The bookshop nestled
incongruously between Elle’s Fashions and Francine’s Shoes. It was a tall, thin building with peeling green paint
and a grimy wooden door. Bars on the small windows added to its lack of charm.
In the upstairs flat, Aloysius Scurvy paused as he bent to feed the cat.
Someone was knocking on the locked door of the shop. He glanced at the clock on the mantelpiece. They’d have to wait -
he never opened before half past.
Aloysius stroked the cat’s dusty black fur and murmured endearments, but it soon picked its delicate way
across the untidy room and sat on the windowsill, washing itself.
Dressed in brown corduroy trousers, yesterday’s striped shirt and a
woollen cardigan, Aloysius carefully descended the spiral staircase to the
shop, patting his tousled hair into rough order as he went. Again, the front door rattled.
This time Aloysius
slowly drew back the bolts and waited for the first customer of the day to enter.
Aloysius raised an eyebrow, but said nothing. He ponderously made his
way to a bookshelf and adjusted a few volumes. Soon he was lost in his stock,
selecting which book he would
read today. Usually he settled into the cracked leather armchair in the corner, but his young customer intrigued
him. He was all for plain speaking and
wondered what would come next.
here then. What d’you want me to do?’
‘In what way?’ asked Aloysius
a little nervously.
sighed dramatically and rolled her eyes. ‘Candy Phipps, local Comp, work experience.’
Now Aloysius remembered. They’d begged him to take someone and, thinking he’d get a
robust young lad to move his stock around, he’d agreed with alacrity. He took in
the small, emaciated girl in front of him. As she reached up to pull the hair off her face, her tiny pink
T-shirt rode up, revealing a tummy as flat as a board and a sparkling gem embedded in her belly button. Politely
averting his gaze, his mind whirled with questions. What could he give her to
do? Was it too late to back out from the scheme? Did she make tea? This
last question brought him back to safe
‘You can make the tea,’ he said. ‘Out the back, through that door.’ He
a dark recess.
Candy slouched towards the door. Within seconds, she was back. ‘No way. That’s an ’ealth
hazard out there.’
shrugged his shoulders and settled down with Martin Chuzzlewit. Out of
the corner of his eye, he was aware of Candy, squatting on the floor, busily
texting messages on her mobile phone, an iPod plugged into her ears. They
passed a pleasant day with no customers to intrude on their activities. At
four, Candy gathered her things and made
for the door.
won’t open the door before half past.’
half past, the shop door rattled open and Candy manoeuvred her way in, a backpack impeding her progress.
Nodding to Aloysius, she went through to the back and he could hear water
running and her thin, tuneless voice singing softly. Aloysius busied himself
with unpacking a small order that had been delivered the previous week, then selected another book to read.
As he settled into his armchair, Candy sidled over to him bearing a mug of
steaming tea. A little spilled onto the carpet as she put it down on the floor
next to him. She didn’t meet his eye, just disappeared through to the back again.
Gratefully, Aloysius drank his tea; he couldn’t remember the last time someone had made him tea. He returned to his
book, aware of noises from the kitchen area.
Then, ‘I’m off for
me dinner.’ Candy yanked at the ill-fitting door and flounced out.
himself now, Aloysius made his way through to the back intent on seeing if there were still biscuits in the old
rusting tin. He couldn’t believe what he saw. The surfaces were clean and tidy, as was the sink. The small amount
of crockery and cutlery gleamed. He
looked into the small courtyard and saw a couple of tea towels and a
dishcloth fluttering on the washing line. Amazing! As he reached for the
biscuit tin, he knew the birds had been luckier than he was going to be.
When Candy returned after a very long lunch hour, Aloysius thanked her
up. He watched as she transferred cleaning materials, bleach bottles and washing-up liquid
back into her backpack.
‘I bought these. Want one?’ She opened a pack of Jaffa Cakes and held it
out to him before settling
down with her mobile phone.
The next morning, she rattled
through the front door. Aloysius guessed she’d be on time and had hurried to make sure he was open for her. Hopefully,
she’d be making tea again. Today, she had no backpack, just a thoughtful look.
get many customers, do you?’ she said.
‘They can intrude on my
reading,’ he retorted, smiling.
‘What I mean is,’ as if to a
five-year-old, ‘it’s your business, innit?’
Sensing she had something on her mind, Aloysius asked, ‘Have you any
‘Might ‘ave. I’ll let you know. That there cat. Does he always sleep on
That’s all right then,’ she said enigmatically.
chance of a cup of tea?’ asked Aloysius hesitantly. ‘Stuff that! I’m busy.’
Lunchtime found Candy kneeling on the floor
in front of the window, surrounded by books. She selected a few at random and
arranged them next to the sleeping cat. Each one had the word ‘cat’ in the
title. When she was satisfied, she darted outside to look at the effect, then
back in again to make a few adjustments. Finally,
she was happy and addressed Aloysius.
get tea now. You can put them other books back.’
He did as
he was told, then drank his tea. Looking out of the window, he saw a small
group had gathered. They were pointing to Candy’s display and smiling. The door
opened and more customers than he usually saw in a week crowded into the small shop. Candy’s handiwork was certainly a
The next day was the same and
Aloysius had to order further supplies.
the display,’ said Candy that afternoon. She was enjoying herself; it was far better than minging school. Deciding to
give the travel section an airing, she pulled out books about places she
had only ever heard of in Geography classes.
the kettle on,’ said Aloysius, happily changing roles. ‘I’ve been there,’ he added as Candy produced a book on Southern Italy. ‘And there.’
While they drank their tea Aloysius recalled his travels abroad,
telling Candy of some of his adventures. ‘Are you interested in travel?’
Aloysius counted up his takings, he couldn’t believe how much there was. He’d
never sold this many books before. On reflection, he realised he’d enjoyed the
last few days and would miss Candy at the end of the week.
Friday came, Candy once more changed the display. Aloysius smiled as he saw the
titles she’d chosen: David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, Pickwick
Papers ... Thinking she’d chosen them in deference to him, he murmured,
‘That was a kind thought, choosing my
She frowned. ‘I chose them ’cause of the covers.’ Holding out a
blood-red leather-bound Great
Expectations, she added, ‘Pretty, aint they?’
stream of customers kept Aloysius busy and the time passed quickly. Candy,
keeping to her usual haphazard routine of working hours, pushed past him. ‘See ya.’
‘Candy, just a minute.’ He felt unaccountably sad that he’d never see
her again. They did have some sort of rapport, albeit a near-silent one-sided
one. She waited impatiently. ‘I
hope things work out well for you. Thank you for helping here. I’ll give a good
report of you to the school.’
sod. I’ll be back again Monday.’ She disappeared up the road.
the total for the three Dickens’ volumes he’d just sold, Aloysius reflected
that he’d spend the weekend cleaning the shop. When Candy came in next week,
she wouldn’t have to sit on a grubby floor to listen to her music and text her friends. He’d get in a fresh supply of biscuits,
was filled with sunshine. He hadn’t had anything nice to look forward to for a very long time. He was going to
make the most of it.
©2006 Mary Keyser
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