An employee of a bookstore and the postponed oracles of a shared past.
I was searching for a job. Someone recommended a bookshop, so the following morning I carried my steps downtown.
It turned out to be a lucky day. The owner of the “Kermadec” bookshop, after asking me for some kind of qualifications, he offered me at once a job as the cashier. This was rather weird, since I had never worked as a cashier or a bookseller. But I really paid no attention to that fact; if it was alright with him, it was alright with me, too. All I wanted was an easy job, without responsibilities, and to just earning some money. It seemed to be the job I was looking for.
Less than ten customers per day entered the front door of “Kermadec.” Mr. Raoul, the owner, was always hiding himself behind a book, pretending to be a busy reader.
But he wasn’t reading. He was just checking the place and every now and then he walked to the shelves and changed the order of the books. He looked like he had some kind of a neurosis. But, by changing the order of the books, he was making my life difficult. Every time a customer asked for a book, I had to ask Mr. Raoul for it. Very often, I was saying, “Well, yesterday it was here; Mr. Raoul, do you know where that book is located today?” And he always knew. He used to indicate with his finger a place and then give some kind of co-ordinations; “third shelf to the right, count eight books from the left, the one with the yellow letters on the cover.” He was always right and this made me feel uncomfortable; most customers sent apathetic views in my direction.
Four months passed. Then, one rainy morning Mr. Raoul announced that he will be going outside for a meeting. He covered his body with a raincoat and started walking beneath a blue umbrella. It was the first time that I was alone in the bookstore. I can remember that I walked a bit around the shelves; suddenly, my right hand caught a book, feeling as though the ghost of Mr. Raoul pushed me to it. I took the book and changed its place. Then, I took another book. And then another. For two and a half hours, I was taking books, walking with them in my hands and then putting them into a new place. I must have moved about four hundred books and by the time that Mr. Raoul returned I felt like being his double for a while. I was expecting to receive some hard words, but he just spoke in his normal voice.
“So,” he said, “is everything in place, Curtis?” –and for the first time he said my name.
“Did you really take care of them?”
“Of course, Mr. Raoul.”
“That’s good,” he whispered. “You must always close your books at night,” he then said enigmatically. “When I was a kid, I always did that before sleeping. I thought that if I left a book open, the letters would drop on the floor and then go back to the book in another order; a-and the next morning, the book wouldn't be the same anymore and the words would be confused. You know, it’s like breaking a chain; no matter what you do, the chain won’t be the same again.”
He might have had a point, but it wasn’t really clear to me. In the coming days I expected that we'd do further talking –but this never happened. We returned back to silence and this code seemed to fit exactly to our relationship. Mr. Raoul kept changing the books on the shelves, but I couldn’t find a good explanation for his attitude. The words he spoke the other day to me weren’t clear enough.
I started paying more attention to Mr. Raoul’s movements. Every single day I was pretending to be keeping notes in a notebook. But, what I actually did was write down which books the man moved. Days of observation passed, which then turned into weeks; I was writing down every single movement. Nothing was clear yet, but it looked like I was heading towards something.
After eleven months in the “Kermadec” bookshop, there finally came a day that Mr. Raoul was out again for a meeting. My observations had just finished and my notebook was full. I had counted all the books of the bookshop, including the sold ones, and their exact places. Almost all of them had lost their position at least once. All, except one. This “one” had never lost its place. It was standing on the sixth shelf on the western wall, being the ninth book from the left. I took the book in my hands. Its title was “Postponed Oracles”; it was an old edition and the letters had faded away.
The book numbered only twenty-five written pages, so –as long as I was alone- I started reading it. More or less, it was about the journey of an old expedition to the South Pacific, by ship; this happened back in 1791 -if the information in the book were correct of course. The most important thing though, was the last paragraph; the author –the captain of the ship- wrote:
“But this journey was damned. I don’t know what will come next. Dear reader, if you ever receive this book please try not to break the chain. You must definitely find my descendants and give them this book. And those descendants must give it to other descendants. It seems that this is the only way of keeping my adventurous spirit alive, the spirit of Jean-Michel Huon de Kermadec.”
The unusual name of the bookstore was not that unusual anymore. When I opened the “Illustrated World Atlas” of the O’Ralleigh editions, I found out that there was a small island arc in the South Pacific, called the Kermadec Islands –their name was an honour to the captain who reached them first. But this was not the only surprise. When I searched for further information, I saw that the largest island was called Raoul. And then, I received another shock. The third largest island was called Curtis Island. I suddenly felt totally confused, because three familiar names were connected at once thanks to a spot on the map. It seemed that I was one tiny piece of an unknown story.
When Mr. Raoul returned, I showed him the book. “Good work, Curtis,” he said, while walking inside the “Kermadec” bookstore. He then told me that I was fired; he also said that I had to take this book with me, in order to find a descendant of Kermadec and to not break the memory chain. He explained to me that I was an adventurous spirit, as he was in his youth. But it was time for him to rest and let others continue the story of “our common ancestor”; and I was the first in the row.
Since then, I’m still searching for that descendant –without success though. Meanwhile, the book keeps bringing on my road new people, faces that I’m regarding as hypothetical children of that man; but no one really is. Maybe one day, I’ll find somebody; maybe not. It depends on life. When everything possible is done, I could be in a position to say whether the oracles were postponed or not, and to see if the title of the book is accurate or just ironic.
As for Mr. Raoul, I never heard of him again; and the “Kermadec” bookshop doesn’t exist anymore. In its place somebody built a restaurant called “Pellias” –but I don’t really care what kind of descendants this name might have.