This is Part 2 of ‘The Library’. Read Part 1 here if you haven’t.
‘Thanks,’ I said as I stretched my arm to take the payment receipt for my overdue books.
I heaved a sigh of relief. What a morning it had been.
Moments ago I had stood in front of all three librarians, stunned, motionless. Not knowing where to place my thoughts or what to think, all I could I do was leave my mouth and eyes wide open, staring at the shelves behind the librarians’ desks.
‘Jerry -‘ a faint voice had called out to me. I heard but dismissed it. A reel was flashing in my mind’s eye of the brief interactions I had with Ms. Jong at the library and the calls we had in the weeks before today. I couldn’t take my mind off it.
Had they been real?
‘Jerry!’ came the voice again, but I ignored it. My reel kept flashing, I kept watching.
Had they been real? Over and over again, the same question replayed itself in my mind.
In the background of my silent movie, I heard a shuffling of chairs, then the clock, clock, clock of a woman’s high heeled shoes walking toward me.
Where the loud sounds of the high heel ended came a tap on my shoulder. And then, the soft voice of a woman calling out to me once again, ‘Jerry…’
I could feel her standing next to me. But, locked in my trance, unable to release myself, I stood still.
‘JERRY!’ her voice came again, louder.
Now, she was standing in front of me.
My body begins moving front and back, front and back, without my control. At first lightly, and then aggressively.
‘JERRY! JERRY!’ the voice continued to call out to me. But I kept watching.
Front and back, front and back.
Front and back, front and back.
I kept watching.
But the scenes on the reel were becoming slowly unclear, breaking up into pieces I could no longer understand.
And then, they disappeared.
In an instant, I feel a sting in my eyes. Ssssttt… I let out a hiss and wince, attempting to alleviate the pain.
‘JERRY!’ this time the voice was loud and clear.
I opened my eyes, looked down and saw her.
Ms Lin, the assistant head librarian, a woman who was a full head and a half shorter than me, had her arm outstretched and her hands were clutched intensely onto my shoulders. A trickle of sweat was forming on the forehead of her reddened face.
‘Ms. Lin,’ I said to her, surprised that she was even there. I hadn’t even noticed her come into the room.
She looked at me for a full minute before breathing out a sigh of relief and then letting her hands off my shoulders.
Haahhhh…. she let out another sigh and appeared to try to catch her breath before trying to speak. From her front pocket, she took out a napkin and started to wipe off the sweat from her forehead and face.
Along with the sweat, the napkin seemed to take off some her make up too. I wondered how long she had been shaking me for her to sweat that much in a library that was usually as cold as winter in Japan.
As Ms. Lin tidied up herself, my eyes wandered to the wall behind the librarians’ desks where the clock hung. The two arms of the clock were both pointed north. It was twelve PM, exactly three hours since I first stepped into the library.
‘Jerry,’ she finally said, interrupting my focus on the wall clock.
‘Yeah?’ I said.
‘You know,’ she continued, extending her right arm to touch my left shoulder, ‘I understand how you feel.’
In her eyes, I saw the sympathy a nurse would have to a patient who had gone through a traumatic car accident and had somehow made it out alive before continuing.
‘Ms. Jong was a dear friend of mine too. I cried many days when I learned about her death. Such a tragedy. But, life must go on,’ she said, then proceeded to walk away from me and then returning with a piece of what seemed to be a newspaper cut out from the table top behind her.
‘It’s hard to believe, but it is real,’ she continued, handing me the paper.
I took the paper from her and looked at it. Ms. Lin patted me on my shoulders and then left me alone with the cutout.
‘ORBITUORY’ it read on the top.
Below it was a photo of Ms. Jong. The same photo the school had used on its BEST LIBRARY STAFF award a year ago. I had picked the photo and framed it then.
In it, Ms. Jong’s hair was parted in the middle and she was wearing her usual thick-rimmed glasses. The collar on the white shirt she was wearing was neatly ironed as usual.
‘Jong Kui San,’ the orbituary read, ‘Age: 29. Passed away peacefully on. Left behind: Gareth Loh (Husband), Beloved Children: Son Albert Loh and Daughter Annabel Loh’
Husband and kids? I didn’t even know she was married.
Below that was a name list of her immediate family relatives. Mother, father. Three brothers, one deceased. Two sisters.
I wondered how the children were coping with their mother’s loss.
While I was thinking about what might have happened, I heard a faint discussion happening behind me. Two women seemed to be talking in hushed voices behind me. I turned around and saw Ms. Lin making hand gestures and whispering to another librarian.
What were they discussing? I wondered.
I walked closer to them to hear to listen in. With their backs facing me, they hadn’t noticed that I was within earshot now.
‘Yes,’ I heard Ms. Lin say to the other librarian, ‘that’s why I need you to help me to arrange a session for him with the school psychiatrist, Dr. Azli.’
Did they think I was crazy?
I needed to find out.
‘Er,’ I quipped, startling both of them. Ms. Lin put a hand to her chest, trying to calm herself from the shock.
‘Sorry about that- I didn’t mean to eavesdrop,’ I said, ‘but er, if you guys think I’m crazy and need some psychiatric help… well, that won’t be necessary. I’m fine.’
Ms. Lin turned herself to face me. Looking up at me, she said, ‘Jerry… don’t misunderstand. It’s not that I think you’re crazy. But you just seem so distraught, I thought it would be good for you to see Dr. Azli…’
‘No – it’s fine. I’m fine!’
I was upset. I’m not crazy and I know it.
I picked up my bag from the floor and slapped it on my back. ‘Ms. Lin, I gotta go. I’m- I’m late for class.’
‘Jerry- please, listen to me,’ she said, trying to stop me from leaving by holding onto my wrist.
I shook my hand in an attempt to release myself. ‘Ms. Lin, please let me go.’
While I was trying to escape, something peculiar caught my eye. On Ms. Lin’s name tag, something had changed.
Whereas before the title below her name had read Assistant Head Librarian, today it read Head Librarian.
Head Librarian? Wasn’t that Ms. Jong’s job?