“This is all very interesting,” The boy in the blue T-shirt said, continuing whatever text he had left off. They weren’t the only two listening to this conversation, there were two other people standing next to them, pretending they were more interested in the books than in the couple.
The girl in short wavy hair looked incredibly hurt by her friend or possibly her boyfriend. She had been speaking of her study on Philosophy and thought Liam didn’t care much or find it interesting, if it was him, he would at least pretended to care. She dropped the book and turned to leave him standing with his phone; still texting.
“Hey,” The salesman took a book and threw it across the table, nearly falling off the edge. The boy looked surprised, angry too as he opened his mouth to say something to the girl, only to realize she wasn’t there.
“Your friend left,” He said, taking a handful of books and stacked it all in one place; just under the sign that said ‘Astronomy’. He was a tall man with tattoos all over his right arm, a short-sleeved shirt, and blond beard. With a sigh, he sat back on his chair.
Liam stood reading a copy of The Bone Clocks, trying to get the words in his head. Sometimes no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t concentrate on what he was reading. Everything had no meaning and was nothing but empty words, as if they were in a language he didn’t understand, instead of simple English. While beside him Ava had lost all interest of the strange couple, drowning in again to one of the novels she had picked up; The Taste of Sorrow. Her hair was all short curvy, cupping her blushed cheeks, a splotch of light hitting her side.
“Sir, how much is this?” She asked, lifting the book in the air.
“Seventeen Euros,” He said without looking. Ava set down the book and pulled him away from the table, not a word of thank you said. Liam said nothing as they slowed their steps down the pathway where it parted in two.
“I thought this was supposed to be a book sale. I saw the same title on Crookhomes and they sold it for eight euros. It’s just not fair.” She said, half leaning against him.
Liam pulled her closer and kissed her on the temple, “Why didn’t you buy it then?”
“I couldn’t, the girl in front of me bought it first and because its second hand that’s the only one in the store.” She groaned, “And that book was also second hand.”
“Well, it’s not like we can demand him to change the price. Come on, there’s still a lot of stalls here we haven’t checked.” He brushed her hair, loving the way it tangled in his fingers. Her lips curled into a small pink O of annoyance.
Around them, the park was filled with people chatting and enjoying their weekends. Children playing around the tall trees while eating ice cream and sugar waffles, some were standing still while stealing glimpse of books; reading already to the second chapter. A couple was kissing somewhere behind a tree, crows flying away as a small Chihuahua barked half in fear half in terror. Liam reached down and held her hand, “I’m sure you’ll find something you really like.” He tried.
“You bet, otherwise I’ll have to come home disappointed. I want to read something that is... magical. And I thought I could I find it here,” Ava announced, pulling him to a nearby stall.
Behind the piles of books stood an old woman, her long day gown had a large flamingo on it; wearing sunglasses and a large hat. Liam smiled at her as she looked away for a moment from her other customer; a young man with a pile of book in his hands already.
“Thank you, Mam, I’ll see you again next week,” He said, before leaving.
“Are you looking for a specific genre?” She came by, a large smile plastered on her face. “Romance,” She pointed a stack on the end of the table. “Thrills and horror,” And to another pile on the other end.
“Well, I’m actually looking for something--”
“Magical,” Liam said spontaneously, making a rainbow with his hands. The old woman looked confused while Ava glanced at him, her eyes widened, ‘Liam, don’t.’ She whispered.
Ava looked back at the woman, smiling awkwardly, “No, no, never mind him. I’m looking for something fantasy related,”
“Like ghosts? You’re looking for scary stories dear,” She quickly walked to the other end of her stand and took two books, which both were black. It was one of those designs where the title covered the entire front and it wasn’t clear which was the author and which was the title. Liam glanced at Ava, “I know I shouldn’t judge a book by its cover but...” He took one, “This looks like the perfect one for you.”
“Very funny. No, Mam, I mean like angels and demons, faeries, and... like Peter Pan and Tinker Bell.” She quickly added when the woman looked more confused by the passing second. She looked around and shrugged, “You mean children’s books? I’m afraid I don’t have them, all the book I have here are mine. But I think I know someone that has that kind of books,” She leaned forward, sustaining her body with a hand, she pointed to one of the streets. “He’s my friend. Just go to the right, go to the end of the street to a stall alone on the left. That’s where he is. He’s a little strange, but he’s sane. I know he is, I had tea with him yesterday,”
Liam burst out a laugh, “I-I’m sorry.”
“No, no it’s okay.” The woman laughed too before talking to another customer, waving them goodbye. Ava elbowed him, “That is so rude Liam,”
They walked the path to the direction the old woman had pointed out for them, their steps light on the ground. Above them, the leaves shook from the hard cold wind, and the sun shone brightly.
“I couldn’t, it’s just… her expression when she said that. I could swear she wasn’t sure herself. I mean, on the end of the road?” Liam raised his eyebrows.
“Yes. And alone on the left side?” Ava chuckled, “It’s one of those directions in horror stories right? When you’re looking for an address and then you just find this creepy old house?” Ava gestured her hands like two claws, lightly scratching his arm. Liam snorted, “You’re all brave and mighty here. If I talked like that at home, you’ll be screaming like a banshee,”
“I will not!” Ava insisted, her cheeks turning faintly red.
They had reached the end of the road and what the woman had said was true. There was a stall standing alone on the left side, apart from the rest of the crowd; an old man with black sunglasses, an old fishing jacket, and just a pile of books on a small table stood there under a large weeping willow. A sign written on the front side told them everything was for one Euro or three for two Euros’ which probably explains why he only had a pile, Liam thought. His eyes fixed on him, the way he was busy stumping on the ground, fixing the table cloth that was just a bit to the right, and then looking around as if expecting something to jump out on him. To other, he would have just been a strange old man; weird and awkward. Liam narrowed his eyes. There was just something off about him, something he did not like at all. It didn’t make sense to have such dislike towards someone you haven’t even met but still there it was. The crowd seemed to part as if there was an invisible wall around him.
“Are you sure you want to go there?” Liam pulled Ava back before she could walk out of reach. She turned back, “Why wouldn’t I? We’ve gone this far.” Her round eyes widened after looking down at his hand clutching at her dress.
“What’s with death grip?” She asked teasingly, shrugging him off. “You’re making wrinkles on my new dress, don’t do that.”
“Sorry.” He said faintly. “But it isn’t that far Ava, come on. Just look at that old man,” He pointed lightly, taking a deep breath.
“What about him?” Someone said to his ear. Liam sucked in a breath, stepping away from the voice. Next to him, Ava put a hand on her chest, frightened as well. She patted him on the back, a worried smile on her face, “You okay?”
“I was a bit... startled.” He confessed, his eyes staring at the old man, “You were really close there,” Liam said.
“My apologies, I heard you talking about my friend and I couldn’t help myself. That over there is Tiago. Don’t let his appearance fool you.” The man’s bright blue eyes lightened as he smiled, a walking stick holding his body. Now that he saw him better, the man was probably in his fifties, with gray hair. But he was one of those types who still looked good and handsome in his old age. Liam could feel the aura of superiority from him, a man who knew exactly who he was and what he was capable of; a man who has achieved something in his life.
“It won’t sir; we were just actually going there. But I see he doesn’t have many choices I think,” Ava pointed back without looking. Liam stuffed both his hands in his pocket, the cold air made his fingers stiff. The air around him seemed to go down a few degrees, stinging his bone like icy needles. Although it seems that he was the only one who felt it.
“No, but, what he has now is worth it I assure you. You don’t know, but all the books that he has, aren’t published books. They’re diaries and journals from old times. So if you’re reading from one of those books, you’re reading true stories. Now, isn’t that something.” He took a cigarette from his coat along with a red lighter, “Do you mind?”
“Not at all,” Liam answered. Finding he also didn’t like this stranger.
“That really is something. But I’m looking for something fantasy related, like angels, demons, and faeries.” The man looked up, a flash of curiosity flickered in his eyes. With his walking stick, he leaned closer to them as if about to whisper a secret, “Do you... believe in angels? Demons? The next life?” He asked with a low husky voice.
Liam took a bit of her shirt and pulled her back a little. Ava looked up at him, questioning. If the man saw or felt anything about what Liam did, he didn’t show. He was standing on one leg, smoking his cigarette while waiting for their answer.
“I do believe in angels and demons. They’re all around us,” Ava said not holding back. Liam flicked his tongue, skeptical, “Well I don’t. If you can’t see it, touch it, or explain it than it doesn’t exist.”
“You’ll be surprised of how wrong you are. The world doesn’t always show what it has to you, sometimes you have to look for it and believe it. It’s all He ever asked you to do. Believe. Tiago has something about angels; believe me, if you don’t believe God.” He coughed, scratching his chest casually.
Liam sighs, “I hope you’re not trying to convert me into—“
“Oh no!” The man laughed, “Please, that’s the last thing I’m trying to do.” He said a flash in his eyes. “I am sorry if that is how it makes me come over…”
“It’s alright, I just… some people knock at my door.” Liam answered, looking away.
“Tell me about it,” The man said, winking at him. “Those goodie goodies won’t leave you alone eh?”
Liam opened his mouth to answer but then a woman approached in a swirl of blue.
“Harold, thank goodness, I thought you were swimming in the canals, I was so worried” A woman came by with a matching walking stick. She looked at least in the same age as he was, maybe a year or two younger than him. She had a nice hairstyle pinned with small pearls around her white curls; her breezy dress was dark blue with white and blue Forget Me Not flowers with matching Batik shoes.
“Are you scaring kids again with your nonsense, oh my,” She stopped when she saw Liam, “What a handsome man,” The old man, who was called Harold scoffed, “Funny I could have said the same thing about you. I thought you drowned already woman, the difference is that I was about to celebrate,”
But the woman didn’t seem to hear him or at least ignored this last remark. She touched him on the shoulder, “If you’re looking for a job, there’s an opening at Oz’s International Pub. A face like you would fit right in.” Before she could say anything else, Harold took her by the arm, his lips stretched; showing a row of still complete set of teeth.
“Excuse us,” He said and escorted her. Ava and Liam watched as the strange and friendly couple walked away, still arguing.
“Oz’s International Pub? Isn’t that the bar near the bridge?” Ava slipped her hands under his arm, pulling him closer, “Isn’t that a gay bar?”
Liam frowned. Of course he knew where and what kind of bar Oz’s was. It’s where he met Sawai when he was going home from work one night in October. The weather was cold and everything else was a blur except the part where he saw Sawai got thrown out the window, followed by cheers and crowed. Lucky for him, his friend had a pillow tied to his bum, making sure the small losing punishment wouldn’t break the thin boy in two.
He really only went in twice and each time he always had guys coming to him. It would be nice if he was gay, he didn’t have to turn down so many people.
“It is a gay bar.” Liam admitted, walking beside her towards the small separated stand.
“I can’t believe she just told you there’s an opening there. What was she thinking?” Ava sighs, but continued, “Maybe it’s better there than to work in a hetero pub.”
Liam burst out a laugh, “Are you afraid I’ll get snatched up by some blond?” It was also probably why he dragged her away, Liam thought.
“As if. We’ve been together too long for that,” Ava reminded him, “But I do think you should get another job. The one you have now breaks you in two, you know? I had to massage your back once because you carried something too heavy, remember?” They stopped just in front of the stand. Liam nodded, remembering what that felt like too. The lesson learned from that was to never be too confident in your body, because you’ll never know.
“Good day to you, all books for sale today, just take your pick.” He spread his hands at the small pile of books as if they were treasure. Rubbing his hands together, he sat on his chair, waiting with anticipation.
“Sir I was wondering if you have something about angels?” Ava took one Euro already from her purse; the coin shimmered under the sun.
“I do, I do!” He quickly stood and took one book on the bottom of the pile. It was leather covered, dark brown and old. “Here you go. This diary used to belong to Willemijn, the girl who discovered angels... you have to read it yourself to know what happened.”
Ava took the book and gave the euro. “Thank you,” She said, flipping the old yellow pages in it.
“You’re welcome, enjoy your day!” Tiago threw it inside a small metal box, content.
“You too,” Ava slipped the book into her front pocket, smiling. The man ignored him, getting to money counting as she dragged him by the hand.
They both walked out of the park to the other end, finding the street was empty with no cars. A pizza restaurant was open with two delivery bike parked next to the opened door; a family eating by the large window, their faces covered by shadows from the trees. Somewhere in the distance, he could hear church bells ringing.
“It’s three o’clock already. I really should get home,” Ava clawed in her small sling bag and took out a small white phone, the screen lit up when she pressed the button, her shoulder tense, “My mom called… I didn’t hear it at all; she’s just going to freak out,”
“Calm down, she knows you’re with me,”
“That’s probably why she’s freaking out,” There was laughter in her voice as she slipped in her phone again. Liam rubbed the back of his neck, his lips stretched to a thin line. “Nice,” He said.
“Oh no!” She suddenly cried, grabbing the tip of her bag. The small string where a small keychain should have been was gone.
Liam grabbed her shoulder, “It’s alright I’ll get you a new one,”
“But that’s from our trip to Indonesia,” She stared back towards the park entrance, “I’ll just have to go and look for it.” She looked up to him; determination in her eyes.
“No, you’re not. You have to go to your course, that’s probably why your mom called you. She’s probably just worried.”
“But my keychain!”
“If it means that much to you I’ll go and look for it, you should go.” He pushed her away gently and then received a kiss on his cheek. It was a quick and light kiss, he nearly didn’t feel it.
“Thanks, I’ll see you tonight, okay?”
“Of course, I won’t miss the party!” Liam said and waved her away. He watched her as she half ran to the bridge, her hair blown by the wind, her skirt flowing around her knee. As she disappeared, he walked into the park back to where the old man was watching the euro he got from Ava.
“Hello,” He said, “Hey, have you seen a small Borobudur temple keychain? My girlfriend dropped it, it’s really important.”
“Really?” He asked, for a moment he paused but then he opened his small metal box and took out something; the keychain. “I half hoped you won’t come back for it, but you did,” He said, “Are you here to buy another book too? I have more,” He took a book and shoved it to Liam; a small one with hardcover, a name written on it. He shook his head, not sure how to say ‘No.’
“I’m really just here to look for this. I’m so glad you have it; I don’t have to run around the park. It’s really small, see?” He held it up, closed one eye as he saw it swing around from his fingertips. The old man did the same, “It’s okay, I’m still happy that you gave this,” He spread both his hands wide, gesturing towards his entire stand. “A chance. It means a lot to me.”
“You really should say thanks to your friend, I didn’t catch his wife’s name, but his name is Harold,” Liam mentioned, remembering the whole conversation about Oz.
“Harold?” He looked puzzled, “I remember all my friends, I don’t have a friend named Harold I assure you.”
“What? Your name is Tiago, right?”
The old man shook his head. “No. My name is Henry. And the only friend I have here in this market is Margaret, and her stall is on the front side. That damn woman gets the best place all the time.”
Liam clothes his mouth and nodded to Henry, stepping back from the man and walked out of the park, his head turning. “What the hell,” he said. A small jingling sound from his phone broke his attention and gratefully he picked up the phone, it was Ava.
“Oh God, Ava you won’t believe...” He paused. “Ava?” She was sobbing from the other end, crying his name. “Ava, what’s wrong? What happened!?”
“Liam... please... please can you come now... it’s my papa, he...” She sobbed the last words away, his heart dropped down to his stomach. “Oh God,” He said under his breath before running towards Ava’s house. It was just two blocks away, close to the park. His steps felt heavy and the wind pushed him back as he dashed forward.