Finders, not keepers

Unable to bear more suffering, the old man returned the battered book to the library. It’d gather dust, as it was always meant to—until the true owner reclaimed it.


This is my entry for day 28 of the Writers Victoria Flash Fiction competition. Today’s prompt: gather.

Of Love and Other Demons

Of Love and Other Demons by Gabriel García Márquez - cover

I won’t lie. This book took me an embarrassingly long time to finish. Not because I’m a slow reader, but because, as is the case with so many books, I found it easier to put it down and not pick it up again. Another prominent book I did that to is One Hundred Years of Solitude, also by the same author. I might be sensing a pattern here…

Regardless, it didn’t help that the story picked up well into the story. It was designed to be a slow start, much like One Hundred Years of Solitude. It’s almost as if Marquez was testing his readers to see if they’ll hang around long enough, if they were loyal enough, to endure the creeping pace of the initial chapters before bestowing upon them some of the greatest and heart-wrenching prose of all time.

In other words, Of Love and Other Demons features beautiful writing—writing that will stay with you well after you finish reading the book.

“Disbelief is more resistant than faith because it is sustained by the senses.”

I’m not pious. And I don’t enjoy the company of people who shove their religious beliefs on others. This story is scattered with Christian beliefs and the ancient traditions of bishops and exorcism. Even though this book personifies everything I’m against, I cherished the way it’s done.

I mean, just read this:

“The bishop could not continue, because the thunder resounded over the house and then rolled out to sea, and a biblical downpour cut them off from the rest of the world. The bishop lay back in a rocking chair and was shipwrecked in nostalgia.”

Isn’t that beautiful?

I started reading this book before COVID-19 was born. And now, as I got to the last page of the book and rethink the narrative, I’m amazed at the uncanny and coincidental reference to today’s reality.

This is the story of a young girl who’s bitten by a dog with rabies. Unfortunately, she didn’t contract the disease, and that abnormality made those around her, subject her to eternal damnation.

Gabriel García Márquez has given us a wonderful tale in Of Love and Other Demons.

Defining minimalism

I’m a proud minimalist. My unrealistic dream is to own one pair of shoes that I can wear for everyday commuting, running, hiking, and the occasional work-related public speaking.

When I arrived in Canberra, migrating from India, I had one cabin bag—which contained my laptop, a few snacks, and the essentials for surviving an overnight fight. I had to check in my luggage because it weighed 12 kilos, a little over the 8 kilos of maximum allowance of a cabin bag.

And I’ve often narrated that story without the slightest sense of shame. While most people would identify themselves by the things they own and the value of those items, I lack the lust for materialism.

To put that in a different context, if a bushfire approached my house and I had to leave immediately, I’d have less than half a backpack to carry. Everything I own fits into my yellow rucksack.

However, as I’ve navigated society, I’ve developed many relationships and therefore, interests. As a result, I’ve started accumulating things. Stuff. Possessions I cherish, not because they’re mine but because I have anytime access to them—I now need them. For instance, I need proper running shoes, separate from my everyday sneakers. Of course, I didn’t start running until mid November of last year. And I would’ve have started if it hadn’t been for my friends talking about their running.

More than everything else, however, I can’t help but acquire books. I’ve always had that problem. Before I moved to Canberra, I gave away so many books because it made no sense to carry them all with me. Books—especially ones you want to re-read and enjoy for a lifetime–are, in bare terms, baggage. If I’m emotionless, I’d say books are an unnecessary burden. Having my teen ages possessed by technology, I’d argue I could get all the books in the world in one ebook reader—for the size and weight of one.

Yet, my social activities and my friend making has altered my view of possessions. I realised this last week when I visited a book fair. Even though I’d been to many such events in India, I’ve never bought anything because my string mind voice opposed to it. This time however, I ended up buying three new books, to add to the rather small pile that I know I’ll hold on to as long as I can. Unless there’s a bushfire and I have to evacuate immediately, I’d take these books with me.

This has made me question my principles.

I still consider myself a minimalist, but with a larger collection of things than I had before. I’ve come to understand that minimalism isn’t about having fewer things, but instead, about knowing the difference between wants and needs. It’s impossible to have one pair of shoes that’s ideal for all activities. And it’s ok to have two or three good pairs of shoes. As for books, I can always donate, and borrow when I want them again. Buying a book introduces me to the title. Once I’m familiar with the title, the author, and the style of writing, I can loan as many as I want.

That was my lightbulb moment. Minimalism isn’t about limiting your experiences, but it’s about expanding them. And you can do that without overloading your backpack.

Historical

A popular history of war - The Last Bookstore, Los Angeles, California
The Last Bookstore, Los Angeles, California

The masses believe
a popular history;
cheap, realistic.

Of stories

When we read, we lean into a whole new world. A world full of people, things, and situations that intrigue us, entice us, trigger our agitations, and in the end leaves us in a blissful state of wanting more.

Reading is escaping into a realm that we don’t expect for ourselves. It’s a getaway, if you will, from the harsh realities of our everyday lives. Whether it’s from the kids rattling in their rooms, their joyful squeaks echoing through the thin old walls, wooden floorboards creaking even at the weight of the lightest in the house, or from the pending laundry, unattended work emails, or dirty dishes, we all use stories as a way to avoid facing what we eventually must. 

After all, the imaginary world is so much more interesting than our melting, sweltering real world.

As I marvelled this, I realised that not only readers ignore the piling mound of boring routine. Writers do too. Perhaps that’s why they are writers in the first place. Not only is writing a way to avoid the rest of the world, it’s also an intense form of empowerment to create your own.

When I write a story, I often don’t deviate from the way things are around me. I draw inspiration from people I see every day, from paths I wander, from music I listen to, and the conversations I engage in. However, these references don’t always reflect on the story. Instead, I twist it to my fancy. Even something as simple as the shape of a cup could be wildly incorrect—improper. That doesn’t mean a tea cup could be as impractical as a trophy cup, but it’s still the writer’s choice.

When you think o fit that way, the art of reading and writing stories is an act of going against what humankind has made acceptable and natural. 

It’s a way of rebelling, of protesting against normality, against the agreeable. Sometimes it’s as basic as a black man walking down a white neighbourhood, and sometimes it’s more aggressive as big brother watching you.

Stories are more than just stories.