Secondhand stories

There’s a secondhand bookshop that sits opposite the school where I teach a few hours of English every day. This is the shop I go to when I have some spare time, and spare change. £2.99 will usually fetch you a good book.

A few days ago, I found a ZZ Packer that I’d wanted to find for a while. It also had the right cover; for no matter what they say, covers matter. Every once in a while, when I’m reading a book, I crook a finger in from the top and close its pages. My finger curves like a comma, pausing the book as I mull over a sentence, a paragraph, a thought. At that time, I like to see a cover that doesn’t tell me much. A cover that doesn’t drag my thoughts to closure.

This cover didn’t try too hard. It just slanted it’s font in gentle enquiry, and left it at that. It didn’t try to show me a picture of Elsewhere. It left Elsewhere to me. I liked that. I also liked its blue; it looked like it didn’t fit in.

But I’ll tell you what I liked most of all. When I came back home and took the book out of my bag, something slipped out of its pages. It was a photograph of a little boy, with a date on the back. Just a date, and a summer month. No year. Not a hint of a year. As if the person who wrote the date liked to live in the present, in the now. The yearless date of a mind not weighed down by eventualities. Carefree. It’s summer after all, and the sand is warm and the sea blue.

My first reaction on seeing the photograph was one of sadness; someone had lost a precious photo of their boy. I not only had their book, but also a bit of their memory. But then, I thought of how things are meant to be. And the beauty of stories that travel; of a photo shared not on social media but passed down in a good book. I also thought of how strangers’ stories always find their way to my house, like our dining table – remember the initials on its underside? Only this time, the story had slipped out of a book of stories and landed softly on my carpet.

And so the sweet boy sits, in the August of an unknown year. And here we are, in the midst of another August. He could be five now, or he could be in University. He might live on the same street, or in a different hemisphere. Somewhere in my Elsewhere.

I want to know. I love not knowing.

20 thoughts on “Secondhand stories

  1. Pia, I've read every single post in the last couple of months; your writing though is so bearutiful that my comments seem flippant in the face of this writing. Your short story still haunts me.
    This post, as always, is beautiful. I read Kalyan Ray's No Country last week and reading this post brought back the same warm fuzzies that I got, reading the aforementioned book. Much love 🙂

  2. There is a thrilling anticipation in the unknown! One can have vivid ideas and candid conversations with the snapshot……. Love the perception behind the missing photograph, let the mystery continue.

  3. I've missed your voice here, Roxana. Please know that when I open my inbox after writing a post, and see a comment pop in, it lifts my heart. Feels like I'm actually 'sharing' rather than 'writing'. Do write in – nothing could be flippant. Hugs and love for your beautiful note today, and for reading the short story xx

  4. Aditi – yes! I agree. Mystery is a beautiful thing. And the best stories are ones that don't try to tie up all the loose ends.

  5. You are so right that covers matter! To me if an author doesn't care what's on the front, why should I care what is on the inside? 😀 I once found a slightly revealing photograph in a very serious book. Odd! 🙂 x

  6. I too, would like to live “in the August of an unknown year”…
    I love how strangers make their way to you …so their stories can be told

  7. Love this post, I feel so connected to the thoughts you voiced in this post, right from the cover of the book to the mystery and beauty of the picture you found inside. You are gifted, you draw such lovely paintings with your words Pia, I feel like reading your posts sitting in a cozy corner with some coffee and smile or frown from time to time, depending on what I am reading…as though I am conversing with an old friend who knows me well 🙂

  8. Tandra, isn't it beautiful the way we can connect with those we have never met? I often feel that with the written word, we meet the nicest version of each other. Your words, and me writing back to it, makes me feel like we're exchanging letters like the old days. My brother and I had a corner in our room when we were young – an alcove, and we called it exactly that – Cozy Corner. You reminded me of it 🙂

  9. your writing makes me feel warm.. it makes me feel slow and settled, something I haven't felt in a long time.. the stillness I feel in your writing reminds me of a free afternoon just before the durga puja when with a heavy heart I would look at the cotton specks cloud, imagining, as much as I want, how it would be when the puja would be over….I feel free from the rush momentarily and it gives me lot of hope that being slow and taking each moment slowly is such a relief..
    I do not know what I have written above, but the post evoked lot of emotions..Loved reading it .. And I am kind of scared to reread again. I guess I am not yet ready to let go of the emotions I felt just now.

  10. Hi Pia, I do not know what to write, the book, the cover and the little boys photograph as if everything put together is trying to say something and that something is beautifully written by you and it is so warm and strange and still has a familiarity.. so heart warming and at the same time tugging at it…
    take care

  11. Thank you. For putting down a piece of your thoughts. So spontaneous that I can feel you thinking as you write.
    That my writing made you feel settled makes me happy. Hugs, Simple Girl.

  12. Thank you, you wonderful soul.
    “so warm and strange and still has a familiarity” – I love those words. I love that my space, my words feel familiar to you. Hugs!

  13. Your writing makes me want to read and then makes me want to write. Favourite pieces of writing have always made me want to communicate something myself. Your words, your rhythms and the things in which you find beauty so often resonate so deeply with me. This piece was no exception.

  14. Your writing is so very beautiful, Pia. So poignant. Like a whiff of fresh air.

    Loved this post. It is for this very reason that I love second-hand book-stores too. 🙂 That photograph sure is precious!

    The book sounds quite interesting. Will look it up. Got to find out what it is about. 🙂

    This post of yours inspires me to do a post on my blog, too, about stranger' stories left in our house. Someday…

  15. Matt, I'm so touched to have you say that. I connect with your writing as easily as you do with mine, so if I've made you want to write – wonderful! It means I'll have a lovely new 'fragment' to reading.
    The last time I checked, it was still due. I wait.

  16. Thank you, lovely girl.
    It's ZZ Packer's first collection of short stories – wonderfully disorderly. The name alone is beautiful, isn't it?
    I love that the post inspires you to write your own version of it – you must let me know when you do. I'd love to read it xx

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