The First Page

“Are you sure you want to read this one?” a mother was saying to her five-years-old daughter. It was exactly 10:32 a.m. on this particularly fine Wednesday morning inside the Chatham Library, which was mostly vacant, with the exception of the librarians, the mother and her daughter.

Sherry looked up at the older woman with what she hoped was a determined face. Having those eyes stare straight through her soul was daunting; the anxiety of possibly making the wrong choice churned the insides of her stomach. But she quickly nodded, before regret could kick in.

Four days ago, this woman with long, curly hair and denim clothes appeared, sitting at the dinner table when she returned home from school. The next day, everyone in town began asking what she thought about the big city across the ocean and if she missed her mother. But for as far back as Sherry could remember, she’s only lived in the humble province of Ma Wei, where the crooked, unpaved streets were filled with people in light, loose-fitting apparels and houses where doors never lock. She couldn’t leave; not when she still had so much exploring to do! Yet, the next thing Sherry knew, she was lying down for a much needed nap after experiencing the trauma of a plane’s motion.

Her parents lived in a strange one-floor house that was in the middle of a tall building. It was furnished with a long fluffy chair that her father would often lie in to watch the television. As soon as her mother unpacked all their clothes, she said the strangest thing that Sherry just couldn’t understand, “Why don’t we go to the library tomorrow?”

Original image from "Library Lily"

So at 10:00 a.m. sharp, her mother had ushered her out the door with a thick coat and they tracked through the cold streets to the library. Inside, Sherry was quickly encouraged to rummage through the books and discover the library before any of the older kids came. Sherry had walked around and around in circles, a confused, indecisive expression on her face as she took in the strange bean sprout characters on the covers.

Mrs. Shu Chai absentmindedly watched Sherry roam, not even noticing when a librarian stopped her daughter from wandering into the adult’s section. A, ah, ay, ae, B, buh, C, sss, ke, D, duh…, her mind went wheeling as fast as she could. Oh no, what did the letters I, J, O, Q, U and X sound like? But it was too late. Her daughter was back with a brightly-colored book and a very familiar but indiscernible title. Shu took a deep breath, praying to God to give her strength.

She took the book from her daughter, already feeling the weight of the pages, and sneaked a peek inside. She couldn’t resist measuring the length of the words and couldn’t help but notice how the words seemed to flow over the rather small and nonsensical pictures. She recognized all the letters of A-M-E-L-I-A-B-E-D-E-L-I-A, but was at a lost over what to do with the alphabet soup spilling over the cover. She felt an anchor sinking into the pit of her stomach, as she turned to her daughter, “Are you sure you want to read this one?”

Copyright © 2015 by Beti Y.

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