It’s a Saturday night. A friend and I make our way to Town Hall Station through the drunken, jeering, late-night throng. “The city’s so feral lately”, I complain. “Louts and hooligans everywhere.”
Then a man with a harp walks by.
That’s the thing I love most about life: that the loveliest, most joyful and ridiculous moments are all around you, smiling modestly and waiting for you to notice them. It’s the hilarious hidden beneath the ordinary, the delightfully absurd and incongruous, the quietly sublime.
And that’s why I love working in a library; the myriad people you encounter, the portal they provide into an infinitely rich and glowing world steeped in the radiant possibilities of everyday life.
Of course, being able to laugh at yourself helps too.
A few months ago at work I am told by one of our conversation class regulars, “Your hair is so pretty: you look like one of those dogs.” He delivers this statement with a proud and practised air, as if he’s spent a long time working on it. It remains one of my favourite compliments to date, and I often repeat it aloud to myself if I’m having a fat or ugly day, visualising a kingly cocker spaniel with languidly silky ears or a glossy red setter streaking across a bare hillside like a glowing tongue of flame. It never fails to cheer me up.
I see the man again a few weeks later after his morning class. “Your eyes are beautiful,” he tells me. “They are big and green like a sea-fish.” Then he asks me for the wifi password.
I speak to the conversation class teacher as he’s leaving the library. “The students seem to really be getting a lot out of the class. You’re not by any chance doing similes, are you?”
“Similes?” he repeats incredulously and sighs deeply, because clearly I know nothing at all about the teaching of English. He visibly adopts that long-suffering but infinitely patient demeanour generally reserved for those with acquired brain injuries. “Louise,” (this is not the name on my name badge but he calls me it all the same), “it’s a conversation class. Most of the students have been in Australia for only a few months and speak barely a word of English, so I hardly think that similes would be appropriate…”
“Of course, sorry, it was stupid of me…” I start to apologise.
“…We’re doing fiscal reform.”
“Oh right.” I wait hopefully to see if he is making an uncharacteristic joke. He isn’t.
“Fiscal reform. Wow. And do you… er… actually use the word ‘fiscal’”? I ask tentatively.
He gives me a wordless and withering stare, having now decided I’m too stupid to even expend language on, then leaves.
A few minutes later I am approached by an earnest Afghan man seeking information on “physical reform”. I tactfully divest him of the pile of body building books he’s been given by another librarian and lead him to the economics section.
“Your eyes are big and green like a sea-fish”, I tell myself in front of the mirror that night.