“Who was she?” That was the first thought that came into my mind when I saw her in the bookshop. Her long, silver plait snaked over one shoulder until she flicked it behind her where it came to a stop, bisecting her back perfectly. Her hair made it almost impossible to determine her age as her unlined face had a timeless quality to it; she could have been anywhere between forty and sixty. As she moved about the stacks, I noticed she had a dancer’s litheness of movement, bending gracefully to read the spines of books and placing her feet just so.
I watched her out of the corner of my eye as I unpacked a box of newly delivered books, enjoying the feel of leather and cloth against my fingertips and inhaling the spicy aroma of the tea-coloured pages. My attention was diverted when I noticed a pristine copy “The Great British Book of Birds” and I spent several minutes marvelling over the beautifully vibrant colour plates and skimming through the chapter describing how to preserve a gentleman’s carefully collected birds’ eggs. I stroked the book as I closed it then glanced up but the silver lady had gone. I was certain she hadn’t left, as she would have walked past me, so she must have made her way into the non-fiction section at the rear of the shop.
I priced a handful of the newly acquired books and went to find her. The shelves were all made of mahogany from a bygone era but when the sun shone through the high window, it transformed this back room into a softly glowing space where dust motes floated in the mellow sunlight. I had placed two comfortable armchairs in here to encourage browsers to sit and bide awhile and this was where she had settled with one leg tucked beneath her and her chin resting elegantly in the palm of her hand.
I moved quietly as I slotted the bird book amongst its kin in the ornithological section and found suitable homes for the others, all the while hoping to catch a glimpse of what the silver lady was reading. I was squinting and trying to discern the book’s title when I realised I was being calmly observed by a pair of inquisitive hazel eyes.
“I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt,” I apologised in a rush. “I thought if I could see what you were reading I could offer suggestions for other books you might like.”
“That’s very kind of you. It’s Robert Hooke’s Micrographia. The text is a little hard going but the microscopic drawings are fascinating. Here, look at this flea,” she turned the book towards me so I could look at it. “The detail is amazing, you can even see the hairs on its legs.”
Her face lit up with a child-like wonder as she flicked through the pages then smiled up at me. Oh dear, I thought, as my stomach flipped and somersaulted like a panicked fish, this is what it’s like to fall in love.