3rd November

Inside the Bookshop

A man came to the sales counter. He wore a dark blue raincoat and his thickly oiled hair was dark and bluish too. He eyed me doubtfully, as if it were unlikely that I would be able to help him.

‘Do you have any non-fiction books?’ he asked. At least, that’s what I thought he said.

‘Plenty,’ I said. ‘Most of our books are non-fiction, in fact, apart from the fiction of course. Are you looking for anything in particular?’

‘Non-fiction,’ he said. ‘I’m looking for non-fiction.’

In retrospect, I can see how we got off on the wrong foot.

‘History, biography, science?’ I prompted.

He did a good impression of a saucepan about to boil over, then calmed down and said with measured emphasis, ‘Gay non-fiction.’

‘Of course,’ I said. All now seemed clear. I asked him to follow me and went to the appropriate section of the shop.

‘Just ask if I can help any further,’ I said, and left him to it.

He was back at the sales counter a few minutes later. He waited until no other customers were nearby.

‘That’s no use,’ he whispered. ‘That’s all about homosexuals. I’m not wanting that at all.’

‘You definitely said gay non-fiction, didn’t you?’ I asked.

Again I thought the lid was about to come off the saucepan, but the moment passed.

‘Nun fiction,’ he said hoarsely. ‘Fiction about nuns. Gay nuns.’

We had a shelf of erotica after the Zs in fiction. In fact, after the short-story anthologies and other odds and ends that couldn’t be easily alphabetised. I took him there and suggested he have a browse.

He returned almost immediately, looking shocked.

‘That’s pornography,’ he said. ‘Do you have a film section?’

We did, but he didn’t want, it transpired, books about cinema. He wanted actual films – DVDs – about gay nuns. Joyous, cheerful, happy nuns. He wanted books about them too. He’d read Black Narcissus and seen the film, he’d read The Nun’s Story and seen that film, and he wanted some light relief. Happy nuns. Not necessarily fun-loving nuns, he said, but happy ones. Nuns happy in their vocation.

He had been right all along. I couldn’t help him.

Reader: James Robertson
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
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