The Library Of People

Submitted into Contest #142 in response to: Start your story with someone being given a book recommendation.... view prompt

7 comments

Fiction Fantasy

Under the ‘Ask a Librarian!‘ sign, Emily smiles warmly to Elgin. “We bring them to you,  I understand your confusion, but we are not that kind of Library, trust me.  I am your Librarian and I will find just the right Book for you.”  Several strands of her frizzy black hair pop out of her bun, and the pen behind her ear moves along with her understanding nod. She points to a chair,  “Please sit down.  Tell me what you are looking for?” 

Unclear on how his simple question, ‘where are the books?’ has not been answered, Elgin follows directions, and eases his elderly body into the wooden chair.

“This is a dumb idea, how are you going to find the right book for me?” Elgin says, frustrated.  “I don't even know what I want, I am just here to kill time-", then remembering his recent thoughts on killing himself, says instead, “-military history, maybe Vietnam?” 

Emily,  marks up a slip of paper, hands it to him. “You can meet your Book in room 22, just go through that door there," she points.

And that is when Elgin's life changed forever. 

   _______________

Not all stories are written down. Any Librarian worth their title can find what has been printed in books and newspapers, written in diaries, and letters, or filmed on tapes and DVDs.   Emily, though, worked at the Library of People, and she was able to move past the written word to find the stories not documented.  She was able to connect a Reader with a person, a ‘Book’, who could tell a story about what the world looked like from their shoes, provide a vivid description of the world outside the Reader’s own understanding. Libraries collect information. The Library of People collects information stored inside another person, their lived experience, and allows space for each Book to share their perspective with their Reader.  More than anything Elgin needed to broaden his understanding of the world, and the Librarian, Emily found him just what he needed.   

Elgin’s retirement has not been going well.  For 35 years at ALCO insurance, his routine circled between his work during the week, and then watching sports on weekends.  He loved his daughter, however still sees her as little girl, and cannot reconcile her growth into adulthood.  He missed her teenage years, he chose to avoid the messiness and tears and wild emotional swings, he let his wife take care of that.  Then when she went away college, he would say a few words, before his wife took the phone. Know, he does not know how to connect with her. His retirement was full of grand plans of weekly golfing, trips to visit extended family, and traveling through Europe; until his wife's cancer ended that.  Then Elgin found out, his work friends were not really friends, but colleagues, and everyone else really only liked his wife. 

Elgin knew he had lost the handle on life, it had slipped through his fingers, somewhere, even while he tried  to grip ever more tightly. His years of sitting, at desks, on couches, even golf carts has weakened his muscles, as smoking has weakened his lungs.  His connections have been tearing apart for a while, what was once a strong web, now has holes, collecting dust. To him his priorities were clear, family, work, church, but somehow they go turned around, the family he took for granted has disappeared with his wife's passing, expelling air, leaving only soft deflated latex where a large brightly colored balloon used to be. Forced retirement followed soon after, exposing Elgin’s flimsy connections to reality.  Living in a made-up historical world of ‘I remember when times were better…”,  he is connected to the present through only through daytime political radio, narrowing his life even more.   Elgin’s daughter, Beth had enough of him after the first day of his visit, and suggested he visit the library nearby.  There was something different about it she had heard, but had never been, so he should visit and tell her about it. 

That morning, nature had put on its best show. Neither the sparkling blue sky, nor the soft fluffy clouds floating on the soft breezes were noticed by Elgin as he scuffled along the sidewalk kicking at the  trash that had settled in the curb. Even the few block walk took his breath, his knees aching at each step. 

He had to stop at a park bench, and while he waited for the library to open, he was annoyed at the hard bench, and missed  the vibrant roses, the yellow Penny Lane's, orange Marie Clare's, and the red Prestige blooms, all varieties his wife had grown in his backyard before neglect had withered them.  When an older black woman sat down next to Elgin on the bench, he stiffened, offended she would invade his space. She pulled out a book and began to read.  Elgin felt disgust rise in his throat and needed to get off the bench.  He tried not to look, but did anyway, the shackled hands on the cover gave it away,  ‘Kindred’, a book he recognized only because he had once  tried to get it banned. 

Looking at his watch to see if the library is finally open, he walked up to the crosswalk, and waits at the red light. Speaking to himself, “What does it matter-”, and takes a step into the street. Without looking to the right or left, he continues walking into the cross traffic.  Ignoring the horns, squealing brakes and shouts from the drivers, he continues to walk all the way across the street without stopping.  Elgin feels a relief to take the initiative, to put himself in harm's way to prove he truly doesn't care. Only one really close call, before he makes it to the sidewalk in front of the building. He doesn’t see the  ‘The Library of People’ sign above the door he walks through, his thoughts about the futility of his life broken when he realizes it looks nothing like any Library he has ever been to. The foyer is filled with art and statues, an aura of still and quiet coming from the large windows, and what is missing, there are no books.

                                    ________________________

With his paper in his hand, Elgin thanks Emily and stands up from her desk to go find room 22.  With Emily's encouraging wave he goes through the door, deeper into the Library.

He finds his room,  opens the door, and he sees a familiar black man, sitting in a wheelchair at a small wooden table. 

“Oh sorry, “Elgin said, quickly, “ I thought this was my room. This is 22 right?”

“Yes, sir.”

Elgin squints at the man, and then after an awkward pause, “ I know you, you live on my street, in Minneapolis.” 

“Yes-”

Elgin interrupts, “I was supposed to meet, um find a book here, a military history of the Vietnam war?”

“ The man turns his wheel chair to face Elgin directly.  Elgin can not tell his age, his face is worn, his clothes clean but faded.  His jeans are tucked under his knees where his legs end.   “Well, I am no book, but I was there in Vietnam. What do you want to know about it?“

When Elgin doesn't answer, he continues,  “My name is Isaiah Baker, and I got the wounds to prove it."  He points to his legs.

”How are you here?” Elgin stood dumbfounded.

I don't rightfully  know sir,”  Isaiah says, “but pull up a chair, you want to talk about the war. Being Black in the Army was a different experience. we got no respect, we were just there to fill up the body bags. Yo want to hear about Vietnam? It feels like it was yesterday to me. Let me tell you about what it was like to have been drafted, the smell of that jungle in Vietnam, the fear I felt just before a battle, and the invincibility I felt during.”

Isaiah took Elgin's hand.  “Let me tell you how it looked to me.”   Isaiah looked deep into Elgin’s eyes and as he told his story Elgin began to hear the insects, feel the pain of losing friends, and smell the wet damp earth of the tropical jungle. 

When Isaiah finished his story, Elgin was in tears.

“How have you got on since then?” Elgin asked

“I struggle, I rent the house, near you,  but I am not able to do as much as I want,” he looks down at his legs.  “I need help.”

Elgin lifts up, “I can help, I can come visit, and maybe to hear more stories?”

 Isaiah smiles,  “I would appreciate that.” 

Still reeling after the conversation with Isaiah, Elgin walked back to the front desk, and finds the Librarian, Emily.

“ What kind of library is this?”

Emily smiles. “This Library of People is where Readers can borrow people, the Books, to have conversations they would not normally have access to.   We have found a lot of stories are lost, because a person can't write down their story, or does not have some to write it for them.  I believe everyone’s story has value. Each person has something to add to the world,  and we collect them here in this Library of People.  We provide their stories to interested Readers, like you.  As the Librarian, I help identify the best Book, for you.”

Emily looks closely at Elgin, “Speaking of stories,  how was your Book?”

“Oh it was great, I mean- he was great,” Elgin paused,  “Can I pick out another Book?”

“I think it is time for you  to be the next Book, to help a Reader understand your perspective.  Are you open to that?” Emily said.

“Yes, I guess, though I am not sure who would want to talk to me-”

Emily smiles, “ I have one for you now,”  she says, and then again scribbles on a paper, and hands it to Elgin. “Room 45. Right over there.”

Elgin looked at the paper and then at Emily.  

She nodded, and pointed toward the door.

Elgin walked  to his room slowly, the fear of talking about his thoughts weighed him down.  As he opened the door to room 45,  he saw his daughter sitting next to a small table and open chair. 

“Beth, what is going on?”

 Beth turned toward Elgin, “Hey Dad, what are you doing here?  I came here to look for a book to learn about our family history.  I thought I could share it with you.“

Beth stops and turns away.  “I thought it would give us something to talk about. Because, I don't know how to talk to you anymore, you are grumpy, and mad all the time.  

“I’m not grumpy! I am still getting used to being retired, and living without your mother,  and getting old sucks-" Elgin said.

“I don’t want to hear you complain!” Beth looks up to Elgin. “What do you think about, what makes you happy? You are my Book, why don't you tell me your story?“

Elgin finally sits down, and begins. “So, my story, Ok, well I was born in Minnesota, and-”

Beth raised her hand to pause Elgin. “No, not your life story, I know that, mostly. I want your perspective. Who are you, what is important to you? Maybe start with why you are here today?"

Elgin, flustered, leans back in his chair and rubs his hand through his thinning hair. “Well, I  uh… I dont know-”

“I am listening, Dad.”  

Elgin looked at Beth, and felt her attention on him.  No one paid attention to him, not anymore. And to have someone he cared about really listening to him brought tears to his eyes. 

He started slowly, explaining his visit to her, his daughter, the loss of his wife, missing his job which although he complained about it, had given him a purpose. For the first time he spoke of his loneliness and lack of connection to the world.  Speaking, and having an interested listener helped Elgin understand what he was lacking.

When Elgin talked himself out, Beth reached out to hold his hand.  

“Thank you.  I also feel lost, and I want you to be more in our lives.”

Elgin and Beth walked back to the front desk, to see Emily, his librarian.  

“How were your Books?”

Elgin just shook his head, unable to speak of his new feelings of connection.

“Elgin, what you need is a purpose.  Do you see how important you are to the people around you?  Do you see the impact you make on their lives?” Emily said.

Elgin nods, I needed this more than you know. “Are you open tomorrow?”

Emily, with a smile, “Will we see you again?”

“Yes,” he said, as then Elgin and Beth turned and walked out of the library and down the steps.

He noticed the sun glittering on the leaves of the trees, and all the colors seemed a little bit brighter.

As they approached the crosswalk, the traffic light turned yellow.

Elgin stopped. He will wait for the green light, he has a life to look forward to. 

April 22, 2022 20:01

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7 comments

Sol Campbell
16:59 May 15, 2022

This is interesting

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19:42 May 01, 2022

The Human Library is an interesting concept, I know cities across the U.S. host this type of library... open conversations... originally launched in Copenhagen. You spin was fun to read. As your character noted, "We have found a lot of stories are lost, because a person can't write down their story, or does not have some to write it for them. I believe everyone’s story has value. Each person has something to add to the world, and we collect them here in this Library of People." - Yes, so true. Well done. Interesting story.

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Marty B
21:38 May 03, 2022

Thanks for reading! Yes The Human Library Project was the spark for the idea

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Lisa Lange
02:44 Apr 28, 2022

Enjoyed the whole concept and was wondering what Elgin’s story to share would be. Also think this would be a great concept for a collection of short stories - stories found in the People’s Library.

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Marty B
20:51 Apr 28, 2022

Thanks!- what a great idea for a collection. Everyone has a 'story' to share!

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00:04 Apr 27, 2022

This was such a wholesome and wonderful concept. I love the idea of having a “living book” to experience, it would be so wonderful. I think this was beautifully done!

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Marty B
18:22 Apr 27, 2022

Thanks for reading and your comment. There are a lot of people I want to 'read'!

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