November 28, 2014


The sky is moonless and starless. Tall grey buildings still shadow the narrow cobbled streets. Warped and worn stone steps lead to the buildings giant doors with brass knockers, the dark as the night keyholes never used, keys lost and forgotten. You find number 18 and the door is open. You walk in. The hall is dark and smells like cat piss. Your eyes adjust and find three doors, a staircase to the right rising to the next floor. To the right of the first door hangs from a nail in the wall an engraved wooden sign: Book Exchange, Monday – Friday, 17:00 – 19:00. You knock. Murmurs. Woman voices. You open the door. Soft and warm light floods the hall and washes over you and your eyes again adjust. Three older women sit talking surrounded by four walls of bookcases full of books. Tons of books. Colorful book spines, some dusty, some just shelved. You smile. Say hello. They smile and welcome you. One offers you a seat in the little cluttered room. Books and papers sit stacked on the coffee table and chairs. An old wine-red woolen rug. You ask if there is a cat. Strays spray the walls and doors, one woman explains, apologizing for the smell. You regret mentioning it and start to look at the books, hundreds of books, hard covers, paperbacks, some new, some old. You set down your backpack, unzip the zipper and hand them your books, the six you brought to exchange. They take the books, pass them around, thumb the pages. Since you seem like the literary type, one says, you can take your pick from the library. She stands and reveals a shelf of books behind a worn linen sheet. The library. All the good books, the ones she wants back. You mention you’re leaving in four days and so you can’t return them. In that case, she says, just keep them, since you’re leaving, but be sure to pass them along when you’re done. You ask if she has Orhan Pamuk. A famous author. A Turk. One you should read. She pulls out a stack of books from the library, all Orhan Pamuk, and asks which one you want. You don’t know. The best one, you say. One of the women still seated says she can’t stand him. The other still seated recommends The White Castle. You ask for The White Castle and you notice a Michael Chabon book on another shelf and you take that too. You sit down. They ask you what you do. Where you’ve been. Who you are. You tell them your story. Where you’ve been. Why you’re here. Your story, keeping you moving, always moving, different, uncomfortable, exciting and new and you can’t imagine it being any different. They nod. One gets up to leave, says goodbye and you say goodbye too. The other two sit on the sofa and talk with you, for a while, about life, about travel, about books.