The moment she stepped into the library I knew the reason she was there. She had come for him, for the man who was no longer there. I had expected her arrival, knowing she would one day want some answers. Answers that I couldn’t provide her with…Answers that I was too afraid to utter aloud… What will I tell her? I kept asking myself, but no answer seemed right. She was expecting to hear the truth, albeit I myself couldn’t dare to plunge into the unfathomable abyss that drew a line between my poor and human capacity to understand the world and the man who was once known as Uriah Reed. Nevertheless, I will have to say something. Meaningless words which she will assess and mark as fallacies. Yes, she will unmask me. She had an inquisitive mind. I knew that. Uriah Reed’s diary had warned me about it, but nothing from what he wrote about her could have prepared me for the meeting with Miss Lalage Petrov.
I watched her surreptitiously as she was nervously looking around. And when she finally found me, for just one splitting second, her haughty gaze seemed to x-ray my inner self. I had never seen her before, and yet I couldn’t have mistaken Miss Lalage for someone else. She was finally here. And she would come to me. And she did come. Her steps echoed through the room, and I saw her shadow lingering on the bookshelves as if it was searching for some trace of him.
He is not here. He will never be here, I whispered to it, and the hound-like shadow crept back, sadly following the woman in the green dress. Soon, she approached my desk.
“Excuse me, sir, I have been told that I can find you here. You are Parsiphal Gray, arent’you?”
Her voice softly trembled, yet the tone expressed a faint self-assuredness. Nevertheless, she was fighting hard not to betray her restlessness. The last thing she wanted was to burst into tears and cause an unpleasant scene. I knew how she felt. She needn’t say it aloud. It was plainly written on her face.
“Yes, I am, Miss. Can I help you with something?” “Yes, if you are kind enough. I will be much obliged to you, sir. But first, as we haven’t been properly introduced, allow me to present myself. I am Lalage Petrov, a friend of Mr. Uriah Reed, and I would like to see his diary. I know that it has to be in your possession ever
since Mr. Gabriel Archer returned from Palestine.”
She had cut straight to the chase. I stiffened on the spot, staring at her in awe and horror as if she had just announced a calamity. For a very brief moment I couldn’t say anything. I felt her beaming at me. The fire lurching in her dark pupils kept sending fiery darts into my benumbed body. She was watching me attentively, her eyes glued on my face. I coughed and straightened my back. I knew it would get to this. I have always known ever since I laid my hands on that dairy, but I have no choice. Uriah Reed would have wanted it like this.
“You don’t know what you are asking me.” I lowered my voice. “I can’t show it to you, Miss Petrov. Even if I wanted, it is practically impossible. I apologize for making you come all the way for nothing, but your request cannot be granted. The diary does no longer exist. I followed Uriah’s instructions to the letter. He wanted it to be destroyed, and so I did. I trashed it to the fire and let it burn until only ashes were left.”
She nervously pierced me with her dark eyes, and laughed. A few readers looked startled in our direction; some even frowned annoyed by that most peculiar laughter, so unnatural in a library where people were supposed to read in silence. Such a bitter laugh it was…maddening, tormenting, like a whip unleashed by the impotent fury of a chained goddess. I realized how uncomfortable she must have felt, standing there before me, but I had no choice. I knew I was hurting her; nevertheless, there was no other way.
“Please, Miss Petrov. I will have to ask you to leave the room, if you don’t keep quiet.”
The laugh ceased as though summoned back into an invisible Pandora box where it would lay dormant for ages to come. A heavy silence ensued. Miss Petrov raised her head high, straining her tears from falling down her cheek. I could see in her pupils the dawn of disappointment and remorse, but above all the fire of pride began to flicker, illuminating her from within.
“I apologize, Mr. Gray, although I know you are lying to me. I can see right through you. I don’t find you any fault if you indeed have followed Uriah’s words. Still, you mustn’t expect me to shake your hand and be grateful for deceiving me. Despite Uriah’s orders, I must confess that I am disappointed. I thought that at least I deserved the truth. That would have been an honourable act, Mr. Gray. There is no other freedom than the one truth provides, even if it hurts you to the bone, a feeling you can’t possibly know, judging by how smooth things went for you. There you are, occupying Uriah’s desk, acting as if you were him, and telling me all this nonsense, although you didn’t destroy it…”
“Yes, I did, miss.”
Of course, I was lying. My voice tried not to quiver. She didn’t say anything or she didn’t hear. Neither was she moving. She stood there, in front of my desk, numbed and frozen, and yet her dark eyes were burning. It was as if her entire life had gathered in the turbulent void of her beautiful gaze. She was beautiful, exactly like Uriah had described her. Beautiful and proud, like an unknown bird of exquisite plumage… And this proud woman had come to see me, had listened to my words, and she rejected my falsehood. Her disbelief was plainly written on her face. Although I wished it not, I was causing her unendurable pain, and all because of a stupid diary left behind by a man who had disappeared into thin air. She was grieving and she had come for the necessary and comforting closure, and now I was taking away from her one last hope, not of finding Uriah or deciding whether he was dead or alive, but of having something that once belonged to the man she loved. His diary… his writing… his entire soul was contained in the words he had put down on paper. Who was I to lie to her, to tell her she can’t have these paper remnants of a lost love? Heavens, this is unbearable… I don’t want to play the villain. There is only one way out. I have to cut this meeting short.
“Miss Petrov, I am very sorry. I wish we had met in other circumstances… I can’t be of service to you. If there’s anything else I can do for you, Miss…”
Her lips curled into a mocking smile. She looked more beautiful, and yet more distant, inaccessible to men of flesh and blood. And yet, she was standing there in all her proud beauty, hurtling into my face her sorrowful spite.
“I also wish we had met when Uriah was still here. Maybe then, I would have found you more agreeable and friendlier.”
“I repeat, Miss Petrov, if I can be of any service to you…”
“No, thank you. I have already wasted too much of your precious moments.”
“No, Miss, don’t put it like that!” She seemed not to hear me.
“And I am aware of the fact that time is for a librarian an oasis dedicated to reading and perusing the soul of all the readers who step across the threshold of the library. Don’t try to contradict me. I once knew a librarian. He was like a living book one could easily get lost into. I know I did. I met him and I was fascinated by him, and if I’ve come to you today is because I still believe. I believe there is a possibility of him being alive. He could be somewhere out in this world, perhaps an inch away from me. Maybe his diary concealed a hidden clue, maybe…I will never know now. It has all perished into the flames, just as you said. Like the Library of Alexandria, the content of the diary is lost for the world, or at least for me. Well, there’s nothing more to say. I should leave now and let you be. Thank you for your time, sir, and have a nice day!”
“A nice day to you, too, Miss.”
I bowed my head and watch her go. Miss Lalage Petrov seemed to glide on the marble floor as if she were a blade of grass swaying in the wind. Like the reed of Blaise Pascal, she was now fighting with the hostile universe that had taken her love away from her. Yet, she was determined to put a hell of a fight. I sighed wishing she had stayed longer, wishing I could indeed have helped her. But my hands were tied and my lips sealed.
She was heading for the entrance when she suddenly stopped. She turned towards me. In the electric lights of the reading room, she seemed so pale, so out of this world, like a vision one sees only in dreams. Her ghastly look was imploring for an answer, and she looked so alone, so estranged. Helpless…like a bird fallen from the heights of a stormy sky…There were already people eyeing her from the corner of their eyes, but she saw no one. She had forgotten there were other people there, and even if she did notice them she probably wouldn’t have cared. Crestfallen…That was the word that came into my mind. She was standing there, rooted on the spot, crestfallen, not moving, almost not breathing, as if a mysterious power had sucked all the life energy out of her. I could see all the colours of pain and sorrow spreading upon the canvas of her facial skin. Like a tragic figure of a fallen queen, her eyes were wandering from me to the lofty bookshelves and back. Her lips were trembling, trying to let out a name, one that she would not utter aloud, and yet her soul was crying for justice. There was no solace for her on earth. A sorrowful Mona Lisa painted as a Pieta… I must do something. I left my desk and went towards her, fearing she would collapse.
“Are you okay, Miss Petrov?” I asked when I reached her.
She shrugged, trying to avoid my touch. Her arms were cold and numbed, and her lips trembled slowly as she requested me to leave her alone.
“It is nothing wrong with me”, she lied, “I was on my way out when the thought came to my mind that I could borrow a book to read at home. Perhaps the same book he last read…That is why I turned back. But then I have so many books at home that I didn’t get the chance to read…I should first start with them. Well, farewell, sir, I don’t know why I am still standing here. I don’t know. Suddenly it feels so cold… and I am shivering because I am so cold. I have never got used to low temperatures and it’s chilly in here, almost like in a mausoleum. Don’t you worry! I will feel better once I am out of here. The sun will warm my frozen heart, sir. Let go of my hand. I will leave now. Farewell, sir!”
Miss Petrov pushed me aside, and with feeble steps she headed again for the exit. She was clearly in a state of utter distress.
If I let her go like this, I will never forgive myself. Suddenly, it ceased to matter what Uriah would have wanted me to do. If he truly loved her, he wouldn’t
want to hurt her.
No, I can’t let her go like this. I simply can’t.
“He wrote about you in his dairy,” I yelled and my cry reverberated around the room. Everyone there was now staring at us. Even I was surprised by my own audacity. But my act stopped her from leaving the library, at least not before she heard what I wanted to tell her. I reached her and looked her in the eye.
The woman had frozen on the spot, forgetting to open the exit door, forgetting even to breathe. She turned to look round at the library’s great room, at the readers who had curiously raised their heads, and then at me. She was checking whether she had actually heard me or her mind was playing tricks on her. But I was there and I had indeed uttered the words.
“What did he write about me, if I may know?” Her voice was merely a whisper. I gave her the
warmest smile I could have produced on my face. She didn’t smile back. Her entire body was tense, vibrating in expectation, like a tight rope waiting for the acrobat to step along it. She was waiting for a miracle, for something that would restore Uriah back to her.
“I know I shouldn’t have read the diary”, I began, lowering my voice so that only she could hear me, “but I was drawn to it. I wanted to find out more about the mysterious and strange man who had left me- an unknown individual - the testimony of his life. Thus, day by day, I was sucked into his existence, unable to extricate myself from it. He wrote about his career as a librarian, about his dreams that lead him on the quest of his life, and about you. From the very moment he saw you, Uriah Reed’s life had changed. He fell in love and he loved you as he had loved his books; that is, to quote him, ‘with a love as deep and profound as eternity itself’. You were his anchor, his guiding star, and the greatest love he had ever had. Whenever he was referring to you, his writing turned into a piece of art. He simply painted you in words. And he was right, Miss Petrov. You are as beautiful as he has depicted you. And how he loved you… Uriah Reed loved you as I never thought it would be possible for a man to love a woman. He said, Miss Petrov, that there was no end to love and that you would always be his blue bird.”
The darkness of her eyes had been flooded in the liquid light of long suppressed tears. Beamingly, through a veil of now fully expressed emotions, she smiled.
“There is no end to love”, she silently whispered. “There is no end, because real love has no end. It simply goes on…forever.”
Lalage lowered her eyelids. One hot tear fell to the marble floor. I heard the sound of the tear flying down, like a firebird, out from the stormy hollows of her eyes.
And when it hit the ground, the splashing of all scattered hopes hit me hard, echoing in my soul. When she again spoke, I heard not only words, but the song of a blue bird forever flying, never stopping to rest, forever in the arms of the wind, so that the shadows of the earth always failed to catch her.
“I wish I could have read what he wrote. It is not that I don’t believe you, but it would have been a comfort had I seen the shape of those words.”
The sadness of her voice floated in the air, like a black cloth of mourning.
“I fear I was not his real anchor. Had I been that, he would have never strayed so far away from me. He might have loved me, but there were other things in this world that prevailed over his love for me. Yet, I accept and respect his heart’s decisions. My only request is to see him for one last time. I need to hear his voice, to drown myself in his laughter. I am constantly searching traces of him, in the people I meet on the streets, in the newspapers and magazines. I wish I knew where he is, because I know he is not dead. I know it with all the fibers of my being. I know it when I lay my head at night on the pillow and when I awake the following day. I know that he is somewhere out, doing the same, even if we may be living in different time zones. But he is alive. I would have perished the moment his soul had left this world. Look at me! I am still here, aren’t I? That means he must be out there, somewhere. I often hear him calling my name and I know I have to reach him, and I won’t stop until I find him. I want to find him. I need to find him, if only to tell him that a blue bird cannot live without her flight, because flying in the arms of love is the eternal song of the entire happiness in this world.”
She smiled to me sadly, patting me on my shoulder, like she was the one who was trying to comfort me.
“Tell me, Mr. Gray, if I don’t intrude too much. Are you in love with someone?”
Her question surprised me. It almost felt like we were two old friends who had met for a splitting second and now wanted to catch up with their lives.
“It’s okay, if you don’t want to answer”, she said. “It is none of my business whatsoever.”
“No, Miss Lalage. It’s just that the question has taken me by surprise. Yes, I am in love with a girl just as wonderful as you are and we are planning to marry soon.”
“Congratulations. I am glad for you. I had plans, too. Mine, unfortunately, didn’t come true. Well, before we part, Mr. Gray, let me give you a friendly advice. If you love the girl, never let her go. Even if life might separate you, please, find a way to get back to her.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.”
“I surely hope so”, she said smiling again. “Thank you heartily, sir, for your kindness. I honestly thank you. Your confession has restored me to life.”
I let her go. Her hand pressed the door knob, and soon she was out in the street where I would never see her again. That was the first and the last time I met Lalage Petrov, but I would never forget her sorrowful joy of learning how much Uriah Reed had loved her. His blue bird, she was indeed his blue bird…
I went back to my desk followed by the inquisitive gaze of all the readers who were reading in the Lecture Room of Ex Libris.
Lower your eyes. What do you know about dreams?
Behind my furrowed brow, I judged them silently, weighing their soul in the scales of a harsh scrutiny.
What is life for you? There is more to life than meets the eye. You have all come here to read, expecting books to provide you with answers, as if literature was the solution, but it is not. A book cannot live for you, cannot breathe for you. You should be out there, prowling the streets, searching for the impossible. Walk the roads of today, search in the scrolls of concrete hidden symbols or simply traces left by another man, that mysterious other who has previously followed the same road. Dare to live, to fight… Like Uriah did… Life is the only book worth reading, and the best writer is the one who recreates life not how it is or how it should be, but how it is felt. After all, life is an emotion; and the deeper you analyse it, the more you know that reality is never what it seems and never how you would expect it to be. Reality is the devil’s laughter, while imagination is God’s blessing; nevertheless, one never gets the kiss of bliss without the bite of healthy laughter.
Nobody heard my inner cry. All the readers were busy, gazing dreamily over the same pages, or just flipping the pages, without paying too much attention. And I was there, with them, trapped in a lonely building, far away from the God of green pastures and rippling brooks. Time was slipping fast. The noon gave way to the evening and I was feeling lonelier than ever. I sat in my armchair, feeling the entire burden of the world lying heavily on my shoulders. Everything was uncertain, and I was groping in the dark for something to lean against. There was nothing to hold onto as if an abyss had opened before me. Miss Lalage Petrov had left, and now I was the one trembling in the coldness of a man’s life. I blinked as if trying to awake from a dream.
What am I doing here? It shouldn’t be me but Uriah Reed working in the library. And where is he now?
Is he dead? She said he couldn’t be. She would have known. But then if he indeed was alive, where was he? Why has he abandoned his beautiful Lalage? He really loved her. I hadn’t lied when I confessed having read the diary. I did read it and I saw inside the peculiar heart of one of the few original men I had known in my life. Uriah Reed sincerely and profoundly loved Lalage Petrov. He couldn’t have turned his back on her. Only death could have divided them. He must have been forced to leave her. But what was the reason behind his decision? Was it something he had discovered in the mysterious regions of the distant country he ventured himself into? Can he possibly be dead or is he still alive? His diary ends abruptly, but Lalage said she knew for certain that he didn’t leave this world, not without her soul feeling it. Still, I have serious doubts. Although, I wouldn’t have entered into the diary’s possession if Uriah had still been alive, there was something that kept telling me he had indeed become God’s vessel on earth. Uriah Reed had seriously disturbed the mysterious powers which he should have better let unstirred from their sleep, even if he did it with a noble aim in his mind; that is to save mankind. He might even be caught in between, not being able to cross over the threshold to the other world, and that is why Lalage still feels with all her heart that he is not dead, and that is why I too believe, he is carrying on with his mission. Well, if I am alive and writing this; and somewhere in time, another person will be reading this too, it means Uriah has succeeded. I and Lalage could be right. Uriah Reed might not be completely dead, just caught between two worlds. Will I ever learn the truth?
I have always wanted to be a writer. It has been in me, this fever of playing with words, of breathing life into shapes of ink, and of losing myself in the maze of my fantasy. I used to walk on the streets and looked for people, real people of flesh and blood. There were so many of them, always in a hurry to get somewhere and never stopping to look at each other. But my senses were vigilant and sharp. I saw and heard living stories walking past me. Yes, living stories…stories in motion. I heard their whisper and saw forgotten memories, untold stories, and unlived dreams. My eyes touched the hidden skeletons. All around me there were stories of all shapes and colours. People walked with them, carrying everything bottled up inside. There were bearded stories, or baggy eyed ones on which booze had imprinted all the vapours of liquor. There were faces of people who stayed with me, lingering in the corners of my memory. If I closed my eyes and pressed the hands on my eyelids, thus blocking all the light from entering my pupils, I could still recall the outline of a human face. I saw broken hearted beggars dragging their life from day to day, waiting nothing and hoping nothing. Their entire life had gone to waste, had slipped between their fingers. Like Hemmingway’s Santiago, they had gone out on the sea, dreaming to catch the big fish, but they caught none. And so they returned on the shores of civilization, broken warriors of a bygone age… I saw beautiful women with empty souls, or with indifferent looks upon their faces. Every night they prowled the streets, looking for love, hungry like lionesses. They never found love. Always trapped in the gutter, these Cinderellas never saw their prince coming. Finally, they gave up on waiting. Perhaps, the prince had no more shoes for them or married the stepmother.
Life is a perpetual masquerade. But there is also substance under a faded masque. You just have to look deep and scratch the dirt that covers the truth. I looked, and then I saw real beauty and I heard its movements through time and space. There are people, whose soul reveals itself, erupting from within like a glowering light that is only spotted at night. My gallery of unique characters…Old people who seemed to have descended out of a Rembrandt painting, or young beautiful faces like freshly painted canvases…My fellow creatures…When I saw them I wanted to write their story, to guess their life as if I was a magician pulling their real self out of God’s hat. And I wanted so badly to write, but sadly I wrote not. I never seem to have the time. Instead I became a librarian, and if it hadn’t been for Uriah Reed I would have never written at all.
Now I am writing. It is nine o’clock in the evening. My fiancée had paid me a short visit. We ate together and I said nothing. We kissed and when our lips touched, I closed the dream inside me. We stopped kissing and I said nothing. She doesn’t like to see me spending too much time with books. I guess she is a little bit jealous. Neither does she understand my passion for writing. When we meet we only kiss and make small talk. Like tonight…
She left and I wished her good night. She waved her hand and smiled happily, leaving me to myself. I am now alone. Sitting at my desk, in the comfort and solitude of my room, I am finally writing. This, my reader, it is a true story. It is not about a hero, a saint, or a glorious man who changed the course of history. No. It is about a courageous man who believed in the impossible. Firstly,
let’s start with the beginning. Here is the narrative of the diary I got to have and which I thoroughly read. If my narrative skills lack literary craftsmanship, please forgive my blunders, for they are unwanted, and keep in mind the essence of a man’s life.
Like any beginning, our story starts at dawn. When Uriah Reed arrived home from work, it was already morning. The sun was flickering in the obscure glass of the windowpanes as if it were a tallow candle which had been placed by some invisible hands on the sill of the sky. The streets were enveloped in a shower of rays and darkness, thus creating a peculiar beauty. The town of London appeared in the light of dawn like a halo of mist and fleeting clouds, whilst the Thames kept on beating the shores of immemorial times. But Uriah didn’t notice the mysterious beauty of the fresh morning. He had other things on his mind, tremendous things whose mysterious discovery had filled him with awe and wonder. But let me tell you how he was led to a discovery that was about to change the entire course of his existence. It is my duty as a successor of the Ex Libris’ late librarian.
On 6 October 2016, the day before our story begins, Uriah went to work as usually without even suspecting the change that was about to come in his life. He arrived at Ex Libris, the Central Library of London, at half past seven a.m. Neatly dressed, holding his suitcase by the iron handle, he stepped into the building. His office was located on the first floor, and he didn’t take the elevator. He climbed the spiral staircase as he always did. He went into his office and began to analyse the new catalogue of books which had been placed on his desk. The first hours of the day had passed by unnoticed, without any significant event. However something happened in the evening when our librarian was on the verge of leaving his working place. That mysterious “something” made him stay in the library. He didn’t leave the building and he didn’t go home. When all the librarians from all the library’s departments were heading home, Uriah was the only one who remained in the library. Even the janitor left to his cozy home and to his unemployed wife who looked after the kids. At least, he had someone to go to after a day’s work.
The security man arrived for his night shift. He locked himself in his boot downstairs to read a magazine and chew on his ham sandwich. If the janitor was a cheerful old chap, the latter was a quiet, middle-aged man who didn’t care about the library, least about its librarians. He is still working here, and his habits haven’t changed a bit. Even a thief could break into the library without even being spotted by the security man. Really, the only thing that he is actually guarding is his ham sandwich. The library’s director knows and tolerates this kind of behaviour, because Mr. Peaggish, the security man, is his distant cousin. An unfortunate liaison, but still it is a family tie. Of course, Mr. Peaggish is a silent and discreet man. He never talked to anyone; therefore, Uriah was never disturbed when he was doing extra working hours. Now, that night, like any other night, passed without any intercourse between the security man and the librarian. Uriah was on the third floor of the library, in the department of Ancient Literature. He was busy consulting an Egyptian scroll about royal ointments and mummy rituals. Like usually Uriah Reed, being the chief librarian of Ex Libris, was interested in every literary artifact or unique book he happened to come across. Being all alone, in the company of his books, Uriah didn’t expect to be disturbed by anybody; especially since the library staff had left the building. He couldn’t be more mistaken. A sudden noise came from behind the second row of the middle bookcase. A loud thud…It seemed as if something had fallen on the floor.
“Is there anyone there?”
Uriah asked loudly, but no answer came. The librarian slowly placed the Egyptian scroll on the desk, and went to see what had caused the noise. He trod silently, but firmly on the ground, heading towards the source of the sound. There, on the second row of bookshelves, a book was lying on the floor. Its covers were spread, like the wings of a bird. It had fallen on its back, and so the pages were still fluttering on the wind of their recent falling, inviting the eye to analyse their content. Uriah picked up the book and examined the open pages. His heart gave a wild throb.
“What can all this mean?” he thought gazing at the object that was now in his possession.
The book must have fallen from the shelf, but why had he not noticed it before? Until that night, he hadn’t known about the book’s existence. Someone must have recently placed it on the shelf. Then again, it couldn’t have been brought by one of his colleagues. Any librarian had the duty to report any book or artifact to him, and no one told him anything. Even though the person, who had brought the book, might have forgotten to announce the chief librarian; Uriah couldn’t start an investigation since there was no one in the room beside him, not even in the building. He had no answer to any of the questions that were now crossing his mind, but then again he resolved to think about it later.
The librarian returned to the desk where the Egyptian scroll had remained unfolded. Uriah ignored it completely as his mind was now focused upon the recent discovery. Determined to spend the night absorbed in that strange book with shaggy covers that he had accidentally found, Uriah seated himself comfortably on the reader’s chair.
A golden eagle appeared in an exquisite drawing on the front cover, hovering majestically over the title. A Passage to the Origins of Species by John Gos... Uriah had never heard of this author before. He made a quick note in his mind to Google him.
While he was perusing the sheets of the first chapter, the electric light was turned off by the security man. It was past ten o’clock in the night, and the lights were always extinguished two hours before midnight. A veil of darkness fell heavy over the silence of the Ancient Literature room. For a moment, Uriah felt as if he had gone back in time, where mysteries governed the truths of a man’s life. He sighed and let a smile go on the wind of a distant past that he had only read about but never experienced. The librarian put his book on the reading desk and turned on the light of the table lamp. The yellow shower of rays fell over the pages, the desk, and over the silence of the room. Uriah could even hear the wooden planks of the floor breathing under the layer of dust.
The chair he was sitting on gave a sharp shriek, when he sank deeper in it, leaning his broad back against it. The light of the lamp enveloped him entirely. He was wearing reading glasses and that gave him a peculiar air. His grave and rough profile looked even paler in that dim yellow light. He was not a beautiful man, judging by the beauty standards of most people. Yet he was distinguishable. Tall, with thick eyebrows, and deep penetrating eyes, Uriah Reed would impress himself on those he came across with. I have never met him in person but even in a photograph one could tell that Uriah was an appealing individual. Unfortunately, he was all alone. In fact, Uriah Reed had always been a lonely wolf. Not that he was complaining about his life-style. He enjoyed his books, the wooden shelves, and the heavy silence which filled the big halls of the library after everyone had left. Only in the silence of the written words, the books spoke to him, and the librarian craved for their knowledge. Ever since he began working as a librarian, which happened right after his own father who worked in the same library retired, Uriah had been a dedicated librarian. And he loved his job with the devotion of a husband for his wife, or with the passion of an urchin for his toys and games. He had been reading all his life, and his literary tastes were motley and quaint, from the Greek tragedies to the Elizabethan theatre, from the Sapphic poems to the Shakespearean sonnets, from epical poems to modern novels, from Russian literature to American best-sellers, and so on. Uriah had read himself to exhaustion. That is why no one wondered why he was selected to be the chief librarian, because there was no other librarian like Uriah Reed.
Even though he had no female companion in his life or loving relatives, he had his books and his hunger for literature. Yes, he was alone. Nevertheless, he found such delight in that pleasure of his heart and soul, i.e. reading, that he was never completely alone. When holding a book in his hands, smelling the dusty paper reed or just devouring it from one gaze, he was truly happy and often lost the track of time. It was as if he had stepped over the threshold of the invisible world of the imagination where everything was possible. He travelled in an instant through time and space, always searching, always hungry for the unknown, for an explanation that would encompass all the mysteries of this life of men on earth. Every time he opened a book, reality disappeared before his eyes, perishing in the mist of old but not forgotten times. Endless rows of books had passed like gigantic billows of paper and dust over his life, and soon without even noticing it, a powder of gray tint spread over his hair. He was neither young nor old, neither dreamless nor soulless. Uriah had just turned 37 years old and his youth had passed like a melody played by a paper lute player. Following the same path of loneliness and distant ideals that others before him had undergone, our librarian grew to resemble Diogenes in his pursuit of a real man, and Don Quixote in his chivalrous creed. And soon he felt his soul old and longing to reach a home he couldn’t yet tell where. Hiraeth…That is the word that sums everything… Go to a dictionary, and you will find an old Welsh noun, hiraeth which is defined as a homesickness for a place you can never return to, a place which maybe never was; the nostalgia, the yearning, the grief for the lost places of your past.
Being too idealistic, Uriah Reed never married. The woman of his dreams remained forever enveloped in the mist of his imagination. She was the reality of his soul projected on the confining walls of a crueler reality; that is the reality of modern times where women like she-who-would-be-loved by Uriah remained a far away dream. At first, he searched for her in every woman he met along his way, but one day, out of the bloom he gave up and accepted his condition as a bachelor. Forgive me for my digression, dear reader, but in order to understand a person as original and outstanding as Uriah you have to cross the maze of his existence. Allow me to confess to you some life details I have also found out from his dairy and from the people who used to know him.
He lived alone in a dainty mansion which was located at the outskirts of London. He had no living relatives, and his friends were few. Uriah disliked crowded neighbourhoods, and Zman Street was the ideal place since it was shun from the tumult of automobiles and especially from people’s riots. The only companions he had were the silent books which awaited his arrival home from the library. To his books he returned home from work, and these faithful comrades would receive the master of the house with courtly glances, inviting his hand to take hold of their covers and disclose the secrets of the written pages. And to them, Uriah rushed to attend like a loving father attends his innocent infants.
Of course, it was a time when Uriah considered the idea of buying a dog, a pointer more precisely. It was his favourite breed of dogs as he once had a white pointer with pink nose and beady eyes when he was a child. Its name was Carpet. Yes, it was a silly name for a dog, but little Uriah loved to bury his face in the dog’s silky fur. At that moment he felt invincible, as if he were lying on a magic carpet ready to fly towards the mystery of the blue sky. But that had been in his childhood, and now Carpet was no longer alive and he was no longer the careless boy. He was a grown-up with plenty of responsibilities and little time to spare. Thus, he abandoned the idea of buying another pet. The poor dog would have died of loneliness since his owner would have been all day locked in a library. And Uriah Reed chose to stick to his books, both from home as well as from the library. As soon as the library was closed, the librarian bade goodbye to his other infants he couldn’t take home, and returned to his dwelling. Of course, there were also nights when a new book had been purchased by the library, and so Uriah had to attend to the beloved guest. He would not leave the library until he finished reading the book. That was the mystery behind his every arrival in the morning from the library. And not a secret love affair that some gossipy neighbor might have suspected him of. In fact, to tell the sad truth, Uriah’s heart had only been touched by the one and only love for books that not even time was able to efface. Reading was the fiercest passion his bachelor’s heart had ever felt burning inside. Young ladies passed unnoticed before him, and he would not even lift a brow. Of course, he was also shy and felt awkward in the presence of the fair sex. In Jungian terms, this would have been explained as a mother complex; and indeed, Uriah grew up without the maternal figure a child needs. When his mother died in childbirth, due of a puerperal fever, Uriah’s father took on him the burden of raising his son alone. Mr. James Reed didn’t remarry. He kept saying that a woman like his beloved Lotte was a once in a lifetime event. Little Uriah only got to know Mrs. Lotte Reed from the pictures his father would show him. The beautiful woman always smiled and held James by the hand as if she was proud to be by his side.
“Do you miss her, daddy?” Uriah would ask. James didn’t answer. He just nodded and a silence
as heavy as lead fell upon the two. Uriah asked no more questions, and the years rolled by, and Mrs. Lotte Reed remained just a memory, a photograph trapped in the dusty frame of the past. The little boy never knew a woman’s love, and perhaps that explained why he always blushed and lowered his eyes when a woman was addressing to him. Of course, he fought hard not to show it, and sometimes he would appear aloof and distant. But perhaps, he was just afraid not to be deceived, not to be forced to acknowledge that his feminine ideal was only a myth and an illusion. That would never happen with a book. He needed only to smell the fragrance of old or freshly printed pages to acknowledge inside his chest the signs of every reader’s infatuation. At that moment, an impetus of sensations would rise in his soul, a roaring fire that rolled its peals of thunder upon the crest of his enchantment. And life would sweep him off his feet. Yes, real and vibrating life, because for Uriah fantasy was only another window to a different reality.
This is Uriah Reed, reader, as I have known him from childhood till his death. He was no better or worse than his fellows, but he had an inquisitive mind and a dreaming soul. He dreamt of the impossible just like his father. And perhaps, you too reader, are a dreamer. I know I am, and that is why I sympathize with Uriah the most. But however insane his dreams may seem to be, he believed in them. He believed with a force that would even upturn the highest mountains. And this very quality of him, his gullibility if I am permitted to add, led him to the adventure of his life. How do I know about this adventure? Very simple, as you have already figured it out, I am substituting Uriah Reed. My name is Mr. Parsiphal Gray, and I am the new chief librarian of Ex Libris. Yes, my reader, I am the successor of Mr. Reed, and although I have never been acquainted with him personally there is no person in this world I wouldn’t know better than old moody Uriah. Since he was his father’s son till the day his soul went to Heaven, or at least somewhere, I have know him. I know his likes and dislikes, his deepest thoughts and keenest sorrows, his overwhelming joys and his most secret dreams and hopes. I know him as if I was standing in front of a mirror looking to myself and X-raying my hidden self. How is this possible, I know you are wondering? Well, it is very possible when you are a librarian and you have at your disposal the files of all the people working in the library, moreover, when you come across someone’s diary. I acknowledge the fact that if Uriah Reed’s lawyer hadn’t arrived in person, bringing to my office his diary, I would never have been interested in his story. But the lawyer did come. Mr. Bittman was grave and sulky, and he kept a polite attitude all through our acquaintance. He told me about Uriah’s desire of passing on the legacy of his existence to the new librarian of Ex Libris. At first I was astounded and didn’t know what to say but driven by curiosity, I accepted the diary and that very night, back at my home, I began reading the life of Uriah Reed. What I found in his confessions both dazzled me and left me speechless. For days, I felt benumbed and couldn’t talk to anybody about it. What could I have said and to whom? All my colleagues, i.e. the other librarians, would have thought me insane. I had only started my job at Ex Libris and I was already entangled in its mysteries. Therefore, I thought of writing down myself the narrative of the diary. It would clear my mind and help me see things in a more logical perspective. But above all, writing Uriah Reed’s story would be like fulfilling my own dream of becoming a writer. What an amazing sensation to behold the ontological scenery, the landscape of a man’s life, and to follow his history, to feel like he felt and to think like he thought. It is an exhilarating experience, like you’re riding the steppe and life’s gale blows into your face, bringing closer the distant horizon of the oriental skies.A writer and inventor of characters may resemble a puppeteer, handling the strings of his lifeless puppets, deciding for them, and pouring life into them as he pleases; but a writer of a man’s life is never a puppeteer. He is only the shadow, the same shadow that fell when Hamlet soliloquized “To be or not to be? That is the question?” A writer of life will accompany his character along his journey, but never, under any circumstance, will he decide for him what path should he take. So let’s not stray from the course of the events and return to the point where all started.
After having read at the reader’s desk for about two hours, an interval during which his eyes had not left the pages for even a second; Uriah got up and taking the book with him, he headed towards his office which was located on the first floor. He climbed down the stairs in frenzy, hurrying to get back to his office. His mind felt dizzy and his heartbeats had quickened their pace. His chest was drumming, his ears were pounding; and when he reached his office, his hand fumbled in his pockets for the key. He opened the door without delay and quickly disappeared inside. Even if it was no need at all, as he didn’t run the risk of being disturbed, he locked himself in his tiny study. Lighting the lamp from the desk, the light fell again over the covers of the book. This time the light was coming from another lamp, thus from a new perspective. It was the light fostered by the safe location of Uriah’s personal office. Perhaps that is why he saw what he didn’t notice before. In the lower right corner, the editor had engraved a thunder. It was blue and red at the same time. Water and fire… Heaven and hell… His fingers felt the texture of the engraving. It felt hard and cold. Uriah seated at his desk, trying to still his heart. He turned off his phone lest none would disturb him and remained inside his office, clouded in secrecy and hard study. And the loneliness of the building was getting heavier than ever. Big Ben struck midnight. Its heavy bang resounded over the quiet city. Most people had surely fallen into a sweet slumber, but it was not the case of Uriah. He had forgotten what rest felt like.
Time was flapping its wings like a relentless eagle, hitting with its beak in the ribs of the building and trying to pluck man out. The eagle was hungry for Uriah, had come for him and only for him. At that moment, there was no one left in the building except the chief librarian and the security man. As I have said every employee had left the library hours ago, leaving the librarian alone. His colleagues never bade him good night or inquired about his health. They just assumed him to be there extra longer than the majority. Not even one of Mr. Reed’s colleagues found his behaviour strange and no one asked questions. His colleagues were all accustomed with his staying overnight at work. So, Uriah could never be disturbed by any sudden knock on the office door. Only Time visited him, hovering like an eagle over his nights. He felt the shadow of the merciless bird of prey. He always felt it. And now the shadow of the eagle had fallen over the front cover of the book as well. The title was glowing, dipped in the light of the lamp, in the light of the twinkling stars which watched inside the office from behind the curtains. The eagle seemed to fly, to circle the room, and to cry for freedom. But time kept passing away, like a streamlet running endlessly over the rocky walls of a rugged mountain.
Uriah Reed readjusted the pair of glasses on his nose, and went on reading and taking notes. By studying the mysterious book, the librarian discovered his own past. The face of his father, Mr. James Reed appeared before him, like a memento of bygone days and Uriah remembered. He remained in the library all night, and it was not until dawn, when Uriah’s office opened its doors for the second time and the librarian slid outside unnoticed. The security man was heavily snoring in his cubicle. Some leftovers were laying in a mess around the plump figure of Mr. Peaggish, the snoring security man. Isn’t it funny the manner a name reflects the soul of a person, or better said, in the case of our Mr. Peaggish, the name provided an accurately glimpse within. He looked and behaved like a pig, and the name became him smoothly.
Uriah didn’t even bother to wake him up. He went to the back door, pressed his card on the digital panel, and he stepped over the threshold, leaving behind the silent walls of the library. A gust of fresh wind filled his lungs and Uriah breathed deeply. He was agitated and almost ran down the streets, not stopping even to draw his breath. His hair was uncombed and disheveled, and his eyes glared madly at every sign of life. He felt the imperious need of telling someone, be it an unknown passer-by or a familiar face that he might come across with, about the extraordinary thing that had happened to him. He was like a bubble of excitement waiting to explode in someone’s ears. But he met no one except for stray dogs and cats, the former growling with suspicion at him while the latter scurried from his way. Uriah didn’t slow down his pace. Hiraeth… The yearning had come back, coiling around his heart and pouring in it the poison of loss. He had to recover what his ancestors lost, what he had lost. Uriah Reed knew that he would never rest until he regained his Paradise.
You were right, father, he kept repeating in his mind, addressing himself to the memory of the late Mr. James Reed. All that time I thought you mad, and you were right. It was I who was a mad and blind person. Oh, father, can you forgive your son, your prodigal son who is now returning to faith and truth?
The October wind whipped the rustling leaves of the alley trees. Car tyres were screeching into the gravel, and the wind blew the sound to Uriah’s ears. Feeble lights were starting to flicker in the window panes, a sure sign of life awakening in the cottages and blocks of flats Uriah was then passing by. Yet, no one appeared to greet the man whose soul was now trembling with anticipation. Uriah Reed was only accompanied by the shadow of the golden eagle, whose sharp pinions were wide spread, scratching the concrete walls of the tall buildings, forever hungry for a human touch. There were no people, just automatons driving silently to work, and still Uriah saw no living man. He kept calling his father, asking for his forgiveness, and no answer came. Stillness and noise, chaos and order… and the city swarm with people who had risen from slumber only to fall into another slumber, tougher than the night’s dream. It was the mechanical slumber of civilization, the same slumber that had befallen Uriah until he was awakened by the eagle of universal consciousness.
Uriah quickened his pace, hurrying to get home. Once there, he would step inside his father’s study and unlock the drawer of his desk. The manuscript would be there, covered in dust and oblivion. It had been waiting for a human touch ever since Mr. James Reed passed away, but Uriah had so far avoided any attempt of entering his father’s study. He had been too afraid of the truth behind the covers, a truth that his father wanted him to know and accept. But now the time had come to fulfill his duty as a son. He braced himself for that, knowing that the manuscript would guide him to the path he had always feared to follow.
When he arrived in front of his mansion, after pausing for a moment to draw his breath and steady his heartbeats, he fumbled for the keys in his pockets; then he unlocked the front door. The hinges gave a shriek cry, piercing the silence. The dark hall came into sight and the librarian entered and turned on the light. The big chandelier yawned with life, spreading the electric colours of its old soul. Another yellow light…only a different space…Uriah Reed also felt different, as if a sudden change had relocated his self and altered the fibers of his being. He was back at home and the day was just beginning. But something else had also sprung from the depths of the unknown. Uriah Reed was a completely changed man, other than he had been a day before. Thus on the morning of October 7th, 2016 a different Mr. Reed, and yet he still possessed the same physical features, had stepped over the threshold, into the mansion’s central hall, quivering from head to foot in a state of utter agitation. That was so unlike him that even the books on the shelves seemed to shake with fear in their closed covers.
He climbed the stairs, passing by without noticing the portraits of his ancestors who looked at him from the confinement of the framed canvas. What storm had agitated the waters of his soul? What could have happened at the library that impressed him so much? But mostly what was the reason behind his action of leaving again his home right after his arrival? Because, yes, my reader, Uriah had only stopped to grab an old manuscript from the upper drawer of his late father’s home office and then he went out in a hurry. The same ancestors blinked mysteriously in the yellow light of the old chandelier, watching how the last heir of the Reed’s family tradition flies into life as impetuously as the waters of the primordial deluge. It didn’t matter he had gone a night without sleeping. There was no time for rest. It will come a time for rest, but not now, later. Now, he had to act. With the speed of a racing horse, he rushed out of the door, panting without breath, and almost running like a madman along the gloomy streets of a typical London morning. And yet it was nothing typical about that morning…In the distance the fiery chariot of the Sun appeared ominously. It was still harnessed in cloudy ropes, and yet the chariot kept mounting the summit of the city.
The Sun will finally rise.