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There was a specific book Lucas had in mind, part of a collection he had wanted to complete. This is why he found himself at the bookshop. This one he’d never been in before but had heard about it from a colleague when he worked just around the corner, many years ago. He no longer worked around here, and certainly not for the same company. This was no longer his city or life. Perhaps it was the rush of thoughts or the manholes of memories sparked from the past that led him to misplace the actual book he wanted. Past the everyday worries of getting older and forgetting, he did wonder whether there was something more nefarious at work within his grey matter, but here he was, in front of the store knowing he wanted a book, but not which one.
The entrance to the shop was at street level and unassuming. It opened immediately to a set of stairs that led down what felt like, at least, three floors, deep under the street. As he pulled the large glass fire door at the bottom of the stairs, the shop opened in front of him and to his left and right. A labyrinthine spread of heavily stacked, mismatched shelves with a sales desk immediately in front. The young lady behind the desk, a student he assumed given that this was university central, didn’t stir at his arrival or the pushing of air that the door caused as he’d flung it (a little too vigorously) open.
There was nothing to do but browse - the name of the author escaped him, and so too, any of his works which could, perhaps, help. The shelves were completely unorganised. The idea of a maze was there, but a non-rectilinear one. It was as if someone had just brought shelving units in and left them where they stood, or, perhaps, as Jenga bricks that had collapsed out to form these random alignments.
The place was vast. It must have been the size of several football pitches - the shelves ran, mostly, to the ceiling, so a real estimate of the size of the room was almost impossible to guess. He was judging purely by the amount he seemed to be walking. Occasionally he’d come to some vast concrete pillar that held the roof up, but other than these there was nothing much to navigate by. He wondered whether he should leave some books on the floor to mark his way back, and laughed to himself at the thought.
As he chuckled, he realised that he was, actually, lost, with no concept of which direction the sales desk was positioned. Having always prided himself on his sense of direction, he found down here it was unclear. He tried retracing his steps, but corridors of shelves led off in all directions. Not unduly worried, he thought that he would randomly find his way out at some point, or if not, shout loudly to the girl behind the desk. Failing that (he took his phone from his pocket) he did have one bar of signal to call the store.
The books were everywhere and as randomly placed on the shelves as the shelves were arranged in the room. There were no ‘sections’ as far as he could see. Books of fiction lay on top of nonfiction. Authors in no real order, no genres, no colour order nor size - just random. How was he ever to find what he was looking for, even if he could remember what it was?
He felt a cold chill breeze pass his face, was this fear, anxiety, or panic? But no, it must have come from the door he had pushed through to get into the shop. It had smacked him directly in the face. The desk was in front of him. He felt sure he could navigate straight if he took his time and concentrated. This place was a rabbit warren. Rabbit. Updike, of course.
A new 15-minute write, completed yesterday - hopefully I’m back on the bike now …The photo was taken just off Brick Lane in Shoreditch, London in 2006 on a Zenit 11
The unsurpassed joy of shopping - for anything - lies in not knowing what you seek. Wistless, directionless wanderings lead the mildly curious to a trove of delight. To the fixed of mind, who know exactly what they seek, they lead to unceasing frustration and fruitless folly. Knowing what you want is never an asset. It is a burden, bound to deception, hoist by its own bravado. To one, a pointless perambulation of pitiful chaos; to another, hours spent wallowing in a myriad of meaningful meandering. The one seeks a goal; the other despises the signpost.