The winter sun streamed through the library window, hitting the side of the wooden shelf. The poster on the side of the next rack had turned from its original two colours to a steady change in hue over the years, the words “never judge a book by its cover” starting out black, but ending a washed-out grey.
The table in the corner had gone through the same process, and it currently looked like the occupants had too. A middle-aged woman in a colourful dress sat opposite an old man, wearing grey, reading a grey newspaper with a resigned air.
“Do you think we should throw him out?” Henry asked, nudging Angelika in the ribs.
She shook her head. “It’s a public space,” she replied. “He’s not doing any harm.”
“He’s here every day,” Henry said. 18“Never says anything, just reads the paper. I’ve had people ask for that paper.”
“We get two,” Angelika said.
“Waste of donations, that, if you ask me.” Henry muttered.
“Don’t let the donors hear that,” she said. Henry sneered and turned away. He picked up a stack of books and went around re-shelving them.
Angelika breathed deeply. Henry was a last word freak. Ruth always used to say that if you had a black cat, Henry would claim that not only was his more black than yours, it was also world tango champion last year. Thinking about Ruth, she idly picked up her phone to text Ruth when someone walked in to return a few books.
Henry finished re-shelving, tutting all the while, and disappeared into the kitchen, returning with a cup of coffee or tea.
“You know that’s not allowed outside the kitchen, don’t you?”
“His lordship’s not here, is he?” Henry shrugged. “What he doesn’t know won’t hurt him.”
Angelika frowned. He hadn’t even bothered to ask if she wanted anything.
The woman in the colourful dress came up to the counter with the book she was reading.
“Can I take this out?” she asked, fishing in her handbag for her purse.
“Of course,” Angelika replied. She went through the formalities, entered the loan on the system, and handed the book back. The woman left.
She looked across to the table where the old man was still reading the paper.
“He smells,” Henry said in her ear.
“No he doesn’t,” Angelika said. “I’ve worked here longer you have and we’ve never had a problem with him.”
“Well I’m going home, anyway,” he replied.
“It’s only ten to.”
“Like I said, what his Lordship doesn’t know won’t hurt him.”
She shook her head. She could report him, but it would just be her word against his. What could she do?
Slowly, the morning became the afternoon. The sun covered less of the poster, and more of the table. A student wanted some books on medicine. Two old ladies were looking for the Fifty Shades books. And a young man came to look for a book of poetry by Baudelaire. The old man stayed in his chair, reading.
At half past two she went into the kitchen and made herself tea. There wasn’t any coffee left – Henry must have had the last of it. She didn’t like tea much, but drank it anyway. It was that or water.
By three she thought the old man might have fallen asleep, and wondered whether she ought to nudge him, but the phone pings, distracting her with a message from Ruth, along with a couple of pictures. Ruth was, it seems, enjoying retirement.
“Do you have a book about dieting on worms?” she heard a man ask, taking her concentration away from Ruth’s message.
“I’m sorry what?” she asked, unsure if she had heard correctly. “Eating worms?”
“No,” he laughed. “Martin Luther and the Diet of Worms. A Diet is a church meeting – a bit like a Synod.”
“Right,” Angelika smiled. She had no idea what he was talking about, but the computer listed three books, all of which were in stock.
She looked across at the old man, now leaning back against the wall with the paper covering his face, looking for all the world like he had gone to sleep. She smiled, deciding to leave him there. Let him sleep. Henry would hate it.
“Do you know anything about the old man that comes in every day and reads the paper?” she texted Ruth.
“Sure,” she messaged back. “Been coming in for years but keeps himself to himself. Think his name is Thornton or something like that.”
Angelika went back to work. She busied herself creating a display of pirate-themed books in the childrens’ area, to replace the dinosaurs display that had been there for a week. She got halfway through when the front door of the library opened.
“Afternoon, anyone there?” came a familiar voice.
“Hi boss,” Angelika said, walking out to the front desk. “Just creating a new kids’ display.”
“Ah, excellent,” he replied. “Well I don’t want to keep you, just dropped in to see how things are going.”
“They’re fine, thanks.”
He looked over in the direction of the table.
“Has he been here all day?” he asked.
“Henry suggested throwing him out, but…” she shrugged.
“Quite wise of you,” he nodded. “But I wonder…”
“Mr Thornton?” the paramedic shook his shoulder. “Mr Thornton, can you speak to me?”
“Does he have any relatives that you know of?” the other paramedic asked, clipboard in hand.
“I don’t know,” Angelika replied. “He just comes here every day.”
“He’s not breathing,” the first paramedic said.
“How long has he been like this, do you know?” the second one asked.
She shook her head. “Maybe an hour, maybe two.”
“There’s no pulse,” said the first paramedic. “I think we need to start CPR.”
“He’s not here morning, I see,” Henry said, triumphantly.
“No,” Angelika replied, “he isn’t.”
“Hopefully he never comes back,” he sniffed. “We shouldn’t allow homeless people in here anyway.”
“He wasn’t homeless,” she said. “I know that, at least.”
“Really?” Henry scoffed, polishing the table. “I’ll believe that when I see it.”
She waited for a second or two, choosing her moment.
“He died, yesterday,” she said. “Sitting right there.”
Henry stopped for a moment, grimaced, then carried on cleaning.
“The boss is coming in soon,” she said.
“Oh yes?” Henry looked up at her, arching an eyebrow.
“We’re going to have some sort of tribute to the old man, and then a fundraising drive.”
“Fundraising! We get enough money.”
“Not any more we don’t,” Angelika said. “Our biggest regular donor died yesterday.”
“Oh that’s sad,” Henry said. “Who was it?”
Angelika pointed at the table, tilted her head and smiled.
“Guess,” she said.
“You’re kidding me,” Henry’s mouth opened wide in surprise, realisation dawning.
“From years back,” Angelika said.
“Well, you’ll be all right,” he said. “Last in, first out and all that.”
“Don’t tell the boss I told you though,” she said. “Supposed to be confidential.”
He nodded, and went back to polishing.
Angelika decided to make coffee. She’d brought her own today. Life was too short to put up with Henry’s nonsense.
The post “Quiet, Please” first appeared on simoncollis.com and is Copyright © Simon Collis 2018. All rights reserved.