After my grandfather’s death I found work as an obituary writer at Gratia Cotidiana, the newspaper house. Part of my work involved visiting the families of the deceased to learn more about the person to give some sense of that person in the mentions. My official title was obituary writer, but I spent most of my time editing pieces that other staff had written. People in the town didn’t really die often. Pay was scanty but the relief of having something to look forward to, even if it was writing the last public mention that many of the deceased were to receive, was enough to get me out of my apartment every morning.
A routine settled in quickly. In the mornings, I grabbed fresh bread from the bakery on my way to the Cotidiana which I ate with tea on my desk. I worked all morning and afternoon at the Cotidiana. The most interesting part of my day was always the walk back home from work. My usual route was through the Square’s busy evening people-traffic. On good days, I spent twenty minutes dodging vendors futilely trying to sell me the day’s leftover produce.
“Monsieur Robin, would you admire these beautiful radishes! You know, you should eat more vegetables, you are so thin. For you, I make these at half price.”
“No, thanks, Meka,”
“But, but, you will never find such beautiful radishes, not even Kinwa has such good produce,” Meka narrowed her eyes as she glanced at Kinwa’s stall. Kinwa’s grinning head popped up.
“Ah, Monsieur Robin! Is the old witch trying to sell you her rotten radishes again?” Kinwa put his arm around me, and produced a giant mushroom.“This mushroom will last you the entire week. Chicken soup, Goat soup, Brokehart soup..it adds flavor to any kind of soup, what do you think? I will sell it twenty percent off just to you,”
Meka snorted loudly. “Your mushrooms look like they were picked from the waste bins!” She watched me to see whether I would buy from Kinwa or her. I glanced at the mushroom. It had an unsightly number of black spots.
“Kinwa, are you sure you should be selling that at all? It looks like it’s already gone bad,”
Meka came closer and began laughing,“I KNEW IT! This rotten seller is trying to poison everyone. Wait until I tell the police…”
“Kinwa, you witch, you’re driving my customers away!”
“The only thing driving your customers away is that large incessant head of yours”
I gently loosened myself from Kinwa’s arm from around me as he and Meka began squabbling.
After crisscrossing the Square, I passed Vecors Park which cut into Fors alley, that opened towards my building. Vecors Park had an interesting history to it. It was the only area in the town among the hundred other alleys to have foliage in it. Apparently it belonged to one of the town’s earliest inhabitants called Vecors. He was a philosopher who also worked on the side as a painter. Folklore said one day Vecors noticed a child playing g on the large garden of his house after which he decided to allow any child who wished, to utilize his park for their games. Around the age of 60 he began losing his memory and with that he also started accusing some of the other inhabitants of the then very small Gratia of hypocrisy. Now conflict between inhabitants has never been the most disconcerting issue in the town, but Vecors’s loud personality meant that everybody in the town heard him when he went around the streets cursing the people. He disappeared a little over a year after after his madness started. His body was never found, and soon after people forgot about him.
One day, I decided to stop at the library. Following the move from my grandfather’s house, now locked up, it had been a while since I had visited the library. To call it a library may be a disgrace to books. Welcome to Gratia’s library, housed in a rickety, two-story building. Some businesses in Gratia have bigger entrances. The library started out as self-run which meant that one was free to add to the collection- you would be surprised how fond of books Gratia was- and take as needed. This self-regulation idea did not last for very long as Gratia began to grow. After consistent periods of acute shortages of books, a registration rule was implemented to track that everything was returned. As a child, I always found it interesting that this matter was resolved so quickly and peacefully.
“Grandfather, it is as if the guardians of the library identified the problem, came up with a solution, and everything was sorted instantly!” I had remarked to him after my first visit to the library.
“Things are never as they seem. If I were you, I wouldn’t trust what Gratia’s history books say. Often, the truth is very different, and there is contempt which can come out in subtle ways. Now, what did you learn about Aquinas this week?”
I scanned the shelves for something to strike me, a book that stood out. After an hour of bending my neck reading the covers, I decided to employ a different method. Take a book out, read its title, put it back, move along quickly. I was almost done with the mythical stories section until I came across an unnamed book. I opened it to find a poem instead of a title:
To see the world in a grain of sand
And heaven in a wildflower…
It was one of my favourite phrases. Inside the book, there were more poems, collections and collections filled the first half of the book. No authors were identified but I recognised some- Keats, Blake, and Dickinson among others. There were many unfamiliar ones, but all had recurring themes- loss, grief, passion, confusion. The layout of the book was unorthodox, and the book itself had a distinct, old-book smell. The latter half of the book was completely blank. There was no information about the publisher. The book had a mahogany cover and a fading symbol in gold outline on the spine. I felt compelled to take it home. I was curious about the peculiar design and using my connections at my employment I could find out more about it. It was an outlandish idea and I didn’t realise at the time that the reason I felt so compelled to take the book with me was because its poems had in them questions I had always avoided asking myself.