Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Previous Employment

Jack was something like a friend. His thick Brooklyn accent was always a welcome change to the British voices that always seemed to be mocking me in some way, gossiping about each other as they slipped in and out of the dreary apartment adopted by the British Library. They asked me about who had been in, who checked out what book and who hadn't paid their dues. I caught on to the social humiliation that comes along with not paying ones library dues and promptly crafted a very large sign listing names of those with delinquent fines and exactly how much they owed. Another sly move was for one member to pay the dues of another, initialing beside the name and putting a single line through it so it remained legible. I only bothered to remake the sign every few months because as much as I deplored public humiliation, I was a responsible librarian and determined not to let Margaret down. She was, after all the only member of the board that supported me taking up the position. She said I reminded her of herself. Always a good reason to hire someone. Fathers trust their daughters to men who are like them, and the library was Margaret's only child- she trusted me with it.

I knew I was going to be a good librarian. At least I had the wardrobe. The space only consisted of two rooms and was quiet and out of the way and I was pretty comfortable with alphabetical order. I never make my patrons feel like they have to justify their choice of reading material (it only encourages stealing / book-pants-ing). I never stole money or books, only book covers and postcards that fell out from between pages of them. None were from people I knew or addressed to people I knew, so I guiltlessly held on to them. None of them included anything more than short notes amounting to updates on the state of the weather.
Plus, I was a "great reader," or had accidentally began to masquerade as one. There was nothing worse to the Brits than to have an unacceptable answer to the ultimate judgement, "do you read?" It felt like a trick question at first, and took a few months for me to learn that this would make or break you. "Of course, I'm a librarian" was not enough. I had to cite books- my favorites, classics and what I was currently muddling through. And I had to keep up on what everyone else was reading so I could report to the others.

Jack came by every other Monday and sat in his usual spot with a stack of books he picked out in the first five minutes he was there on the table beside him, to sort through for the remainder of the three hours I was open. He almost always accidentally checked out a book he had already read, mostly because a lot of the books had been donated by him. He took a trip back to Manhattan every year to see his doctor. He never explained to me what was wrong with him, nor did he ever mention a family. When I announced that I was leaving Tangier to go back to school in the city he came to see me on a Wednesday before I left. He could hardly breathe as he was coming up the stairs and I could hear him panting before he made it to the top. It was labor. It sounded like labor. It sounded like lung cancer.

He had lent me a book of essays by Robert Fisk and we would talk about politics and the war. We talked about the exchange rate and New York. We talked about the election and he hated Hilary Clinton and called Obama "Osama" by accident, regularly. Most days he would come with Lucia, a blond Englishwoman in her seventies who dressed like she was in her twenties and had recently been dragged down rue de Fez by a motercycle after refusing to let go of her purse for a drive-by thief. Jack paid her dues for her because she was flat broke although she never looked like it. He never initialed the sheet so I never put her name on it. In the last months before I left he refused to pay and the two of them played a cat and mouse game, leaving messages with me and spying on each other. A month of this passed and I never saw Lucia again. I was pretty sure she wasn't much of a reader.

He said he came to say goodbye and at first only insinuated that he might never see me again. I gradually caught on and he gradually became less cryptic and eventually told me he was dying. He wasn't going to make it much longer. So when he said goodbye he was really saying goodbye. I said maybe I would see him again in Manhattan. He didn't answer me and changed the subject. He did this a lot and I assumed he hadn't heard the last thing I said. I think that is what happened here. I wasn't sure what was appropriate to do. A hug was out of the question and there was nothing between a hug and just saying goodbye from my seat behind the desk and plus my legs were mounted across the grill of the space heater that I hid under my desk because it was the middle of December and the walls were made of cement. When he finally decided to leave I locked the door and cried just a little bit, just in case I never saw him again, I knew I would remember that he said goodbye and that I cried.

The next time I saw Jack was a year later. He was walking through the Petit Socco slowly, in a bright purple gondora that reached just above his ankles. I had never seen him wear anything that didn't resemble safari gear. He looked like an old senile man who wandered out of the house in his pajamas. He took a front seat at Cafe Tingis just like he ordinarily would, ordered a coffee and smoked a cigarette. I know he looked directly at me but there was no recognition, but I refuse to believe it was because of my hijab or his adversity to it. I thought of going over to say hello, but what if he was actually senile and didn't remember me? I wasn't about to cry in the Petit Socco and I'm no good at seeing people outside of their normal state against their free will. This I knew, Jack was alive. He was smoking, purple and pining for Lucia.

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