The little corner bookshop was known to everyone in the neighbourhood. There, one could find something for everyone; children and adults. One could find both classics and the latest best sellers on its shelves. The genres were endless: fantasy, romance, children’s books… all tastes were catered for.
Alice, the owner, was a lady in her late fifties. Everyone knew and respected her for her kindness and love for books. Alice knew the books from cover to cover, so she always had the best suggestion to every request. Under no circumstances would one leave the shop disappointed or empty-handed; Alice would personally make sure this never happened.
Alice had a daily routine nothing in the world was able to change. Every morning she would open the shop at 9am sharp, and she would close it at 5pm. Sharp. Customers were aware of Alice’s peculiar obsession with time, and made sure they complied with it. It was a small price to pay, in return for her kindness and helpfulness. For Alice, it was a sign of loyalty and respect to her work, her customers and time itself. She had the belief that time was precious and shouldn’t be wasted or abused in any way. It should be well spent and taken advantage of.
Alice was single and had no children either, so the bookshop and books were her whole life. For her it wasn’t just a business providing income, it was much more. For her it was her home, her family and her social environment. It was her whole world. Of course, she never openly admitted it and used to refer to it as “her business”. But everybody understood, and loved her for that.
Needless to say, she loved reading herself. When the bookshop closed and she was back at home, she would always indulge in a nice cup of tea, a piece of cake and a good book. Then, she lived a different life, in a different place, with different people and different circumstances. Alice mentally travelled through time and space with every turn of a page. She loved all genres: romance, mystery, fantasy… she identified with the heroes and heroines of the books, empathized with their misfortunes and was excited with their happiness. Finally, late at night, she would go to bed exhausted but happy. “It had been a day well spent”, she used to think.
The news spread like wildfire in the otherwise quiet city; a pandemic had broken out. The government had to take harsh measures to confront it; quarantines, lockdowns and curfews. The people had to wear face masks indoors and outdoors and maintain a 2-metre distance between them in public places. And they had to stay at home and avoid being out of the house for no important reason.
All that, for Alice, meant that she had to keep the bookshop closed for quite a long time. It was a situation she had never experienced before. Never before had she kept the bookshop closed for more than a day. Never before had she been absent. But now, the circumstances were different and Alice had to close, like everybody else who owned a business other than a food business or a drugstore. Only businesses with an e-shop were allowed to deliver goods to customers. All the others simply had to remain closed and would pay heavy fines if they didn’t comply with the laws. Of course, Alice knew very well what an e-shop meant and that it could give her business a new perspective. She was an experienced businesswoman, but not a hardened one. Or not hardened enough.
So Alice stayed at home, like everybody else, within the four walls of her small apartment. In the beginning, she was happy, giving herself excuses like “it won’t last long”, or “time for relaxation”, or even “time to get acquainted with the neighbours”. Of course, she read a lot, just like before. She read her favourites again and again. She even invited neighbours and friends over for tea. But the days became weeks, and the weeks became months. And Alice got more and more disheartened. The neighbours started seeing less and less of her. “She will be busy with her housework” or “she may be reading more than before” they thought to themselves and didn’t give it a second thought.
It was Christmas time, when someone said: “Hey, we haven’t seen Alice for quite a long time. Let’s go ring her bell”. And so they did. No answer. They rang again and again, but again there was no answer. They somehow started to worry. Then someone said they should call a locksmith and have the door opened. They got inside the apartment, which was sunny and tidy, and started looking for Alice. They found her on the kitchen floor. She had gone.
On her desk they found unpaid bills for the bookshop and for the apartment. They also found a sales contract with her name on. She probably had planned to sell the bookshop to someone else. The doctor said that it must have been melancholia. Her heart couldn’t bear it that she had to be away from the bookshop for so long, let alone sell it.
The people of the small city felt sorry for her, and a little guilty for not having given her more attention, or more care. She was a neighbor, after all. Eventually, they had to go on with their lives. The virus continued to hit the world and they had to remain safe and take precautions. Soon it all would all be over, they kept thinking and took heart. They would face it all together, united. The young would take care of the old and the old would do their best to stay safe, and help the young. The doctors and nurses did their best to save everyone and became heroes with their sacrifice and continuous struggle.
But they couldn’t help but miss Alice, the kind lady who owned the little corner bookshop and loved books.