The Book Lovers

December 20, 2023

Running her hand over the gold-embroidered spines of the books that sat on the shelves of the old bookshop, Saalima recalled the days of her youth with fondness. Seldom did she allow herself to wallow in the past (she liked to live unapologetically in the now), but on this particular day, she couldn’t help but think back to her youth—more specifically, the early days of marriage with her husband.

Ifaz, who sat perched on his armchair, watched her through his thick tortoise shell frames and knew what she was thinking about. Having spent nearly his entire life with her, he had developed an uncanny ability to know exactly what she was thinking judging just by the corners of her smile or a glint in her eyes. He was the type of man that one would imagine to harbor such wisedom. His now whitening hair only furthered this case, especially since it complimented his dark almond eyes so wonderfully. He had an aura of whimsy and tranquility. He was disciplined and hard-working but also soft and funny—the kind of funny that makes you think he must read a lot of Oscar Wilde—and often quiet, except around her.

In fact, they were both rather quiet except around one another. It seemed that even after fifty-four years of marriage they had not yet run out of stories to tell or plans to create. Indeed, they had grown old reading books together and watching fanciful films, so no doubt they had harvested quite the romantic imagination. They tracked the months through the pictures and words they consumed; last month, they had watched a trilogy of action films together, she had read the memoirs of one of her favorite writers, and he had watched an old Egyptian picture from the 60’s. All of the actions and words and dreams went to good use with this pair who always let themselves jump headfirst into fantastical dreams. They were like explorers searching for a treasure that no one else could quite fathom. Now, Saalima watched her husband with a deep tenderness as she recalled how they had made these fantastical dreams happen.

They had moved to Central Asia in their mid-30s, dreaming of opening up a bookshop, something that Saalima had wished for ever since reading The Thirteenth Tale as a girl. Ifaz made it his life’s mission to make this dream happen, and he worked harder than any man ever had for a dream. They both worked hard after their wedding as they dreamt of this faraway land where they would open up a small warm shop with Moroccan mosaic pendants and oak shelves.

Saalima had taken up work as a librarian in a primary school. She loved the way children’s books allowed themselves to be colorful and peculiar, a trait that many adult books were lacking in her mind. It was a treasure that no one else could quite fathom. Her favorite children’s book was The Boy, The Mole, The Fox, and The Horse. She found that it captured all the complexities of womanhood and loneliness, all while maintaining a childlike simplicity and hope. She also loved the drawings. The way they were messy and imprecise and disproportionate, but perfectly—yes, perfectly—so. She fancied herself like one of those drawings. As she grew older and found her body changing and growing and losing its neatness, she would find comfort in these curiously misshapen drawings. She could also be frumpy and beautiful, imperfectly lovely.

After work, Saalima would walk home and prepare dinner for her and her husband. She loved to cook for him. It gave her a great sense of happiness to think that the onions and chicken and vegetables that she chopped each evening would give him sustenance and energy. She would fill his glass with water and another with juice and his plate to the brim with whatever she felt he would be craving. He would arrive home two or three hours later, and they’d greet one another with hugs and kisses and many “I missed you”s and “how was your day”s.  In autumn, she may have made a warm soup with toasted garlic bread and a pumpkin pie for dessert. The house would smell of cinnamon and spices, and they’d sit and talk about anything and everything and sometimes nothing. For a while, they talked about their plans to move to a beautiful city and find the perfect road for their perfect bookshop, and it was wonderful how excited they were. But the life they were living was so wonderful and warm that they slowly stopped discussing their plans. They found that everything they wanted was right in front of them. They had a quaint house filled with greens and reds and browns, they enjoyed sweet trips to the seaside on occasion, they ate well and loved well. She loved to watch him eat, and he loved to watch her read. Contentment overrode desire, and they were more than happy to let this soft slow way of living continue.

One day, Ifaz was on his way home and picked up a book from the local children’s bookshop. He wanted to read it to Saalima that night after he had cleaned up. He was delightfully thoughtful in that way. The book was about a magic teacup that had the ability to transport people into different worlds. At the bottom of the cup, the tea leaves would show an image that would tell you what world you would be travelling to. The shop also sold an accompanying teacup that resembled the cup in the book, and he got a set for them to sip tea from together. That evening, after Saalima and Ifaz had tidied up the kitchen, they sat together to read the book over chamomile tea in their magic cups. Once they had finished their tea and the book, Saalima looked down at her cup and joked with Ifaz that the leaves resembled a bookshop.

 

Safa Ali is an aspiring writer who combines academic rigor with a creative flare. Her distinctive voice in literature, nurtured by a profound love for poetry and art, resonates with readers seeking originality and depth.

 

 

 

 

Featured Image by Faith Enck.

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