“I have always loved books,” the head librarian confessed, “and my love of books led me to the love of scholarship. After reading so many books, studying so hard throughout my youth, it was a dream come true when I was appointed as a librarian here. What better place for me to have ended up than in the greatest library in the world, among so many books, so many treasures of scholarship. So I read and studied, until no one could match my erudition, not even the librarians who were older and had been here longer. So it was inevitable that I ultimately became the head librarian.
“But then, in the midpoint of my life, I was overcome by a terrible loneliness. I had spent so much time among books that I had lost touch with everyone I had known, including my family. I knew that both of my parents had died at some point, but I was too busy with my studies to attend their funerals. I know that they loved me, and I vaguely remembered loving them, but all that seemed like a story I read in book a long time ago.
“One day, while I was perusing a newly acquired work in my study, I heard some voices outside the window. When I looked out, I saw one of the younger librarians speaking with a girl from the town who worked as a cook at the library. They were holding hands, smiling at each other, and saying things that made them blush with happiness. The way the sun was illuminating them, they looked so fresh and beautiful that it caused a terrific pain in my heart. Perhaps it was a vision of what I missed out in my life, or perhaps it was the awakening of a feeling that lay dormant in my heart.
“After seeing them, I found myself suffering. For the first time in my life, I desperately wanted to be with people. But when I tried to engage in conversation with my colleagues on anything other than matters dealing with the library or its books, I found that I just did not know how to go about doing it. It made me feel awkward and uncomfortable, and I could tell that it made them feel the same. When I tried to talk to outsiders, visiting scholars or people from the town, the same thing happened. Even as I spoke to someone about the weather or local events, I wanted to get away from the situation as quickly as possible and return to my books. So I found myself in a terrible state in which I was tormented by loneliness when I was by myself, but I could not wait to be alone again when I was with people. It became so bad that I often wept at night over my predicament.
“And then … and then …”
“Then you found the book of foul magic,” General Merciless Axe thundered.
“Yes,” the librarian admitted in despair. “It taught me that with an incantation of an arcane spell and hand movements, I can turn a person into a book. When I first read it, I did not believe such a fantastic thing to be possible and had no intention of trying it. Perhaps I would never have tried it, if it hadn’t been for…”
Read the complete story in The Best Asian Speculative Fiction 2018. Show your support for contemporary Asian voices. Order your copy now:
For all buyers (except India): Kitaabstore
Dear Reader, Please Support Kitaab!
Help promote Asian writing and writers. Become a Donor today!