The smell of new, old and decomposing books is a unique combination. Its fragrance prickles the nose as a shiver creeps up the spine. The hoodie pops over the head and the skeptic eyes revert to the window condensation drawing. First the sad face, now the heart. The triumphal arch in Washington Square Park is a reminder of music, people watching, and the unnerving silence in here. Looking around for some semblance of life, the quiescent atmosphere causes a shift in the seat and the legs to cross once again.
The bowl of cookies is left unattended on the table. Unenthused, a handful of cookies held in hand as some crumbs fell. Opening the backpack, a roll of paper towel is taken out and set on the table. “You’re weird.” Nose no longer stuck in the book.
“This is America’s best innovation.”
“Are you kidding me? Have you ever used a cloth towel? You have to make sure it’s clean when you use it. But now once you use it, just once! – you have to clean it again. That means, wash it, dry it, and nooooooow you can reuse it. While on the other hand, paper towels? Use it. Throw it. Forget about it.”
“What would you say is your country’s greatest invention?”
“Toast-r-Oven. You can toast, make a pie, and a pizza.”
“Why not the oven?”
“Call me energy conscious,” and returns to the book.
Disenchanted, nibbling on another cookie and browsing the internet. A new tab is open. Porn. Eyes are darting in every direction. No one is looking. Although a silhouette is felt. Distracted by the obscenity and scooting down on the seat, the large round breasts are an amusement. The pink nipples are a mouthful. Chewing on another cookie, there’s a sudden tingle on the upper lip. That’s easy to ignore when watching X-rated videos. However, now the entire mouth stings. There’s a throbbing pain that turns the tongue numb and a burning sensation on one finger. Looking down, witnessing an army of red ants leading back to the bowl of cookies. “What the fuck?” The wafers are being spat out. The figure lets out a chuckle, clears the throat and shuffles pages of a book.
Patting the lips with the tongue, the swelling is clear. “Does my mouth look puffy?”
“You look like you have nigger lips,” placing the book back down.
“Don’t use that word.”
“It makes me uncomfortable.”
“The word or the fact that your lips resemble a nigger’s lip?”
“The word. Where I come from Black people are called, Babban. Not offensively.”
A loud thump disrupts their engagement. There is a shadow next to the taller shelf which submerges in the mass of books.
“Who is that?”
“I don’t know. Perhaps a nigger or spic,” said jokingly.
“Or a ghost?” They laugh. A “shhhh” comes from the back of the shelf.
“You’re reading Whitman.” Eyeing the book which is facing down on the table.
“O Captain! My Captain! Picking up the book again and begins to read it in a whisper. Lips move in a such a way, you forget racists words spoke from them minutes ago.
“Rabindranath Tagore. A Nobel Laureate. A poet.”
“Never heard of him.”
“What’s your major?”
Waving the book up in the air, “Poetry.”
“And you’ve never heard of the Bengali poet Tagore? What do they teach you here in America?”
Feeling for the first time inferior, silence encapsulates them.
There’s a subtle movement again and this time the figure steps out from behind the shelf. It’s a tall Black man. Approaching their table, looking down at both and begins a recitation: soya aur sapana dekha ki jeevan khushee thee. main jaag gaya aur dekha ki jeevan seva tha mainne abhinay kiya aur dekha, seva khushee thee (I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.) Walks away, leaving them speechless.