23rd August

One Night in the Library

One night in the library, as I read by the light of a single lamp placed behind my chair, I became conscious of stirrings in the shadowed parts of the room. These fluttering sounds – as of a colony of restless bats in residence behind the ranks of books – interested rather than alarmed me. I knew that there were no bats. What was happening had happened before, in those hours of absolute stillness and quiet, when even the fire has ceased its cracking and hissing. The sounds I heard were the lives contained in all the thousands of volumes that surrounded me, shifting and settling in their paper beds.

I found this reassuring. It told me that all my years of reading had not been in vain: that through reading I had entered into other times and other worlds, experienced the lives of people separated from me by oceans and deserts and generations, and that they remained with me in the library. Thus comforted, I returned to the book in my hands.

But after a minute I stopped reading and looked up. Some other life had entered the room. I saw, dimly, the figure of a man, draped in some kind of robe, standing near the door. Yet the door was shut, and I was certain it had not opened in the last hour. I reached up and directed the beam of the lamp towards him.

‘What do you want?’ I asked.

The robed figure shook his head. He wanted nothing. Then he raised a hand, shielding his vision, as I at first thought, against the brightness. But no, his forefinger touched the corner of one eye and then pointed at me, or more specifically at my book, and drew lines back and forth in the air. I understood that he wanted me to continue reading.

So I adjusted the lamp again, aware of the intensity of his gaze and some- thing more – the wonder it contained. The books on the shelves were hushed. I thought how much noise is contained in silence. If I looked up I knew that, even if I could no longer see him, his ancient witness would still be in the library.

Reader: James Robertson
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
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