Small Incident in Library*

small incident in library

The door swings open as I finish stacking up the books on my desk. I lift my head. A smile is already on my face to welcome whoever comes in. This time the visitors are a woman and a little girl, probably two years old, who is holding her hand.

“Oh, hello, Grace,” I smile a little wider seeing a familiar face. Then I turn my gaze into the little girl. “Ah, this must be Emma.”

“Hello to you too, Zlatka,” Grace smiles as she walks in.

It’s not that I am close with the Redmond family. It’s just that this is a very small town where pretty much everybody knows everybody. Even a newcomer like me can easily recognize the folks.

But Grace comes here often and we have talked a couple of times. For all I know, she is doing some research about the local history for her upcoming book. She never brought her daughter before, though.

“We just got back from the park, but I need to check on something before heading back home,” she gives a very small sigh that you could miss if you didn’t pay a close attention. “How much time do I have before you close?”

I look at the clock. 3.38. “About twenty minutes, but take your time. We can make an exception.”

“Thank you. I won’t be long,” she assures me. “Come, Emma.” They walk to the bookshelves.

It is Friday afternoon. This library is most quiet at this time of week—not that it is usually crowded. People here usually get the local history from their parents, who got it from their grandparents, and so on. Not to mention the popularity of the internet these days. Right now, there are only Grace and Emma.

Before going back to my work, I look at them again. Grace, who already has two books in her hand, is drawing another book from the history section while Emma is walking between the shelves. Her head turns left and right, searching for something familiar around her.

It’s not even two minutes afterwards when I hear the little girl’s voice. “Mummy?” I turn my eyes from my computer and look for Emma. She is three aisles away from her mother. She has stopped walking. “Mummy?” Emma calls out again, a little louder this time.

“I’m here,” Grace answers as she peeps through the hole between the books, checking on her daughter, whose appearance is easy enough to catch from the red coat and white lacy tights she is wearing—a little too merry comparing to those dusty old book covers.

“Can’t see you, Mummy.”

“I’m here, love,” Grace answers again, now without turning away from the row of books in front of her.

“Can’t see…” Emma’s voice begins to quiver. I stand up, wanting to soothe her. But Mr. Campbell, my employer, is ahead of me.

He is a large man, with the height of 6’5” and broad shoulders. Well, frankly speaking, although he is a good person, he doesn’t have the friendliest face in the world. So when he approaches, I do not blame Emma for taking one step back.

Mr. Campbell tries his best to smile warmly and stoops, “Where’s Mummy, then?”

Emma instantly backs away. Her lips are trembling and her eyes are big with horror, as if Mr. Campbell was the worst guy she had ever met. She runs again to the next aisle, then stops and looks up, frozen.

Perhaps it is the height and the dark color of the bookshelves that intimidates her. Perhaps it is the smell of the books that reminds her of trees and forest. Perhaps it is the autumn breeze from the open windows that makes her feel like she is in the open air. Whatever it is, from the look in her eyes, I know this poor little girl, who hasn’t even been able to speak fluently, is thinking of something scary.

Emma toddles fast between the shelves. Now she is only one row away from Grace. But then she looks up once more, frightened—as if the bookshelves threatened her, judged her—as if she was lost in the middle of a forest, alone and helpless among big, towering things lining up before her. She starts to cry. “Mummy?” she calls quietly.

I catch Grace’s tired-eyed prettiness. She is in her late twenties but she looks older with black shadow under her eyes and wrinkles on her forehead.

Grace smiles and shakes her head. I want to say something to her, that Emma is seriously terrified. But we aren’t very close. I would even probably cross the line. So instead, I smile back and shake my head, as if it was a silly thing.

Emma runs to the next aisle and find her mother standing there with a stack of books in her hands. Relief washes over Emma’s face. She rushes to Grace, laughing. She hugs her knees, the highest part of Grace that she can reach with her arms—reminding me how small she is, even for her own age. “Found you!” she exclaims in her bell-like voice.

Grace looks down, blinking. “Emma, you great soft thing,” she cracks up a bit and stoops to kiss Emma’s cheek. “Why don’t you sit over there?” she points at the reader’s lounge. “I’ll catch up in a minute, okay?”

“Okay,” Emma runs her little feet to a chair near next to the window, making the bobble on her cap jiggles.

I can’t help but think about this small incident—how contradictory these mother and daughter felt earlier. Chuckling, I shake my head. Who am I to over think it? I sit back on my chair and turn my eyes to my computer, starting to make today’s daily report.

*inspired by David Sutton’s poem Small Incidents in Library

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