'What would you consider a mystery?' Maria asked herself. An avid reader of books, she also admittedly had Sarhara like dry spells. Every so often she might go months without reading one. Then on any given day the urge to read would hit her again. The urge was more a calling really. Maria would be out on an errand and suddenly glimpse a book in a shop window. More over she might be at an antiques fair and a tittle on a second-hand book would call out to her. Almost as if the book was a live object.. 'Buy me' the book would say. 'I have something important to tell you'. For the most part more recently Maria would try to resist, to leave the book behind. She was facing a challenging time economically. Still the urge was strong. She felt compelled. As if to not take the book would mean she would be missing out on something, ´We all have vices´ she thought, `books are mine'.
Maria liked the written word. Actually that is an understatement, Maria loved the written word. A well turned phrase would make her smile, a good poem would make her cheer. As long as she recalled she had been in contact with words. Words were everywhere. Big and bold on billboards, posters and flyers. In small print in newspapers and magazines articles. Words were even all over the breakfast cereal box in the morning. Words were in books. Most especially words were in books! When she read one, Maria woud read it cover to cover. The place and time it was printed, the dedication the Author made. The prologue, epilogue and chapter list whenever they existed. Ever since childhood books made the top of her Christmas wish list. Rarely did the list extend beyond that item.
Maria travelled back in time. She couldn´t really remember a time when she didn´t know how to read. Paradoxically, she could recall when she did learn to read. The teacher would place the cut out cardboard letters together. The next step was to sound them out. She remembered how her name came together. The M next to the A would make a `mer´ sound. Words she was told were formed and read in syllables, Maria had three. First the MA then the RI and finally, on its own this time, the A again. Ma-ri-a. Maria.
Reading (and spelling) she discovered was a mystery that could be solved. All adults seemed to know the secret of how the letters combined together to form words and how the words came together to form phrases and then paragraphs and so forth. With time and insight she too would be part of the magical world of the written word. There were many words she knew that, Hundreds and thousands! Millions, billions and trillions of words!
Words taught things. Words could make you feel happy or sad, They could be scary or encouraging. They could soothe and comfort you. They could bring confort and hope to others, In poetry Maria found, words danced. In ryhmes words has a music all of their own. Without words orality was just noise. Without words poetry was silence. Without words books were nothing but empty pages. Words were in books. Writers wrote books.
Maria sat at the beach. She contemplated the ocean before her. The gentle roll of the waves as the tide rolled back and went out. It was officially fall but felt mostly like late summer. The beach was mostly empty except for a few people walking their dogs. A couple of fishermen cast their rods in the distance.
Maria returned to her initial question. 'What is a mystery?' She had recently sighed up to a free online writing site called Reedsy. The site had weekly short story competions. This weeks prompts asked for a mystery story, Not necessarily a mystery story in the cloak and dagger tradition of Agatha Christie, the very Diva of the mystery writing genre. No the prompts teased that it could be a story about any kind of mystery.
'Life itself is a mystery', Maria mused. Sat here on the beach in October on a week day. A month before turning fifty-three. Unemployed for the first time in her life, She felt she could justify that statement. Not that she felt sorry for herself. Not that at all. One hardly needed to look far to see her current predicament hardly amounted to a problem compared to so many other people. 'There are no problems only solutions' one of her favourite John Lennon quotes said.
What she meant by `life is a mystery´ is that you never knew what it would throw at you. What challenges would suddenly appear, just when you thought you were in calm waters. What variables would be added to the pot at every twist and turn.
When Maria was a young child first grasping the world of books, books themselves were a mystery. That they existed, so many of them. That they could be so diverse in subject matter. And Authors? Who were those people known as writers? Where did they come from? Certaintly Maria had never met any. Her parents, family and friends did not know any. Who were these people that assembled all these words in such a clever way. Words that became prose, that became stories, biographies, descriptions. that made one travel without leaving the same spot. Writers had the ability to place words together in ways that gave her endless hours of pleasure. They comunicated. They spoke through the written word. They shared stories, they entertained. They questioned and they provoked thinking and debate. Writers filled and expanded the minds of their readers. Writers wrote words good enough for others to publish. Many more others thought them good enough to spend money or time in a library to access them.
In Maria´s childhood world, people worked in shops or factories, People were cooks, drivers or cleaners. They were carpenters or plumbers maybe. Never were they writers. The people she knew aspired that their children would work in offices or banks. In their imagination adminstrative posstions were some kind of dream profession. The education system reinforced this posistion. Once in a class about future professions a classmate inquired about the possibility of being a medical Doctor. The teacher smiled ironically. 'If you were capable of becoming a Doctor, we would come to you' the teacher said flatly. If the medical profession was too far fetched for a class of twelve year olds, then imagine the world of writers. Doctors were flesh and bone. Maria had at least met some. Writers were names that appeared below titles and on the spine of books. They didn´t have real faces. Just the imaginary ones their writing invoked.
'Mystery' Maria thought again. When we are born who we will become is a mystery. As we live the future is always an uncertainty. We can make plans to the moon and back but so many things can force them to alter in a split second. Life is fragil. Adaptability is king. Learning to play the cards dealt at each point of the journey. Surviving with the tools picked up along they way. How long will each of us live? Another mystery. With the present life expectancy rates Maria might only be half way along the road of life. In the first half she had been child, student, daughter, wife, mother. Professionally she had devoted more than thirty years to adminstrative shipping and logistics roles. But what now? Who was she now?
'To be or not to be' the world´s most famous playwright Shakespeare had written over four hundred years ago. The simplest and smallest of words. Words repeated countless times a day in countless languages all over the world. Now the question in Maria´s mind, in her soul was 'Was she?'. Could she be the thing she most aspired to. Could she be a writer? Now there was her mystery!