A group of people came in off the train. There were about fourteen of them, all friends and all speaking English and what I thought was German, but turned out to be Dutch.
They loved the books. They moved from room to room. They knelt to read the children’s books to each other, in Dutch and in English, a working counterpoint that swam in bright notes all over the shop.
The husbands were shouted at. They were too slow. One man wanted a certain picture book with a kangaroo on the front. They stood in a circle around the book, tapping the pictures, talking about the kangaroos and the fairy penguins. Then he couldn’t find his wallet, or his phone. He was shouted at again. The words were beautiful, effective, unfamiliar. The wives waved bags in the air and made shushing sounds. They made sounds of impatience. They made sounds of derision. Fluent cascades of words and argument clattered about everywhere, Patricia Cornwell, Agatha Christie, Asterix, were all examined. A John Grisham book was thumped back into the shelf.
No, no, no, no! A husband offered a possibility. But, no!
Two husbands went outside and stood with their shoulders raised against the shop. A wife tapped the glass, and they swayed but did not turn around. They looked across the road.
There were so many conversations. So many books. So many opinions. Somebody brought some books to the counter and said, ‘We’re from Holland!’
Then it was time to go. The husbands were shouted at, ‘The train, the train.’
When the last person had gone, it was too quiet.
Painting by Kenne Gregoire