Chapter 21: The Aubergine Book Fair
The library was in a din as Ishaani removed hundreds of copies of several books from all genres, and piled them up in Martha's cabin.
"Ishaani, dear, how many copies of Jane Eyre are you planning to give out?"
"Would ten do?"
"Yeah, I think that should suffice."
Ishaani took out ten copies of Jane Eyre in a pile on the right hand corner of the cabin while Martha stacked along with it twenty copies of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, And There Were None and Annie Frank. Ishaani tossed out several copies of The Great Gatsby, Lord of the Rings, The Catcher in the Rye, Invisible Man and A Tale of Two Cities over the stack.
"Ishaani, did you speak to Sebastien about the copies of In Search of Lost Time and Madame Bovary?"
"Yes and he said that they'll be here in 2 hours."
"Oh God, we will be able to make it now, won't we?"
"Martha, relax! It's going to be fine. The book fair is going to be a success. Besides, it's after a week. We've already prepared everything. Sebastien has to just help us with the copies of the books we want and we're clear."
"Oh God, I don't know what would have happened had you not been here."
"Martha, don't ponder over 'ifs' and 'buts’. And while you are at it, just pass me five copies of The Ginger Man."
Martha passed her the copies and Ishaani put in into another pile while she put seven copies of The Call of the Wind and The Death of the Heart into another pile. She quietly pulled out three copies each of The Grapes of Wrath and To the Lighthouse and put them along with the copies of Brave New World and Animal Farm.
Ishaani put all the books stacked separately in their respective cardboard boxes and sealed them up properly, the labels of the boxes already written on in advance. Ishaani knew that the book fair was important for Martha because this was the 50th Anniversary of the Aubergine Book Fair, and all donations would be given to an orphanage. Martha was worried about all the arrangements given that all the preparations were to be done on a grand scale, but Ishaani managed to keep her relaxed, taking all responsibilities off her shoulders and relieving Martha of the stress.
Keeping the three cardboard boxes along with the 7 other packed ones, Ishaani and Martha both left the cabin, with Martha getting back to the desk and Ishaani picking up the cardboard box containing the new copies of the same books that were to be sold during the fair. Walking up to the Sci-Fi section, she carried about the box of books with her, stopping by the bookcase.
Keeping the box down, she removed three copies of The Time Machine. She tiptoed towards the uppermost shelf and placed the books in the empty slots when she suddenly felt a pair of hand wrap around her waist. Turning around in surprise, she saw Ranveer smiling at her and a huge grin crossed her face as well.
"Didn't work this time."
"The horror section would have worked a wonder."
"Oh shut up." Ishaani blushed while Ranveer pulled her closer to himself. She threw her arms around his neck and smiled at him while his arms still remained snaked over her waist.
"How is Martha doing?"
"She's freaked out with the whole thing, but otherwise she's alright. I've got everything in running order. This should be perfect by next week."
"Once the fair is done, I have a surprise for us."
"Yeah. And it's a pretty awesome one as well." Ishaani scrutinized Ranveer's excited look and shook her head in worry.
"I really hope that it's not one of your foolish antics again. Because that jack-a-hammer from yesterday was so not cool."
"Oh c'mon! That was a prank. This is the real thing!"
"We'll see about that." Ranveer rolled his eyes at Ishaani and she shook her head. "How's Claudine? Is she feeling okay? I felt so horrible that I couldn't be with her today because of all the work."
"She's absolutely fine now. Martin hasn't left her side since morning. Though if you ask me, he hasn't pretty much left her side since last week, ever since he found out that he's going to be the father of twins." Ishaani smacked Ranveer's chest reproachfully while she smiled. "What? You know it's true."
"I find it really cute."
"Okay. So tell me, what else comes under your definition of cute?" Ranveer looked at Ishaani, his puppy dog eyes staring right through her own onyx ones. She quivered under his gaze, her resistance crumbling steadily.
"Stop it. You're making me go all nervous."
"Am I now?" Ranveer reduced his voice to a dangerous whisper, as Ishaani stared at Ranveer intently before pulling Ranveer's face closer to her own. Ranveer looked surprised, but didn't say anything, his eyes still staring intensely into her own. Ishaani smirked and made a last minute diversion towards Ranveer's ear and whispered slowly.
"Yes. And in response to you previous question, you." She separated herself from Ranveer's grasp and gave him a playful look as Ranveer looked dazed. She walked away towards the Adventure section, the box in her hand while she winked at him once. Ranveer could only stare at her as she walked from section to section, arranging the books in their respective orders, a single thought captured in his mind.
What would life have ever been without her?
The rest of the week passed in the complete preparations of the book fair that was to happen in Naxou's Esperidon Square. Ishaani had the entire set up of their stall ready on a windy Friday, that was chilly yet had a bit of sun peeking about from time to time.
There were stalls put up by several bookshops from all over the districts of Vari-Voula-Vouliagmeni, but the one of Neapolitan City stood right in the center of the fair, the center of attraction and the limelight of the day.
Books sold before the blink of an eye and by seven that evening, most of the stalls were nearly empty, all the books on the stalls almost sold out. Neapolitan City managed to make the maximum contribution and the funds raised were more than expected for the orphanage.
A small party was hosted by the committee members of the fund raising event the same evening, Ranveer being amongst one of the committee members. Ranveer brought Ishaani along with him to the party arm in arm as his date for the evening. Ishaani smiled, the glow on her face pronounced by the joy of being in Ranveer's company, apart from the sleeveless, floor-length aubergine-colored gown she had on, a halter neckline along with pleats. Ishaani had pulled her hair up in a half bun, leaving a lock of stray hair on either side while she only wore a bracelet on her hand to accompany her earrings. Her ring from Ranveer glowed strongly in the lights from the hall. Ranveer on the other hand donned a typical black and white tuxedo. Both of them were dressed according to the dress code for the party tonight.
All the guests were met and introduced to each other at the party and a light atmosphere circled overhead, the cool autumn breeze from outside entering the hall through the windows. Ranveer introduced Ishaani to all the other committee members on board, all of them recognizing her by her work towards the library in the past 6 months. Ishaani was surprised when the members applauded her appreciatively and her confusion was apparent as to how they knew that much about her. Ranveer later mentioned that the book fair committee observed and provided external management to all major libraries in the three districts, Neapolitan City being the biggest and oldest one on the list.
After the apperitifs and the hors d'oeuvres went around the party, the chief committee members clinked their glasses of vine in unison, a call for the round of dance to begin. This time, Ranveer pulled Ishaani to the center of the hall confidently while she smiled at him and interlocked her fingers with his. They swayed to the slow tune being played in the back ground while they stared at each other lovingly.
"Last time was pretty much a disaster now, wasn't it?"
"Naah, we danced pretty well. In fact, the best so far I would say."
"Oh c'mon. You know what I'm talking about."
"Now that you mention about it, I spent fifteen minutes of that night holding you so close to me, yet I felt so blank that night. I still don't know how I managed to pull off that party."
"All I remember when you asked me to dance last time was my confusion as to whether I should run away or just simply accept your hand."
"Yeah, I was pretty afraid you would refuse point blank. The only reason why I got the courage to ask you to dance was because I still had my wall of armor around my heart that night." Ishaani had a distant look of horror on her face before she snapped back.
"Yeah, you pretty much frightened me that night with all the cold lifelessness about you. I thought I'd lost you forever." Ranveer caressed her cheek lovingly.
"I thought so too. But then, you gave me a new life and with it, my old self. Or rather a new version of my old self that same night." Ishaani let Ranveer twirl her once before she continued.
"Hmmm. Well, as you said, we have the power to heal each other. That night was one of those." Ranveer grinned at her while she looked at him innocently.
"My, my. Someone is following my rule book pretty obediently." Ishaani struck her tongue out at him before Ranveer turned her about, so that now she was backing him while they now held opposite hands.
"You did speak sense that day." Ranveer and Ishaani both swayed to the tune before Ranveer whispered.
"I always speak sense." Ishaani turned back and gave him a skeptical look.
"Alright, I'll take your word for it, Mr. Tuxedo." Turning her about once again so that they came back to their previous posture, Ranveer gave her a meaningful look.
"You'll do well in following my word as well, Ms. Aubergine." Ishaani nodded at him while giving him a mesmerizing look. They both danced silently for a few minutes before a new thought crossed her mind.
"Curiously enough, this fair was founded in the memory of Mrs. Cathy Aubergine now, wasn't it?" Ranveer gave her an impressed look.
"So you do know about her. Yeah, this was founded in her memory. Funnily enough, it's her 50th death anniversary today."
"Yeah, I know. And it's obvious that I would know about Cathy Aubergine. I mean, she's the one who founded Neapolitan City in the first place." Ishaani and Ranveer gave each other a serene look at the thought of the library.
"She was a pretty interesting woman now, wasn't she?" Ishaani nodded her head in agreement.
"Yeah. Her stories were pretty inspirational to me back when I'd read her biography. It's one of the main reasons why I came to Neapolitan City for work."
"Quoting her from her book, I think she described Neapolitan City '...as a place of adventure and thrill, where one no longer will remain oneself, but will live a thousand lives each day, breathe through the characters of thousands of books while fighting battles of honor and valor in worlds far more inflicted than their own.' Her description was so true now, wasn't it?"
"It's pretty much true. Its pity that she barely lived a day to see how her library touched the lives of so many people."
"She died the same night the library had its inauguration ceremony. And the same day, Neapolitan City took birth."
"The classic irony of life." The tune changed and with it, the new tune caught on a faster beat and Ranveer and Ishaani now danced accordingly. Ranveer look and Ishaani and spoke honestly.
"By the way, I would have been totally wrong if I'd told you that you looked stunning in that green gown that day. You look even more beautiful in this one."
"You don't look that bad either. I must say, tuxedoes look pretty good on you." Ranveer gave her a cheeky look and she laughed at him happily, grazing his cheek with affection.
"So, when do you intend to give me my surprise, now that the fair is all done, and that too all successfully?"
"Wait till we get home. I'm glad you mentioned it to me." Ishaani smiled at him, as he twirled her around once before the song came to an end.
Ishaani and Ranveer entered the latter's bedroom, a tired sigh escaping from both their lips. Ishaani took off her stilettos and massaged her aching heels while Ranveer rid himself of his tie.
"That dancing really got my feet all aching."
"It was really fun though. It's been ages since I've last danced with you to my heart's content." Ishaani looked at Ranveer and shook her head in an exasperated manner.
"You were going to give me a surprise." Ranveer smiled at her eagerness.
"I'm glad to see that you're pretty excited about it."
"Well go on. What is it?" Ranveer walked up to his wardrobe and opened it, taking something out from it. Coming back to Ishaani, he handed over to her two passports and tickets along with a brochure.
"Since it's my birthday next week, I got myself a present, along with a surprise for you. We're going to Vegas."