There is a woman in my office building who reads everyday. Riding in the elevator, she reads. Taking her smoke break, she reads. Walking back into the building from her smoke break, she reads. We don’t work for the same company so I don’t know if she reads at her desk but I have to assume she reads there as well. Simply put, she is always reading. I haven’t been able to ascertain what types of books. My guess is fiction, possibly thrillers. They are usually mass market paperbacks which is why I’m thinking thriller or some other type of page-turner. I’ve been too shy to ask. She is usually engrossed in her book and doesn’t look like she wants to be disturbed but I will ask next time I see her. I’m dying to know.
She is always wearing the most comfortable looking black tennis shoes. I envy her for her footwear. I would love to be able to wear tennis shoes to work everyday. Being young and fashionable in the city is overrated. I don’t think of myself as fashionable but it feels as though I’m supposed to make an attempt or people might throw stones at me. The Book Lady, which is what I like to call her, reminds me that I’d take the tennis shoes over the pumps any day. She also reminds me that sometimes it’s ok to just read a book. I read but it’s rarely for pleasure. I’m usually reading something that is supposed to help “fix” me. Clearly, I’m being way too hard on myself. Maybe wearing comfortable shoes and being captivated by a new book every week is actually ok. Maybe it’s ok to just be unapologetic about it all.
Sometimes when I get in the elevator with her it smells slightly of perfume, cigarettes, and I like to imagine, books. There is something soothing about the combination of those smells. It’s comforting. I am not a smoker nor did I grow up in a smoker’s home but the smell oddly makes me happy. Maybe it’s because while traveling the smell of perfume and cigarettes seemed to be everywhere. Sitting on the Spanish Steps in Rome, wondering what Keats heard from his apartment window above in 1821, while sweet-smelling women passed by and Italian men smoked beside me. Standing outside a pub across the street from Westminster Abby at night, seeing it for the first time, feeling awe-struck while business men in their nice smelling suites smoked outside the pub. The list goes on and on; Paris, Prague, Vienna. The most Romantic experiences of my life were infused with the smell of a cigarette.
There was a time when I would have thought The Book Lady very un-Romantic. I assume she’s been at the same job for years, riding the elevator up and down day after day to read her book and smoke her cigarette. Now that I’ve been riding the elevator up and down day after day, sometimes with her, I realize there is a certain intimacy that develops. A quiet relationship with the people and things around you creeps up on you without you noticing. It’s awe-inspiring in a subtler way when you realize you will miss the finicky elevator button, the faded green carpet and the quiet darkness of the office before everyone else gets in. These small things and these brief moments are Romantic in their own way and I’m grateful to The Book Lady for helping me see that.