Monday, January 17, 2011

From the Department of Observations, Martin Luther King Monday

place: 9th Street in Durham

Regulator Bookstore: after perusing the graphic novels in the basement, the cookbooks, and finding three books that I will take home (Gunter Grass' The Box, Tales From the Darkroom, Judith Schalansky's Atlas of Remote Islands - Fifty Islands I Have Never Set Foot On and Never Will, and A Life of Picasso, The Triumphant Years, 1917 - 1932 . . . yes this is Volume 3 in an enormous series on Picasso, which I may never complete, but its a beautiful book and I love Picasso and so once I put my hand on it, I couldn't very well put it down, could I?) I go into the small magazine and journal room to see what offerings the literary journals have for me these days, and a neatly dressed young black man, perhaps 20 years old, is looking at the magazines. He wears a black fur collared parka, and black pants, and black boots. I am facing one way and he is facing the other. He says to me very softly, "I am going to London . . . " so softly in fact that I wonder if he is speaking to me. I turn, he is looking at me, I respond, as softly as he made his statement to me, "That's lovely, I hope you have a wonderful trip." He then tells me, "I am buying magazines to read on the airplane." And it is at this point that the question grows in my mind, is he really going to London? Or is he imagining he's going to London? Because these days, when a stranger tells you such a thing in public, you just don't know do you? I don't think I doubted him because he was a young black boy, at least I hope not. I think I doubted him because of his  confession to me as a stranger. But perhaps he was just so thrilled that he was going to London, so thrilled to be buying magazines to read on the plane, that he needed to tell me, the little blond woman who happened to be sharing that small space in the bookstore with him, that bright space with the large window that looks out on 9th street, during a gray dank January day, when the rain was just beginning to fall.  I flipped through a small journal and then reshelved it, I took a breath and moved through the doorway to glance at the large wall shelf holding a collection of Staff favorites. I never saw the boy leave the magazine room. I made my purchase and left.

Upon leaving 9th Street a woman pulled her car out in front of me -- it was a beige Dodge Dart, a model car of the sixties, it was in mint condition. And she was like an apparition of the sixties herself, dark cat glasses despite the low gray clouds and impending rain, a khaki trench coat, and a colorful kerchief over a head full of curlers. She took my breath away.

1 comment:

Wrinkled Weasel said...

Mistrusting strangers who make friendly conversation. An American man started talking to me on a bus that I had boarded in Trafalgar Sqaure. I cannot remember what he said initially. This was over 30 years ago, but I do remember he told me he was a flight attendant and had not spoken to anybody for two days.

My reaction was defensive. I was guarded and suspicious.

I think it was about that time that I realised that London was not going to be my home. Too many lonely people and not much love to go round.