Chapter 2: A Wave of New Tidings
Mrs. Brandt was seated in her small cabin, located at the right hand corner of the library hall, handling the accounts of the library funds. Her head was bent over the various cash memos and bills that were spread out across her desk while hers brows were contracted in concentration. Just when she was about to make some last minute entries in her ledger, she heard a knock on her door. Mrs. Brandt's head perked up suddenly, surprised at the knock for she was not expecting anyone at that hour. Her brows furrowed in confusion now, as she uttered a hesitant ‘Come in’.
A girl in her mid-20’s entered the room, her steps unsure but not weak, while her hair was tied in a simple ponytail. Her clothes too, were simple - a blouse shirt tucked in a knee-length skirt. Her eyes shined onyx while there was a simple smile on her face. Her face was thin, with her cheekbones making it look very coquette while her face had a heart-shaped cut about it. She had the air of someone who had seen life at its fullest and at its worst, yet there was a very empty air about her. There was something very uncanny about her presence that reminded Mrs. Brandt of someone else that she had known, but she couldn't quite put her finger on it.
Mrs. Brandt beckoned her into the room with an air of polite courtesy. The girl entered with an easy grace and took the seat on the other side of the desk. Mrs. Brandt interlocked her fingers under her chin while she surveyed the girl before her carefully.
"Tell me, darling, how may I help you?"
"I heard about your advertisement in the paper through my friend. So I thought I'll appear for the interview. The vacancy is still open, right ma'am?" The girl spoke in a gentle yet confident tone that managed to catch Mrs. Brandt's attention instantly, for her judgment on the girl based on her looks had been downright incorrect.
She was momentarily taken aback, for she could read anybody as easily as a book. She made a wrong assumption about a person only once before in her entire life and she did not like being proved wrong. However, she was much wiser than most women when it came to things like these and decided to hear the girl out rather than sit in brooding judgment.
"Martha will do, dear. And yes, the vacancy is still open." Mrs. Brandt smiled at the girl as the latter handed over the file she was holding in her hand across the table.
Mrs. Brandt accepted the file and opened it, flipping through the papers that were a part of the girl's portfolio. She had an impressed look on her face while the girl watched her keenly. But the look soon changed into a one of bewilderment.
"I don't understand."
"What happened, ma'am? Is everything alright?"
"Yes… I mean, no. You have excellent credentials and your degrees can get you into any fine law company. Then why do you want to take up the job of an assistant caretaker in an old and rusty library?"
The girl smiled simply and it somehow seemed to frighten Mrs. Brandt. She realized in that moment who the girl resembled in her nature and sure enough, when the girl spoke, it confirmed her suspicions.
"Ma'am, in these tender years, I have seen both life at its best and worst. But the past is now the past. And I cannot face it anymore. I have been here in Greece for three years now, surviving on basic sustenance and I'm happy. So long as I have a roof on my head and food to fill me up, I want nothing else. The only thing that I now long for is peace of mind and what better place can one get that from but in the sacred worship of a library?"
The girl looked up at Mrs. Brandt earnestly. The latter, on the other hand, looked shocked for a moment before she appeared calm and composed once again. Why, this girl spoke exactly like the strange Mr. Vaghela!
"You youngsters these days really surprise me. You have your entire youth and age before yourselves, yet you decide to while away these privileges of life and prefer sinking into an endless abyss of sorrow and grief. I bet, you too, like countless others, have suffered from a heart break or else have sacrificed a love too great to be let gone?" Mrs. Brandt's tone was not unkind, ye there was an exasperation that was not bothered to be kept concealed.
"Mrs. Bran- Martha, I know that I sound like a silly little goose for talking such kind of things, but trust me, this isn't what you think it is. All my life, I have done everything for the sake of the happiness of my near and loved ones. For once, I want to do something that makes me happy. Is that too much to ask for?"
Mrs. Brandt surveyed her carefully through her round glasses that were perched on her nose like a proud eagle. There was something all the more familiar about this girl with every passing minute. Not her face, but her characteristics. There was a strange defeat about her as though she had fought the battles of a lifetime and had just surrendered because she was tired of the countless attacks and deaths of emotions and feelings. But there was something in her eyes that wanted a new life, a wave of new tidings.
"Well, you seem to be the perfect candidate for the job, darling. But just the same, I do want you to consider your decision one more time."
"Ma'am, I have made my decision. I do indeed want to work here and I have weighed all my options before coming for this interview today." Two pairs of defiant glances met each other before the older ones backed away.
"Alright, you can join here from tomorrow. You'll have to be here sharp at 7 in the morning and you can leave from here at 5. I'll explain the job to you tomorrow."
Ranveer shut the book impatiently after an hour, for he could no longer concentrate over his book. The aura of the library seemed to have changed all of a sudden. He felt more hopeful, his heart was beating more freely than it had ever done in three years, yet he did not feel happy. It was as though his own body was betraying him by feeling emotions he had no right to feel anymore.
Ranveer stood up, deciding to go home and continue reading his book, for his concentration was constantly getting interrupted by the sudden excitement in his heart when there was nothing around him that could make him react so.
It was while walking towards the main desk where Mrs. Brandt would sit that Ranveer remembered about collecting the accounting details of the library funds from Mrs. Brandt. Taking a detour, Ranveer headed for Mrs. Brandt's cabin instead of walking towards the entrance door. As he headed closer, he could hear two pairs of slightly muffled voices coming through the door. He was certain that one of them belonged to Mrs. Brandt but he could not make out the other voice.
There was a very warm and welcome note in the other voice and Ranveer's heart only seemed to tug at him harder. The voice felt familiar, friendly and it was as though his heart had a connection with it. He could not understand what was the matter with himself and why was he reacting to everything in such a peculiar manner. He had his palm on the doorknob and was somehow tempted to swing the door open unannounced before the cold hand of common sense fell over him. He could not obviously enter into someone else's cabin without their express permission. That was completely tactless.
Yet he had a strong desire to do just the same. But he knew that would not be possible, because even if manners and etiquettes were to be kept aside, he knew that Mrs. Brandt was one person who simply detested such an action and had often seen her fly into rages that were worse than the stormiest of storms.
Several times, people were thrown out of the library for such discourteous behavior and Ranveer could never have seen a person blacker in rage in his entire life than Mrs. Brandt in those moments. If Mrs. Brandt was a dear in her best of moods, then she was certain no less than a fiend when she was at her worst. And Ranveer had no intention of being on the receiving end of one of Mrs. Brandt's firings. He was more than certain that should he do any such thing, he would be banished from the place forever.
Instead, Ranveer knocked the door and he could hear the conversation ceased. Mrs. Brandt's voice reached out to him.
"Who is it?"
"Mrs. Brandt, it's me. I just needed the ledger today. May I come in?"
"Oh dear, sorry. I'm in the middle of an interview right now. Besides, son, the book is not ready yet. Will it be alright if I sent it across your place before dusk?"
"That'll be alright, Mrs. Brandt. I'll be taking my leave now. Do pay me a visit when you are coming to leave the ledgers. There are a few things that I need to discuss with you."
"Alright. I'll be there by 7."
Ranveer still had his hand attached to the doorknob yet somehow, he couldn't leave it. It was as though something was within the door, something his heart was stuck to. Ranveer felt that if he left the doorknob, his heart would lose itself forever and he would be letting go of that one string of hope. He felt really stupid for having such kind of treacherous thoughts in his mind and grudgingly, he separated himself from the doorknob and left the library.
After another 10 minutes, Mrs. Brandt and the girl got up and shook hands. Overall, Mrs. Brandt was impressed with the girl and had reasonably high hopes that the girl would be able to do magic with the library that was slowly and steadily running into ruins that age had cast over it. The girl shared common courtesies with Mrs. Brandt and was about to leave the room when Mrs. Brandt exclaimed out loud.
"Welcome to Neapolitan City, Ms. Parekh." The girl looked behind and smiled softly.
"Ishaani will do, Martha."
Martha smiled at her in understanding and Ishaani returned the smile before leaving the library, a hope bubbling in her heart. She had finally taken her first step towards life after three years.