The Book Fair

Wandering the lanes of a warm and busy labyrinth, they wondered what it would feel like to have this place for their own. And what a place it was too; a vastness so unfathomable to the two friends that even nostalgia was taking time to creep over. What was intended to be an afternoon excursion to the book fair was turning into a retreat to some fantastic land of uncertainty. Aah! The romance of enjoying a tingling cold drink and a cup of melting ice cream while feasting the eyes on the sea of colours all around; this was life as kids. But the fair had a different tune now, so completely different that it almost looked alien. And the most terrible part of it all was that the sun jarred their eyes.

Scott and Peter strolled endlessly, and aimlessly, trying to make sense of it all. They were not interested in the toys and joy rides; they had outgrown enthusiasm long ago. What they were interested in were the inviting parchments of stories lying all around them. These wise story tellers were not uncommon, and certainly not unique to the friends, but they held a charm unlike anything else. The smell of freshly pressed papyrus promised emancipation from the drudgery of monotonous life and their bright inner luminance assured a companionship that humans aren’t capable of giving. Their lure became irresistible. The need for possession became a necessity. Nothing could stop Scott and Peter to indulge in their dark desires now. These smart little objects full of alphabets and histories had to be had, by all means essential.

Scott made the first bold move, entering a stall guarded by the most vicious looking half-wolf-half-man. Scott was unsteady, unsure, and almost afraid of his fate. The wolf-man growled, teeth dripping warm saliva on the arid floor. Scott steadied himself and mustered up the courage to make eye contact with him/it. The trick worked and the wolf-man lowered its guard, as if obeying a long lost master. (The humans have a way of making permanent friends, they enslave them) Scott felt safe now, at least safer than before. His heart pumping hard, Scott eagerly explored all possibilities around him, “Which one should I pick?” he wondered. The choices were abundant and the urge to take them all kept getting stronger. Half an hour inside the stall and Scott felt exhausted, lost to his overt zeal, “Why can’t I just choose one and make a run for it?” he mused. And as soon as he thought this, his eyes fell on the most beautiful one he had seen yet, a masterpiece beyond explanation and his heart skipped a beat. “This is it.” he thought and elated by this epiphany, focused his mind on the next task.

To steal is not difficult. To steal is not embarrassing unless you get caught. To steal is not even a crime if looked at from the right perspective; Robin Hood was a crook too. But these arguments come to nought when you are in the middle of it, about to get your hands dirty. Scott watched around for any signs of encouragement, but there were none. It seemed to him that everyone was watching him spellbound, some with a moral discourse on their lips and some with a sense of sadness and pity. “This is going to be difficult” he reinforced his mind with fear. Taking a deep breath of stale air, Scott decided to call for help, after all Peter had always been there for him before.

After watching Scott enter the stall, Peter wanted to follow. But he changed his mind as his eyes went to the stall next to Scott’s. There was kept the king of all books, his heart’s ultimate desire, the possession of which would not only be a distant dream come true but also a matter of self pride and honour. Peter glided swiftly inside the stall and nonchalantly picked up the precious object in his hands, holding it firmly but respectfully. A sigh of contentment escaped his being; Peter was the happiest person in the fair at that moment. “Wow!” he thought, “this is the best gift I could give myself.” And so, without hesitation or further thought, Peter slid the revered book under his jacket. Now was the time to retreat, it makes no sense to lose when one is so close. Peter walked away as casually as he had entered; the jacket and his left arm carefully balancing the prize inside. Walking out of the stall Peter realized that he wanted to share this happiness with someone. He had to; it meant a lot to him and after all Scott had always been his go-to man.

Scott took out his phone to text Peter.

Peter took out his phone to call Scott.

Their phones rang simultaneously. One a beep, the other an irritating ensemble of digitized notes. Emotions surging, Peter looked at the screen to the call for help while Scott pressed the green button and felt relief running down his spine. “I am coming” was all that Peter said, his triumphs didn’t matter anymore. They will share the stories of their spoils later, now was not the time. Peter reached Scott’s side and read his eyes; Scott’s beloved book was on the shelf overlooking his shoulder. It was a beauty as any other but Peter could see the problem now. It was a hard bound voluptuous volume, not easy to carry under the flimsy jacket. “We’ll think of a way. Don’t worry”, the ever optimist Peter did not let the anxiety show. He picked up Scott’s book and pretended to be browsing through it casually but all the while his eyes were analyzing the scenario around, the wolves, the aisles and the exits. The master plan was taking shape in his mind. Scott just watched, waiting for instructions from Peter. He trusted Peter with all his heart and knew that whatever the plan would be, his beloved friend will not let him down. Even as this thought was taking root in Scott’s mind, Peter turned to him and with a slight tilt of the head and movement of the eyeballs, gestured Scott to follow. It was only after a moment that Scott realized that Peter was heading straight for the exit. “This can’t be” he thought, “Peter can’t leave the book and go out. He is no quitter!” And then it dawned on him, Peter was pulling a fast one, the oldest trick in the book. Scott wanted Peter to look at his face and see the pride that it showed for his best friend. Peter was approaching the wolf itself; no shiver, no frown, with his head held high. The audacity was unnerving for Scott but he followed nonetheless. “Where is the loo Sir?” Peter asked the wolf. The wolf gulped, a little embarrassed at the indecency and a bit irritated at the banality of the question, but eventually pointed outside the stall, in the direction of the stench of sun kissed human piss. Peter walked on, book in hand all the while. I followed, still afraid of the wolf, still coming to terms with the victory. Yes! What a victory! Peter had done what he was revered for. The master of the art of thievery had committed a perfect robbery right under their noses.

The fair had become familiar now and the sun outside did not jar the eyes, in fact it was almost welcoming to both Scott and Peter. The deed had been done. Each possessed the book they were lusting for a few minutes ago. They were penniless as they entered the fateful fair and now upon their exit, they were rich. Richer than any bank notes could have ever made them. “Why do people buy 500 rupee books?” thought Peter. At the same time Scott was thinking, “Why do people sell 500 rupee books?” The friends were in a deep moral economic reverie and to both of them, the irony was not lost; daydreaming about something so real and commonplace had become a part of everyone’s life. Things were not simple anymore. After a long while Peter spoke, “If you don’t sell an apple for 1 rupee, how will a kid ever be able to eat it?”

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