Sarah pulled the collar tighter to her throat. The swirling fog drifting from the Thames hit her in wave after wave of moisture. She could taste the brininess on her lips. The droplets hung on her hair like ornaments, kaleidoscoping the street lights.
London was busy, cars honked and pushed through the grainy light, buses idled as people crammed on them. The streets were filled with gaudy umbrellas and faces lit by mobile phone screens. Someone shouted further down the street and a dog barked. Bustle was the song that lived on these pavements. All walks of life crowded together into a blended sea of multiculturism.
She had seen London in many ways, through winters and summers. Great happiness followed by lows that had tested her resolve. She had lost a great love here, many years ago. His absence still claimed a space inside her that no one else had filled. Grief had sat heavily for too many years. She had watched buildings grow from dusty plots of land and buildings fall. The river that sat in the center of the city never changed but it brought life on its wide waters and carried away life too.
Jamming her hands into the large pockets of her coat she felt the warmth of the book. Its cover was leather, smoothed by countless hands and gazed at by a million eyes. It would be impossible to know who or when it was made. It existed beyond knowledge or maker’s mark.
It was time to take it to a place where it would be kept safe.
The library was brightly lit. Baroque chandeliers hung grandly, flickering faux candles casting shadows across the shelves of books, tomes crammed on to every surface. There was order in the chaos. A sense of peace that settled as only it could in a library. The Perfume of old books and mustiness filled the air in layers that were visibly invisible.
As Sarah closed the door London ceased to be.
“I am here to see Richard. He should be expecting me. I called.” The woman stared at her over her glasses and nodded. Reaching for the phone she dialed without taking her gaze from Sarah’s face.
" You have a visitor.” the receptionist’s voice was pure London, drawling and lyrical. Through the tinniness of the receiver, a man’s voice responded and the receptionist nodded.
“He is on his way.” The receptionist picked up the book she had been reading, a corset bursting heroine adorned the front. She dismissed Sarah without a further word.
A tall stout man burst through a door to her right. He smiled nervously and strode towards Sarah with an air of importance. He hesitated but didn’t offer his hand to her, she could see he was as nervous as she was. That was good. She had told him about the book at great length and he had agreed to keep it in a safe place.
" I am so glad to meet you at last.” His voice faltered, looking Sarah up and down. His gaze lingered on the pocket the book sat in. He wasn’t just a Bibliophile, his book desires bordered on obsessional. He was right for this book. It would take someone who wouldn’t let it slip away into the wrong hands to keep what she had safe.
“This way, please.” He led Sarah to the small door he had entered and followed her through it.
The room she found herself in was sparse in contrast to the ornate Library. A long plain wooden table, chairs arranged as if awaiting a meeting. Pictures hung on the wall but they were faded and tattered. This was not a room the public frequented. The aroma of old coffee and microwave meals emanated from somewhere close. The silence was heavy here.
Richard took his place at the head of the table. He slipped a pair of silken gloves on his hands and sat. A white cloth lay before him alongside a magnifying glass and a notebook.
Sarah pulled out a chair and sat facing Richard.
“You have it?” Sarah nodded and walked towards him. Now she was here she had mixed feelings, fear being the strongest.
“I have to have your word that this book will be locked away. You promised me that much Richard.” The man shook his head, agreement and impatience blending into a nod that threatened to loosen it.
“You have my word, Sarah as I explained during our phone calls. This book is quite possibly the greatest discovery.. well since… I don’t even know if it has an equal. If you are correct of course about the power that lies within it. I will take it and lock it in our vaults. Nuclear and disaster safe and only accessed by two people.
“Two?” Sarah asked, " You said it would only be you.”
“Me and the director, he has the only other set of keys to that vault. In case, well in case I die I guess.” Richard shrugged. " he is barely here and probably has no idea what is stored in that vault, but I guess for insurance or compliance something like that..” Richards’s voice droned on as Sarah watched his lips move animatedly, she could see the spittle gathering at the corner of his mouth. Rabid to get his hands on this book at any cost.
Sarah nodded, she was tired. Time had taken its toll on her and she was ready to rest now.
“So be it.” Sarah pulled the book from her pocket. Its touch was like silk, and it fitted so perfectly in the shape of her hand. It had traveled a million miles with her, had loved and lost, witnessed events from so many long and lonely years, and kept her here. Kept her alive.
" Travel well my friend, Thank you and goodbye,” Sarah said as she placed the book on the white silk cloth before the red-faced Richard.
As the book of a thousand years left her hand she felt a sharp breath escape her, her senses exploded in a thousand separate shards of energy and she was gone. A shift of air and the room was still.
She was home.