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Goldie Kohli Goldie Kohli
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She had a friend.

A visit to the local library and what I discovered there

Given the size of the library doors I had expected a flurry of activity when I entered. It was a sunny day outside but quiet and devoid of any human movement inside. The library was set on three levels. A woman, I presumed the librarian, was scanning books at the counter. She was young maybe in her twenties and smartly dressed in a floral printed garment.

I was glad the library was quiet and nodded at her as I went to the computer with the library's catalogue on it. I searched for books of my favourite authors so that I could spend interesting evenings back in the hotel while I was on tour for work. It was a public library and you could borrow books as long as they could identify you. I planned to be in this town for a fortnight and I did not like to watch inane television shows.

I climbed the stairs and reached the section containing the books. The books were neatly stacked on the shelves, aligned well as if done by a machine. Not a trace of dust on the shelves and the carpets must have just been vacuumed recently. There was no one on this level of the library and it appeared I was the only client in the entire building.

The quiet was refreshing. I picked the first book on my list. It appeared crisp and fresh which surprised me given it was at least a thirty year old edition. I opened it and saw that it had notes on the margin. I enjoy reading the marginal notes that previous readers have filled in though it is more prevalent in pre-loved books not in library owned ones. Reading the marginal comments one is connected immediately to the earlier readers as if watching over his shoulder while he shook his head and wrote in the margins with exasperation. Other times you nearly saw a smile as he agreed with an insight he read or laughed as he found something funny. Marginal comments were snapshots of a reader's life as some of the text in the books he was reading had relevance at that moment of his life. Some were single word comments 'Beautiful', 'Absolutely!', 'False' or some ran into a few words such as ' I remember the time when....', ' It happened to me too'.

The comments were written not with a ballpoint or fountain pen but with a quill and ink. Some words and sentences were highlighted with a fluorescent yellow and at other times an orange pen.

I flicked the pages and noticed that words under some of the yellow and orange markings were missing. What remained were just straight lines of yellow or orange where the words should have been.  Some were gaps where there should have been two letters words like 'to', 'me' 'is', 'so'. In other cases more complex multisyllabic words were absent from the text. I was unable to guess what these words were.

I opened another book and noticed a similar theft of words though the highlighter colours varied. At some places the marginal markings were in ballpoint, pencil or fountain pen. I did not come across the quill and ink till I had gone through a few more books. The only common trend that I could see was that these were love stories. The settings often varied as some were classics, others popular, also books for young authors.

Someone had been stealing words out of the books. They had simply been, as if, sucked out of the text. Where were the words and what were they doing with them?

I kept going through various shelves and found a similar crime having been committed. Biographies, adventure, art, history books, newspapers, magazines had been spared. Was this the reason the library was not in use as books had been rendered incomplete and the text replaced with fluorescent colour or the reader's comments about the text?

I chose a book on history of the local tribes and another one on the life of a famous painter. I intended to ask the librarian about the missing words.

It appeared she too had left and I was alone in the whole building. I rang the bell on the table but no one appeared. I called out “Hello”. There was no answer.

I scanned the books myself as there were instructions near the machines. The receipt gave me three weeks to return the books.

I walked to the door which did not open when I pulled it. A green button on the wall said “Press after hours for exit”. I pressed it and the door opened. The security alarm rang shrilly. I looked around and there was no one as I hailed a passing taxi.

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