I took myself and my notebook off to a local cafe to do some writing today. The cafe I chose is about a fifteen minute walk from me (ten if I absolutely rush; twenty-six if I amble and take in the sights) along a city street lined with restaurants and cafes and shops. There’s always something to see, and if I walk on the other side of the street I can even manage to avoid the best bookshop in town, much to the relief of my credit card.
Wandering along today, enjoying coolness and the overhanging threat of rain, I came across a woman staggering out of one of the local bottle shops – staggering not for the obvious reason, but because she was carrying a teetering tower of empty wine boxes, unable to see over their awkward bulk, using her own centre of gravity to steer herself and keep the whole fragile edifice from spreading itself over the pavement.
It’s always easier with two, and of course I stepped in to help; and together we walked the six blocks to her car (parking’s a pain to find in my inner-city suburb, especially when rain threatens). Relieved of half her burden, she was freed to chat: a Newcastle woman, moving to Melbourne to start a new job. Looking forward to the shopping and the coffee; not looking forward to the weather. Nervous because the job is “experimental” – will she like it? Will it be a good fit? Will the job still exist in a few months? – but tremulously trusting the unfolding of her path. And suddenly, somehow we were talking about books and poetry. How we’ve both started conversations with complete strangers because we were intrigued by the book they were reading on a bus or in a cafe. How we draw conclusions about a new acquaintance by checking out their reading list; how we’ve both been known to disappear at busy parties only to be found some time later happily ensconced in the loving arms of our host’s bookshelf. How books become old friends and how our to-read lists seem to increase exponentially by the minute. How dangerous it is to live within walking (or, in her case, easy driving) distance of the best bookshop in Newcastle; she left the conversation with several recommendations for the best bookshops in Melbourne. I left it with a reminder that a book-lover is never alone.
I’ll never see this woman again – I didn’t even ask her name. I’ll never know how her new job goes, or whether she finds the Poetry Bookshop (yes, there is such a thing, which seems to exist outside of usual time and space in a magical reality all of its own), or how she reacts to the clean openness of Readers’ Feast where the very air seems richer with the breath of books. It doesn’t matter, though – on a grey-lined day in inner-city Newcastle, two lives connected for a brief moment – a flicker of connectedness over boxes and books.
There are worse thing to connect over.