranoid. I was just anticipating the moment when my life, too, would become as exciting and intriguing as the Enigmatic Man’s. Every time he came in I watched him undercover behind the counter. I, too, felt like a spy. I watched what he unshelved and used it to determine his missions. He was studying Belize, then traditional Chinese clothing, and he skimmed a book on aqueducts, and then automobiles, and a children’s book about animals escaping the zoo. Maybe he was going to set free some animals, or build cars in Belize, or maybe he was translating ancient Chinese symbols about an aqueduct. Often times I had to shake my head and remind myself there was a normal world outside of my brain. With time I noticed that I became worried when it seemed he was a normal person.
One day, while I was day-dreaming a melodramatic fish-filled, alien disaster, he came near the counter with a book and I was horrified to think that he may want to check it out, or eventually check something out. Then I would be forced to see his name or glance at his information by accident. He did not want to check out this particular book. He glided on by. However, as a precaution I began practicing ways of scanning the cards and books and, without looking at the screen, pressing the ‘accept’ button. It worked well, after a week I was sure I could do it, should he ever need to check something out, which sooner or later I was sure he would.

One late Sunday afternoon a few dreamily-passed weeks later, he at last made his way up to the desk, with one lonesome book –granted it was a very large book on set design for Stanislavski Theatre. He laid it carefully on the counter between us.
“Library card?” I asked in my most polite librarian voice.
“Well,” he said in a quiet, questioning, polite voice, unbefitting of his supposedly adventurous life, “I think I may need to get one, first.”
My plan was voided. I was in shock at this. I wasn’t sure what I could do, but to begin my memorized secretarial routine, slightly dazed. “Oh, alright then, I can register you for one.” I pulled up the proper form on our computer’s database. It was filled with numerous blank spaces that made my head spin- though I couldn’t remember why at the time- and I asked, mechanically as I had many times before; “Name . . .?”
“Bond, James Bond,” He said seriously, and for a moment I completely believed him. Then he burst into sudden, bright laughter.

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