“So, you wanted information on supernatural beings and occurrences,” Romanoff said. We had retired to his library with coffee. The room was huge and beautiful. Dark, polished floor-to-ceiling shelves ran the entire length of the room. It was, if not more, the same size as my apartment. A large, dark oak desk sat at one end of the room. Two dark brown leather chairs faced it. It was almost completely carpeted, and where it wasn’t, the floor revealed a dark, polished wooden floor. A single, full length window, covered by a curtain, revealed the open grounds at the back. Gratia’s old families put a lot of thought where architecture was concerned.
“Yes,” I watched Romanoff as he walked around some of the shelves. “I have always loved this library,” I said.
“Is that why you always borrow books from Gratia’s library instead of from mine?”
I narrowed my eyes at him. He turned around to look at me, and I saw that he looked offended. I was taken aback. Only a few minutes ago, he had been laughing and joking around with me.
“I just never thought of it. I … can, if you want me to,” I was confused. Gratia’s library was in the main square, always on my way to work or to shops, so I never thought much about it. And, after my recent discovery- the thoughts of which I spent most time avoiding- I was curious about the origins of the books in the library.
And then, it clicked. “Old man, are you feeling lonely? Is old age finally getting to you?”
He peered back at me. Now, he definitely looked offended. “I already have such a hard time making my godson spend some time with me, and now he is questioning my motives.” He began feigning innocence, “And, who knows how many years I have left..”
“Aha! There it is.” I grinned. “You don’t have such a bad sense of humour sometimes.”
He grinned back. Romanoff looked much younger when he laughed. He also had a pretty infectious grin. “You are welcome, in fact- I insist that you use my libraries as well. I will have a key made for you, so you have them at your disposal.” He turned back to the shelves.
I gasped. “Thank you, sir. That is most kind of you.” He motioned for me to get the rolling ladder. He took it from me and set it so that it covered just under a quarter of the whole length of shelves he was facing.
“This whole section covers your topic of interest. Now, you may or may not find other sections providing introspect as well. Let me show you how this library is organised so you can look for yourself.” He explained that all the sections were marked and arranged in alphabetical order. He pointed out some out to me- Ancient Medicine, New Medicine, History of the Ancient World, History of the New World, Maps, Cultures of the Ancient World, Evolving Cultures, Digressors in Various Fields-
“What does that mean?” I interrupted.
“That section contains writings of people who deviated from the norms of their society, to reveal a new, distinct thought. It often got them in trouble, though. It covers many fields- brave people in medicine, history…”
“So, some sections converge.”
“Yes.” He nodded. “The upstairs library is also structured in the same way. It is most likely that you will almost always find what you are looking for here. I have barely ever needed to refer to the upstairs library.”
“There is no empty space in the shelves. How did you fill it completely without falling short or overlapping into different sections?”
“You have a sharp eye,” he remarked. He ran his fingers along the spines of the books in Psyche of Evil. “These books have always been arranged in this way, ever since I was a child, my father, his father and so on. So the pattern you see in front of you is how it has been in the family library for centuries.
“I assume they arranged the books around so everything fits perfectly. This library was renovated in recent years accounting for the amount of new wood you see in this room.”
“I will have to remember which row each book belongs to,” I frowned. I almost didn’t want to use his pristine library any more. It looked almost too perfect.
“Not necessarily. Just remember the section. That will help.”
I wanted to explore the library more, but I wanted more time. Night had fallen, and I did not want to get myself lost in dark alleys any time soon again.
Today was a long day today, I thought to myself as I climbed into bed an hour later. The breakfast with Romanoff seemed so far away.. yesterday’s events seemed so far away.
I turned on my right side so that the medicine on my left eye would not spoil the covers. Drawing boxes on my quilt, I drifted off to sleep thinking about Romanoff’s library.
I stared at the library’s rows of perfectly arranged shelves. I glanced down at my hands, staring at the chocolate dessert Romanoff got for me. Steadying my grip on the plate, I threw it menacingly against his bookshelves. It crashed loudly in the silence. Dessert spread everywhere. I turned back towards the desk, picked up my cup of coffee and with wide, sweeping motions spilled it on every book in Digressors, and then proceed to mix all the sections. Gleeful, I stood back admiring my masterpiece when I noticed some movement from the corner of my eye. Lanvin’s mother stood at the doorway, watching me. She was wearing a black gown, her long hair framing her face. She stared at me with a peculiar look of pity on her face.
I stared back, feeling guilty at having been caught. As she took a step towards me, the look on her face changed to something unfathomable-confusion perhaps?- then anger, and then, a wicked grin.
I wanted to move but my feet were frozen to the ground. A familiar sinking feeling in my chest hit me and sweat trickled down my spine. Danger.
I heard Romanoff calling me from the kitchen, “Robin, do you know how to make coffee?”
I wanted to help him but I was still paralysed, grounded on my feet. I looked up at Ms.Monet who had now morphed into somebody else. This person had messy, dark brown hair. Striking, angry amber eyes stared at me from under a black hood. And a knife in one hand.
Suddenly, Romanoff came inside the room. He had heavy bags under bloodshot red eyes, his clothes were twice his size and hanging off him so he looked like he had lost all his weight. He was holding onto two canes to support both his legs. He had aged well beyond measurable human years, and was at the brink of- death.
“Romanoff!” I screamed. Why was he here?
The figure in the hood changed her course suddenly. I stared in horror as she glided towards an unsuspecting Romanoff, extending the knife purposefully downward and forward and-
I woke up, panting. It was just a dream, I comforted myself. I looked at the clock. It was five in the morning. I sat at the end of my bed, still reeling. It was only when I touched my face that I realised I had been crying in my sleep.
“Good morning, Lanvin!” I entered the Gratia Cotidiana office, bright and early a few hours later. I gave him a toothy smile. It was a bright, sunny day and somehow my mood matched it as well. The swelling in my eye had receded, and the pain was manageable and a dull, thud now. Ms. Monet’s medicine was working its magic on me. I started to climb up the stairs to the writers’ offices where I sat.
“Good morning, Monsieur Robin,” Lanvin replied, returning a good-natured smile. He blinked up from the tea tray he was carrying out from the ground floor kitchen, and headed presumably towards Marcus’s office. He must be back in the office today.
I sat on my desk. I was early, and there weren’t many people inside the office yet. I opened my bag, and retrieved the book. This might not be such a great idea, my subconscious muttered. What if somebody sees the words appear, over your shoulder?
I shook my head. I wasn’t going to write anything. On the outside, it looked like any ordinary book. I only needed to make notes about it, so as to know what exactly to look for when visiting Romanoff’s library again, this evening.
I retrieved some blank paper and writing instruments from my bag, and began thoroughly examining the book. I started writing all I knew about the book.Mahogany cover, old. At least twenty years old, if thoroughly used. More, if not.
No publisher information or date.
Poems of known and unknown authors, sharing similar themes of grief, confusion, and hope.
Small, unknown symbol in gold lettering at the back cover of book. Could be so that the book can be identified, if lost. Or could refer to a person, or concept. May lead to something.
Said hello to me.
I placed my hands on my chin, and stared at the book with narrowed eyes.
“What did that poor book ever do to you?” said a voice. I jumped. A girl, around my age, was standing at the edge of my desk, grinning. She had a light complexion, light blue-grey eyes, blond- more like silver- straight hair falling behind her back, and angular facial features. I had never seen her in the office before. She was dressed smartly for work.
I protectively placed my hand over my notes and the book, covering them. “Nothing… I was just thinking about something,” I muttered and stood up. I started putting my things away, with more speed than needed. There were more people in the office now, and I was getting some stares.
The girl followed my gaze towards the others, and then turned back to look at me. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing. They are staring at me.”
She raised her eyebrow, grinning. “No, I think they are staring at me.”
“Oh,” I look away, feeling sheepish. Should I ask why? “Do you work here? I have never seen you at the office before.”
“No, I just joined,” She extended her hand to shake mine. “My name is Aniko. Nice to meet you,” She had a warm, confident smile. “I am the boss’s niece.”
The staring made sense now. Inward, I rolled my eyes. I continued organising my work papers for the day. “Welcome to the Cotidiana, Aniko.”
“Thank you.” She took a step back. “I have to go introduce myself to some more people. Uncle’s orders.” She rolled her eyes, and started to walk away. “Oh, and I almost forgot. Uncle wants to see you in his office in fifteen minutes.”
“How did you know who I was?”
“He told me to find the most lanky person in the office.”
“I mistook you for the tea boy first,”
“Are you serious?” I gasped, exasperatedly.
“Yes,” she said, with an anxious look on her face. “But I think we are friends now,” She grinned. “I taught him how to balance a bottle on his index finger,” She waved and then turned to walk towards the desk of the sub-Editor.
Fifteen minutes later, I knocked and entered Marcus’ office. I had only been inside once, when I joined his employment two years ago. It was a long, rectangular room. A big, wooden desk faced the main door. It was completely covered with papers. Two comfortable armchairs and a couch huddled a smaller, coffee table, covered by a plain, dark blue carpet. Cupboards lined one wall, from top to bottom. One of them was open, and it was packed with neat stacks of papers. The other walls had photographs and paintings covering them entirely. Two open windows let some of the day’s sunshine fill the room.
Marcus and Aniko were sitting on the couch. He was talking in a quiet voice, and she was listening intently. Without looking towards me, he gestured for me to sit in one of the chairs facing them, and continued talking.
“I told Kono that the last time I ate his famous figs dessert, I got the most terrible case of constipation. I was convinced I was going to die.”
Maybe, I should not be here.
They both laughed. “I should hide all the figs before the festival, then,” she said, conspiratorially.
“Actually, that is what I wanted to ask you to do,” Marcus replied. I had never seen him in such a light-hearted mood.
I gulped, loudly. They both turned towards me, frowning. Marcus’s frown turned deeper as his eyes rested on my black eye. Feeling guilty, I said, “I’m sorry, sir. I didn’t mean to interrupt your conversation… twice.”
He smiled politely, waving my words out the window, though I noticed his earlier mood had dissipated. “Robin, thank you for coming to see me at such a quick notice.”
“No problem, sir.”
“As you can see, you have already met my niece.
“I also heard about the change of atmosphere in the office this morning,” He frowned, looking at Aniko who gazed impassively at him. “I am not going to tolerate that sort of attitude towards my niece, myself, or any other employee.” I was taken-aback that he was already aware.
“It will create an unhealthy work environment, and it is not fair to anyone, either,” He looked pointedly at me. Despire my fear of his temper, I was always appreciative of this quality of Marcus. He was strict and fair.
“Anyhow, Please make a notice of it to me if they continue with it. My employees will need to keep their arrogant opinions to themselves, if they want to keep their jobs,” He winked at Aniko. “And their heads.”
She laughed. I gave a forced smile, unsure about his sense of humor and the sudden emergence of a rare good temper.
“Anyhow, Robin,” He turned back towards me. “I have a new job proposition for you.”