The man who badly needed a cup of tea

He came in to browse and told me that his wife was Dux of Woodville High School, but three weeks ago had walked out of his life. He knelt down to examine all the bottom shelves and said that the books were wonderful. Just wonderful; especially the bird books.

Then he sang me a hymn and asked if I knew it. I didn’t. He found a book on Scotland (The History of) and told me about his Scottish parents. He began to make a pile of books while he talked.

‘I’m worried about this generation. All they do is sit on the couch and drink fat.’

He said he didn’t hold with televisions, and that he badly needed a cup of tea.

‘After my wife left me, I had to do something with my life, so I started lifting weights. I’m 77, and you probably don’t believe it.’ I said it was amazing.

‘I just got the first TV of my life the other day. It’s for my new lady, and I’ve put it in its own room. Not with the books. Young people don’t know about the war.’

He went into the other room for a while. Then he came back.

‘Everything, Honey, has a city mentality. Even the birdlife. People only think of coffee and cakes. It’s artificial. I once knew some idiot called Charlie who was like that’.

I agreed.

He sang me another hymn, which I admired. Then he paid for his books, told me that he can’t abide a show off, and said goodbye.

Himself, a flash of unique bright birdlife, gone!

Alan

Alan always talks to me side on. He stares through the door while telling me the story. Sometimes he breaks off before finishing and leaves to talk to someone he just saw over the road. But he always comes back to tell me the rest. They are excellent stories, and all of them true. He adds sound effects, especially when he is cross. He can do an excellent imitations of ducks. Some days he doesn’t come in but will always knock on the window as he passes. He doesn’t want any books from here. He has other things to read, and a family that is always giving him ‘a hard time of it.’ They don’t listen to him! They don’t respect him! But they’ll learn! He wonders about the government. This morning he said of someone that they didn’t know bullshit from vegemite. Then he said sorry, didn’t mean to swear.

My Friend Peggy

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Is not doing so well. I went to visit on Tuesday.

I remember when she first came to the shop. Irreverent, outrageous.

She has still read more than anyone I know. When I first met her I was surprised at her interest in science fiction. Her other interests are crime and thriller fiction, but across her long life she has read a staggering amount of other things. I always try to find something she hasn’t read.

Sitting there on Tuesday in her clean, blank room I brought up The Jewel in the Crown. She’s read it (but will read it again). I had brought her three other books; one fantasy, one crime (this pleased her) and a thriller that she said would be rubbish. I took that one back. There was a stack of crime on the white unit next to her. She has read all the Game of Thrones, she rushed them, she said, not wanting to die before finishing them all.

She said she wouldn’t be going anywhere soon. That she couldn’t get any bars on her phone; when she tried to get outside, the doors were all shut. She asked me to get her a door code. She wouldn’t mind a glass of wine. She said they made her get up and do stupid things down in the dining room. She asked me if I’d come back. She thinks I am going there for her sake. But being with Peggy sustains me!  I’m there for both of us.

She complained to the staff about the cup of tea that never came.

I remember her telling me she always carried books with her for the boring places, like church and the opera. She thought nothing of reading during any event, if it was boring, she would read.

Peggy only has one eye, a doctor once made her a glass one, produced it triumphantly, but she threw it in the bin. She said she had one eye and would stay that way.

When she lived in Woomera, her (ex) husband burned her library.

When she was a child, she spent a long time in an orphanage.

She thought she was ugly. She isn’t. She is striking, tall, spectacular, a bonfire.

She described a good day as one reading, at the pub, on the reds, a roast and a pile of paperbacks, and her. She was comfortable to turn her back on everything and read… so how come she always saw everything.

But now she thinks I am only visiting her out of kindness. But I’m not. I’m there to warm myself. I complained to her of all the work that I have to do at home, unappreciated, no peace and quiet, no end in sight, etc, etc.

I saw her listening to my litany of self-pity, saw the sun break through on her face, saw the grin. She was pleased with the never ending work, my sulking and self-indulgence. She was hungry for real.

I warmed myself for as long as I could and then went home. Have to find some more books for her. Not Lee Child (rubbish), not the classics (Oh God, no, read them all). Something real.

Artwork by Isidre Nonell