By Elena Tamagno, TIWP Student
I have a window that I sit by in the morning. I watch the rain fall in the winter, the sun come up over the valley in the summer. Something just feels special about that weather. I see people pass me by. If you look closely enough at the crowds of people outside, wandering around the stores and farmers market in their dark coats, you can see a pattern. I’ve memorized all the patterns. The priest from the church two doors down goes to the butchers, then the farmers stand, and finally he comes to my shop for a chat and some of my tea. He’s a nice man, but he doesn’t really enjoy the presence of others. He has his tea with two sugars stirred in and rushes off to his next task. The farmhand, who couldn’t be more than twelve, likes to come in and ask me for a story book. I always recommend the ones about explorers like my mom. I guess it makes me feel like I have a connection to him, wanting to be one of those people that traverses mountains on the other side of the globe but being confined to your life.
I’m just a side character in all their lives, right? An NPC. Like a character in a video game you right-click on and they give you a list of what book you can pick up for your newest quest. I pick up books for the people with a purpose, price them, sell them, stack them up. I know my place in the world. To help people. To help the greats, from my little bookshop. And most of the time, I’m really okay with that. I feel like a little marionette. Someone just jerks me along, making me do my little tasks with a string. I wake up in the morning, make myself a cup of coffee. I get pulled along. I open up my little store. I get pulled along. I help, I help, I help. I get pulled along.
The only time I feel really free is sitting in that little window, watching people who have their own little quests get on with their lives. Just the world, existing. Sometimes I want to have my own purpose, you know? Not one to help other people, just one for me. I don’t need an epic love story or to be a knight in shining armor. I don’t need to get praised in front of a crowd. I just want something I can say I did. When I have a little kid on my lap, what will I have to tell them? That I met Napoléon in a bookshop? That’s hardly a story. I don’t know. Maybe one day I’ll be something. For now, I’ll just run my little store. Being helpful.
My mind is a fresh, blank page. I feel like I’ve never had that spark, that spark people say is music and art and joy. People have told me about their sparks. Once I met someone who just sat and watched the sea from a bench for hours at a time. That was their purpose. They were so happy. I’ve picked up many pursuits. I strummed a guitar and I cooked a delicious meal and I walked the old lady across the street. Yeah, they were nice. But they weren’t my purpose.
I’m writing this now. Maybe writing is my spark. Maybe watching words flow across a page and clicking and clacking keys to create a castle and a damsel in distress or the mighty dragon fighting the brave night is what I’m meant to do. Or maybe purpose is bullshit. Why does it matter that I pick my one thing, my bright, new spark? I’m happy as I am. My bookshop makes me happy. Helping, helping, helping. I’ve never doubted that I need to help. Not everyone can be a main character. I just want one adventure to make my beige, boring life have a stroke of excitement. Like a stroke of bright gold on a white canvas.
In the midst of me pondering my lonely life, they walked in. I didn’t notice them at first, I was sitting on the window seat with my hot coffee in hand, steaming up the cold glass, lost in a whirlwind of thoughts. One of them cleared their throat awkwardly. There were three of them, looking more strong and confident than I could ever imagine myself to be in just that one glance. I could tell that they were ones who had a purpose. Adventurers, explorers, what have you.
You might be wondering why I have such experience with explorers. No doubt that my bookshop holds the wonders of writing. I have maps and books of spells. I’m known for being a useful asset. I’m not someone who’s going to save the world like those people, those who go beyond the frozen arctic sea, and I’m not someone who will be their saving grace. I can offer my assistance.
But there’s something else that draws them near. The Explorers of Wynn. It doesn’t sound like much but the witches that rule have been working with the alliance to create a world no one has to be afraid of. Many are scared of the Amican Jungles that cover the southern lands but they have been trying to find a way. I haven’t been let in on the true goings-on of the deep-rooted alliance but I am granted some knowledge for the use of my mother’s basement. My mother passed so long ago but she has her explorer’s maps and meeting rooms in a small network under the bookshop.
They consider me an asset to them since I work above everything. It’s kind of sad that the most interesting thing about me is being a cover-up for schemers. Sure, maybe what they’re doing is saving the world but they could just be talking about the morning news for a couple hours while laughing at me for believing their story about needing a place to work on their big secret project. I probably sound like a crazy paranoid but I just can’t bring myself to truly believe there is something with that much interest around it that people who absolutely hate each other are working together. The witches and explorers have never truly liked each other. I guess that could be a facade to keep the public away from their hushed, closed-doors meetings. I know I’ve said I don’t know much about the world behind the few rooms of my book store. But you’re here for why these specific people had come into my shop.
I looked up as the jingling doorbell alerted me to someone’s arrival. I expected the priest around this time, to take his tea with two sugars and talk to me about the newest church-mom gossip. Instead, I saw what looked like two women with a dog, but I couldn’t tell what breed. It had light brown or maybe blonde fur and it had a big bushy tail. I was going to tell them off for bringing a mongrel into a shop with antiques and vulnerable stacks of books everywhere, but I was too taken aback by big paws on my legs and puppy dog eyes staring at me. I started to gush, but that wouldn’t have been something that I should do in front of these people who were so very composed. I felt so inferior, what with being curled up in an armchair with a book and a cup of coffee and them standing tall and pointedly looking at me with a fiery stare.
“Hello, welcome to The Bookshop,” I smiled, putting on my customer-service composure. “How can I help you today?”
The one on the left, who was a bit shorter than the other and looked much younger, replied quickly, asking me if I was the store owner.
I said, “Yes… I can recommend some maps of the south, since that seems to be where you’re from.” They seemed surprised that I knew that. Maybe it’s the years of just being an observer or maybe its just plain common sense that a person walking into a store in a town where it has snowed for the past two months straight in nothing more than some jeans and t-shirt wouldn’t be from here or even further up north.
“No jacket in a place where it’s set to snow in two hours, and is already 30 degrees? I can tell you aren’t from here. Please, tell me what you need and I’ll get you on your way.”