Eating Clouds

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Chapter 2: The Customer

Chapter 2: The Customer

Even though the book store wasn’t often visited by anyone, there once was a day where a friendly looking young lady with a screaming child on her arm entered the store. The shop owner, as customer friendly as he was, pointed at the corner specially designed for children to sit and read and play whenever they liked. Ozzy sat there with a book on his knees, in the deepest concentration

The woman put down her daughter between the soft bricks and toys and walked away with a suspiciously fast pace towards he counter.

The little girl watched with a pouting lip as her mother left her there in a strange new place, and blinked confused with her big blue eyes, surrounded by curly long eyelashes. A little disorientated she analysed her surroundings, a thick index finger put in the corner of her mouth.

The boy that sat in the corner peeked over the edge of his book, but didn’t say a word. The little girl stared at him for a few seconds, but hadn’t learnt to greet people yet.

Her young eyes caught sight of the toys on the ground, which lay there untouched. She placed the heels of her stumpy feet in the ground, pulled her knees towards her and pulled her bottom across the floor towards the toys. The diaper she was wearing made soft squeaking sounds, and the boy in the corner made a face when a horrible smell met his nose.

Arriving at her destination, the little girl removed her finger from her mouth, accompanied by threats of drool and snot, and lunged forward to take hold of the toy.

With an intrigued look in her eyes the little girl analysed the fine techniques of the plastic. The toy slowly got more slippery by he drops of drool, so that the little girl didn’t notice that her thick thumb got stuck behind a small lever at the side. It started a mechanism within the fire truck toy which the firemen would use to save people from a burning house. The small plastic ladder at the roof of the fire truck was launched upwards like a catapult and hit the little girl’s dumb face right in the middle.

The toddler froze, taken aback by shock. Slowly her lower lip curled into a pout, her blue lips filled up with tears. A second later she opened her mouth wide, and an enormous scream erupted from her tiny body. The boy in the corner removed his hand from his nose and glanced disgusted at the little girl.

“Sst!” Ozzy hissed. The little girl turned her round head towards him and looked at him stupidly. Her curly eyelashes were glued together by the tears and her face was red where the tiny ladder had hit her in the face. The little boy, however, didn’t seem to care about any of that and didn’t make the slightest attempt to comfort the girl in any way. That’s why the silence didn’t last for long, because the girl let out another frustrated cry. The boy grunted annoyed.

“Silence! I’m busy with my voca...voca…thingy!”

The little girl stopped again, looked at the boy with a questioning expression, threw the plastic fire truck angrily on the ground and started screaming again. Ozzy grunted again, closed his book and stood up.

The shop owner was just making conversation with the mother of the little girl, discussing a particular book she was looking for. The man didn’t seem interested anymore, as he leaned on his elbow on the counter. The book the woman was looking for was available in almost every store on the planet, it was that popular. Unfortunately it wasn’t because of its literary contribution, but because bought it for some reason. The people nowadays went along with the stream, which the shop owner and book-lover hated with a real passion. It wasn’t that hard to read a less popular book every once in a while, something else than the current published works, something that actually made sense?

Everything that was currently being written seemed to just copy the old master pieces, but not in a good way. Originality didn’t exist any longer. Just look at what happened to Dracula.

Of course, the shop owner loved to help customers in his store, but the thing he loved most were the authentic book lovers which adored literature just as much as he himself did.

The woman standing in front on him was one of the people that wasn’t anything like that. And on top of that she also brought a hell of a child with her which screamed like a dying animal.

“But I’ve searched literally everywhere, for real” the woman sighed with a hand on her hip. She didn’t seem to be bothered by the screams of her daughter in the background. She was probably used to it already, so much that she didn’t notice it anymore. “It’s sold out literally everywhere. This is literally the only store where I haven’t tried yet. C’mon, are you sure you don’t have any copies in the back or something?”

The shop owner snorted bored, straightened his back and mumbled “I’ll take a look, madam.”

He walked away from the counter through the maze of tables with irregular piles of works and dusty price cards towards the back. Along the way he glanced irritated at the screaming child in the children’s reading corner. He noticed Ozzy wasn’t there anymore, which was something to be worried about. Who knows what he might be planning now. At the other hand the shop owner could understand the little boy wanted some place quiet instead of a screaming snot monster next to you.

The shop owner entered the storage room, where he lifted up and put down boxes, threw around some papers, took books from shelves and put them back. Clearly, he wasn’t really searching or even trying his best to find the particular book, but he was doing his best to make it look like he did. He ‘searched’ like this for five more minutes before returning to the counter with a sad look on his face and ready to tell the lady that the product was sold out. His love for literature overpowered his love for business. He didn’t start this damn business to just sell trash?!

He opened his mouth to tell the customer the bad news, when he saw Ozzy standing in front of the lady, with an enormous book under his arm, going by the title of ‘The universal encyclopaedia of the animal kingdom’.

“Is that yours?” he asked, pointing at the children’s reading corner, where the little girl was still screaming her lungs out. The woman lifted one eyebrow, surprised about the way the little boy addressed her daughter and the tone he spoke with, almost as if she was his customer, and not the shop owner’s, whose face was turning red of madness and slight amusement.

“Yes, that ‘it’ so happened to be my daughter” the woman answered, with insecurity sounding through. Ozzy nodded, as if he was doing grown-up business.

“Thought so. Could you please remove your daughter from the children’s reading corner? I am not entirely sure you yourself know what this place is, but what I do know is that your daughter has no clue whatsoever. You’re supposed to read books, not drool over broken toys. There are people, such as myself, that actually do these kinds of things.

The woman blinked, staring with a sour face. at the little boy, who tried so hard to sound smarter than anyone. Her lips formed a thin line and there appeared a stretch mark in her clean forehead. When she noticed the shop owner standing there with a red face, she turned her furious face towards him. “Is this your grandson?”

“G-grandson?!” the shop owner shouted surprised, and his voice skipped three octaves. He cleared his throat and went with his hand through his few grey hairs, clearly hurt by the comment. The search for the book he didn’t have in the store had probably messed it up a bit. And besides; who did the lady think she was, calling him an old man! “Grandson, you say? No, I’m lucky enough to tell you that’s not the case. I haven’t quite yet reached that age.”

“Oh, really?” the lady mumbled with a sneer. The shop owner grumbled furiously, crossing his arms.

Ozzy watched the two grown-ups without understanding anything that was going on and almost jumped through the roof when the woman grabbed his chin with her thin fingers and pierced her long nails in his soft skin. She brought her face close towards his and looked at him with a disgusted expression as she spoke to him. “My daughter and I will leave as soon as I found what I’m looking for.”

The boy blinked surprised and a little disorientated, but got a hold of himself quickly. Calmly, he stared back in the face of the woman. She let go of his face a little anxious. The little boy shook his head with an overdramatic look on his face, as if he saw something tragic happen before his eyes.

“And here I was, thinking I could finally finish reading my book, in a book store, where books are being sold, where books can be repaired, books are being repaired and books are being collected. The store is almost a book itself, if you think about it. There’s room for books, but no room for the people that love them. Such a tragedy…”

The woman raised a thin eyebrow and eyed the shop owner, who just shrugged his shoulders and tried no to laugh, knowing where Ozzy got his words from. A literary master piece, only known to the people that truly love books.

“Well, Ozzy” he said, smiling behind his hand, “you know very well there’s a place like that. And you know where to find it. So just…get going already…boy.”

The boy smiled brightly, tightened the grip around his beloved animal encyclopaedia and ran through the maze of tables towards the back of the store. The shop owner watched him with a slight hope for the future in his eyes.

The woman cleared her throat, asking for attention. Crunching his teeth together the old man turned around, with a face that had been trained for customer service throughout the years.

“Can I ask you something?” the lady asked, while watching the boy disappear through a heavy door.

“Hit it” the shop owner said sarcastically, stroking his grey hair.

“Why would you let a kid like that hang around in your store? Why don’t you send that brat outside, like normal children, to play?”

The old man walked with slow steps back to his spot behind the counter, folded his hands together and let them rest on the old wood, thinking about how to explain the relationship they had to a person that couldn’t treat her own daughter like a human being. The little girl still made the same kind of annoying nagging background music. The shop owner didn’t want to think about how the lady treated the little girl after seeing how she almost harassed a boy she’d just met.

“Speaking from the heart; I don’t know. Maybe the fact that there aren’t many youngsters as interested in books anymore as they used to be. Maybe because the store could use some company. Maybe because it’s so silent ever since the stereo broke down.” He sighed, knowing the last reason had a different cause. “I tried, once. Sending him off. The entire day he’d stand in front of the window. The next day he even dared to enter. It doesn’t matter how many times I tell him to leave, he’ll just keep coming back. In the beginning I once thought of warning the police, that’s how crazy it made me.

I don’t know anything about the brat. He just appeared one day, introduced himself, looked around, and started reading book after book. I don’t know where he lives, who his parents are, if he goes to school, nothing. During my thirty-five years of running this shop I hadn’t seen a greater reader other than my wife. It may sound strange to you, but after I while I started caring about the kid.” He chuckled, as if a funny memory came to mind. “He does everything to get what he wants, as you’ve just witnessed yourself. He knows I can barely forbid him anything anymore and he surely makes use of that.”

The woman stared at the old man with a clean face, there was nothing to be read. Then she nodded, as if she’d confirmed something. She pushed the band of her bag further over her shoulder and walked in a straight line towards the children’s reading corner. The shop owner followed her with his eyes, confused.

The woman lifted up her daughter, whom still screamed dramatically, and made her way to the exit. With one hand on the doorknob, she turned around.

“I don’t think you understand how much that kid has broken your authority. You can’t see that he’s the one with more power in this situation. I can’t see how a man such as yourself can be overruled by a six year-old. Have a nice day, sir.”

With that she stepped outside, slamming the door behind her, leaving the shop owner dazzled. He scratched the back of his neck, mumbling that Ozzy ‘is in fact ten years old, to be exact.’

He then sighed, and asked himself if the lady was right. Of course, he didn’t say that out loud. He would never believe a word a person that read books about grey said.

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