24 December 2010

Legendary Literature

Christmas Eve and I'm wrapping presents, which include two books I bought for my nephew. These are children's books, the wide-paged sort that you can read from, with more pictures than words, and not many pages. This makes them so skinny that they are almost brochures. The cover is crisp and glossy and the insides are printed with detailed high-colour illustrations.

I bought them from the school-supplies section in a department store in Manila. Amongst the textbooks and stationery, these were a series of traditional legends for children. They were up on a high shelf but I could reach them easily enough. I picked one up and flicked through it, admiring the quality of the illustrations, which seemed to have been done by hand in pencil and watercolours. Picking another, I discovered that each book told a different legend. Before long I had gone through several of them. While choosing which ones to buy I noticed that the stack of books had started to slump slightly. I tried to pick up one more book, but the one next to it started to fall so I took that one too. Then they all started to go like dominoes. I grabbed a bunch of the skinny books and tried piling them in a stack on their sides to prop the other ones up.

In the meantime a little Filipino woman had come along with her son to buy him some school things. I busied myself with my story-books and concentrated on not teaching the kid any new obscenities. She was very interested in something on one of the bottom shelves, leaning in to examine whatever it was in detail. At this stage I had a bunch of books in both hands, my fingers spanning as much of the smooth cover as I could possibly reach. From where I stood, looking down on her shiny hair at the back of her head as I stretched up, grasping the stacks of shiny books, it felt as if she were a few storeys below me.

It happened as if in slow motion. I adjusted my grip in an effort to stabilize the books and they gently started to slide. Slowly, and smoothly, they just glided across the shelf and over the edge. I had run out of hands, I couldn’t stop them. As they slipped towards the edge they gained momentum, dropping one by one off the shelf.


I gazed in horror as they cascaded on to her, landing on their edges on the back of her head. Some of them sailed over her but more of them dropped straight down, digging their corners into her scalp as they hit.

Plop! Swoosh! Ploploploploploploplop! ‘OW!’

She screamed before looking up in confusion and then scowling at me. I just loomed there awkwardly (arms still outstretched in position) and attempted to stammer out some kind of apology. I wanted the ground to swallow me, but instead, I just towered over everyone like a big white clumsy Godzilla, reddening as I stood there, rooted to the spot as I propped up the rest of the books.

A member of staff scurried over and quickly returned with a ladder, while my victim babbled something and rubbed her head. I felt a bit less sorry for her then because she hadn’t taken her book-avalanche very well. It was clearly an accident! In any case, I was soon relieved of my book-propping task and the whole shelf had to be re-stacked. I quickly selected two nice books that hadn’t taken chunks out of anybody’s scalp for myself. Then I ambled off and continued on my path of destruction.

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