Agony and Happiness at a Bookshop

A story of how I left a bookshop all frustrated, only to return ten minutes later with my professor, having one of the most wholesome moments of my life

Clenched fist, eyes were looking straight at the Manager in front while he decided to avoid the problem by diverting me elsewhere. Frustration was at its peak. Why were they even operating if they were out of stock? I would be annoyed if they did not have a couple from the list of six I gave, but not even a single one was present there. The Manager, seemingly embarrassed at the situation, revealed his last option on his side. Hesitantly, he murmured, “Sometimes we are not sure if a book is here or not. Can you type out the title and author name on the computer over there? If it says there is a book, I promise to find it for you”. I mean, what could go wrong in this situation, and what would I lose if I invest a couple of minutes, typing out names? Well, as soon as my fingers got a grip on the keyboard, the task proved to be daunting. NAMES OF AUTHORS AND BOOKS ARE SO DIFFICULT TO TYPE!!! Why can’t famous authors have names like Jack, Tom, Ahmed, and Michael? Do parents intentionally keep difficult names, in hope that their kid would end up as a writer or an intellectual? My name is similar to the infamous poet, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, so should I expect to win the Lennin Award someday too? Suddenly, Faaiz felt teleported back to his Kindergarten class, where he would break down the word and try figuring out the spelling using the way it is pronounced. My biggest achievement back then was figuring out how to spell chicken which led to the teacher giving me a Golden Star on my right hand.
The monitor screen suddenly blipped and in a black font, revealed how the book was not present in the store. “It’s okay Faaiz…five more to go”, I whispered to myself after the initial failure. Tasali is very important when faced with barriers, but after being unsuccessful for the next five turns, I imagined it to be the end of the road, rather than a simple barrier. Could this day get any worse? Perhaps the biggest bookshop in Lahore. Never have I left empty-handed from this store. And among all the possible days they could disappoint me, it just had to be today. The Manager offered his sincerest apologies, but the damage was done. A loyal customer moved towards the exit and was leaving without splashing the cash his mother had just given. Agonized, the lad took out his phone from his pocket and clicking on Whatsapp’s icon, dropped a message to his friend, asking her to suggest some other books that Faaiz could later check for at the shop. She must be busy at the office and probably would not reply quickly, so better to rejoin mom as she shopped.
Dragging my feet across the marble floor was turning out to be a challenge. Last night, I slept with the pain of watching Pakistan lose against India in a nail-biting contest. While everyone said that you should not take this loss to the heart as the team fought well, the bitter truth was that the pain existed because we could have won. If it had been a one-sided match, I would have ranted and slept with no sorrow and would not even need to call Umar Cheema after the match. The main reason for coming to the mall was to divert the mind somewhere else and put the defeat behind. Earlier that morning, a parcel arrived at my house. It was from Liberty Books (the same place I visited in person later) and ripped open the packaging to find the book called, “A Man Called Ove”-the book I so badly wanted to read. With one book already purchased on that day, my hopes were not too high that I would get an opportunity to visit their shop once we went to the mall. However, crossing that shop, my mother could not help but notice how my neck instantly turned towards the bookshop that looked magical at a point one cannot describe. Simply the layout of books, the color scheme, and the woodwork behind the window, attracted Faaiz as if he was spellbound. My mom passed a gleaming smile as she handed me money for getting books, and here I was, returning to her with not even a single one of the thousand notes she gave being used.

My mind was occupied with these internal thoughts wreaking havoc on my usually calm personality, until the eyes intervened as a referee, pointing out that the rant may resume later, as we have another thing coming. From the other side of the mall, a figure was walking in my direction. She was on a call, unaware of my presence on the other side. Now, an emergency meeting was called inside my head, with all of my different personalities debating the situation at hand. Seen “Inside Out”? Yeah, something like that. While the majority voted that evasion from the spot is the best possible outcome, a voice inside my head refused to accept that verdict. I had seen her on two other occasions at the mall before, and both times I fled. I am on the verge of leaving this country in less than a month and may never get to meet her again. She is, after all, one of my favorite professors from university time, who left a mark on my personality. I would probably regret not stepping forward at this stage. Who cares that you are an introvert and shy? Faaiz, you broke free from your shell during her course back in Freshie year and ended up with the highest class participation. Time to gather some courage and do this one last time!
Removing my mask (actual mask, not a mask of shyness), I changed directions and approached my professor and after greeting, asked if she recognized who I was. Among my many fears before the meeting was the possibility that she would not remember the kid who she taught nearly four years ago, and I would have to hide my face in shame. But, a sense of relief passed through as she instantly recognized who I was. Trust me, it is an elite feeling! After the initial conversation, I told her that I am off to the UK soon and got the dream admission to UCL. Her face suddenly lit up, and you could tell she was happy. The funny thing is that I have informed several people about this over the last couple of months, and their reactions gave me a lot to learn. You can tell when someone is genuinely happy, faking blissful, does not care, or slightly envies you. She later passed a UCL Raiwind joke that led to an identity crisis from weeks ago with someone saying University College Lahore is too far away from my house.
After a while, I proudly told my professor that during the summer holidays, reigniting my hobby of reading books has been a standout achievement. While I slightly flexed by telling how I read around 28 books over the summers, when she asked me to name some of the books I read, my mind went blank. Apart from “Turtles All the Way Down” and “My Brilliant Friend”, not even a single book came to my mind. Imagine the embarrassment coupled with the overthinking that the professor may think I was lying. Although I tried to act calm and collected, I was cursing my stupid brain for going blank when I needed it the most. Reminds me of my own O-week, when I would have the perfect answers ready in my head, but as soon as I would become the center of attention, my mind would pretend that it has never been used for thinking. Nevertheless, it did not end up as badly as I am portraying here, as later I asked my professor if she could recommend some books to read.
After two minutes, my professor and I began walking back to the bookshop. Once we entered, the professor started going through shelves, picking several books from each rack. That is also when I realized that there is a reason why she is an accomplished professor, while I am just another student. Despite the best reading spree I ever managed in my life, I was not even a shadow of who she was. From each rack, she would handpick several books, tell me about them and move to the other. I was clueless about most of them. If this episode had been witnessed around three months ago, I would not have cared as I knew I was not an avid reader. So to be clueless about best-sellers or must-read books would not have bugged me at all. However, this episode further cemented one of the core beliefs I held close to my heart. You cannot expect immediate results by putting in an effort for a short while. Hard work does pay off, but you need a constant effort to ensure it stays regular. You need to be resilient and determined! If I am to come back to this shop and be like her, the mere effort of three months is not enough. This habit needs to be there, even years from now. Nevertheless, she did recommend some books that I did read that summer, and I proudly announced, “I have read this one”. While saying this, a part of me cursed my brain. Why could I not remember this book ten minutes ago? And another voice made me think that I was flexing while announcing that I am familiar with certain books. Upon noting the books I claimed to have read, the professor moved to another shelf, looking for a different genre. After good ten minutes, three books were finalized, and I was unaware of all of them. Her selection was spot on, and the nature of each book depicted that she wanted me to move on to such literature and further expand my canvas. One simply cannot read only one-dimensional books and needs to explore and get out of their comfort zone to reach the next level.

I had only asked for recommendations but what happened was beyond my wildest imagination. My credit card was in my hand, ready to be received by the cashier, but the process came to an abrupt halt. “You’re not paying for them…they are from me”, said the professor as she had her credit card between her fingers, ready to pay the bill. The already over-worked (yes, overthinking requires energy) brain, had another dilemma at hand. It is wrong to let the professor pay as she was only invited to recommend, but it would be extremely rude to stop her. Also, what would my mom say? I may be 23, but the childhood lessons from my mom still run in my head as if they are the guiding tools as to how to live life. She disapproved of letting others pay for your bill, and it felt slightly bad on my end as I had simply asked for suggestions and did not expect her to pay for the expensive books. Eventually, I halted the protest and watched the cashier swipe the card, notifying me that the transaction was successful.
The idea of your professor buying books for you, that she selected, felt so fascinating that I was ready to declare it as the most wholesome interaction I ever had! But wait, things take a turn, but only to them become even better. “Would you happen to have a pen?”, my professor inquired while facing the cashier. He nodded and handed over a blue ballpoint, the same that I used in class to solve the quizzes the professor used to give. The nostalgia hit right where it felt the most, and could not believe that four years ago, in your first class of her course, the thought of having to speak in class or give a presentation would lead to cold sweats down my cheeks. Then, she firmly gripped the pen, opened a book, and started penning down something. I did not realize what was happening initially but soon jumped with joy as SHE WAS WRITING NOTES IN THE BOOKS!!!! Before this, there was only one instance where I was gifted a book, and it had a personalized hand-written note inside it. Overcome with happiness, I confessed this fact to her and later thought that it was stupid of me. But eventually, I left the place with the three books, loads of guidance on how to adapt to the new country, and a core memory that I would cherish for years to come. This interaction has inspired me to hold onto kindness and grow in several aspects to make the most of the experiences I would come across over the next few years.
Back in my school days, my perception of university professors was very unlike my experience today. To best describe the image, university professors are Miss Trunchbull from Matilda, while school teachers were like Miss Jennifer Honey. A class full of too many students, engaged in intense discourse and only meeting the students for only four months, before they move on, you would agree with my imagination. I did not believe that they are inherently rude, but rather the circumstances of being their students are different from what school teachers face. But over the years, the image was shattered into bits as some of the professors I have come across were absolutely amazing! Invested in our well-being and the progress we make in our lives. A gleaming smile comes across their face when they watch their students ace life. So stop fearing your respective professors, seek their guidance and help as they are more than happy to help!
To conclude this story, I would like to point out, that it was this particular professor who instilled the desire in me that I consider writing. This hobby is based on continuous learning and improvement. I was average when I began, and I believe my progress has been fairly impressive (it is my self-assessment, you are free to disagree), with a long way to go!

[The writer does not have a habit of rechecking his work so excuse for typos or grammatical errors along the way]

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Faaiz Gilani

An aspiring writer, with no prior writing experience, talking about his experiences to help others getting bored in Quarantine……….enjoy my short stories!