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Ana was lost. In this vast expanse of books and knowledge and knowing glares, Ana felt lost and out of her wits.
The library of her university is a big place after all. She stood in the doorway of the library’s lobby just looking at and absorbing the impressive structure before her. The impossibly high domed ceiling, the paintings of historical scenes on the walls, the intricate columns and shelves that looked like they were taken straight out of the architecture books, and the books. She has never seen so many books in her life. Books of every shape and size imaginable and then some. Her high school’s library---where she spent most of her young teenage life---was nothing compared to this.
She read the plaque right next to the doorway:
“St. Jude Central Library houses one of the largest, oldest, and rarest collections of books in Southeast Asia and some of the country’s most treasured artifacts. The oldest books can be traced back to earlier than the 16th century...”
She made her way to the murals near the librarian’s counter. One showed the founding of the school. The one next to it showed the hanged Indio friars and another about the execution of the national hero. The oldest painting depicted a scene of boats docked on a beach with 10 men and women dressed in gold surrounded by what looked to be like soldiers. She walked up to it to look at the man in the middle, calling the attention of all the people around them. In his raised hand, he was holding what looked like a pearl the size of his hand.
“Excuse me, miss?”
Ana was startled by the raspy voice of a woman behind her. She looked back to address her. The woman looked like she was in her late 30s, maybe early 40s. A smile grew on the librarian’s kind face. “May I help you?”
She has always been the shy girl even back in high school. But this is university. She told herself that she’ll be a different person when she gets to college. Her story will be different now. She just doesn’t know yet who she is or what her story will be about.
“Hi! I... uhm… I was looking for a book…” Ana stuttered, pushing her glasses up her pale face and pulling at the end of her long black braided hair held together by an emerald ribbon. Today, she wasn’t any different.
“My dear, this is a library,” the woman patiently answered. She noticed that Ana had been examining the painting. “That painting went through a lot before it was brought here. Most historians have brushed off the history it depicted as a hoax. ”
Ana looked at her. “What do you mean?” Ana asked curiously.
The librarian put her hands behind her back. “So much of our history is shrouded in mystery. Our own country’s story only goes as far back as when the first written word was brought here. And yet our stories from way before the first written records lived on in song and epics passed on from our ancestors.”
“But this painting, how could the artist make this if this scene never happened in our history then?” Ana asked, looking intently at the pearl as if it was shining in the light.
“Maybe there are people who still remember the story,” the librarian playfully answered. “Or there are some people who just let their imaginations run a little too wild.” The librarian smiled, which made Ana smile back.
“So you’re looking for a book then?” the librarian said, gesturing for Ana to follow her towards the librarian’s counter. Ana obediently followed, taking one last look at the painting before she went. The librarian sat in front of the computer behind the counter. “May I see your class card?”
Ana reluctantly handed the woman her class card. “Ah, Ms. Analiza G. Leyes, History. First year. Very good. You must be looking for The History of The Filipino People. Fifth floor. Aisle 15.”
The woman returned her class card. Ana just stared at the woman, mouth agape. “Just Ana… But… how did you… how....”
“I know your professor. He always requires his students to get this book for his class. Every year. No fail. The man can get very dramatic, but he knows his history,” she began. “You’re the first one to come here actually. You must have gone straight here after class. So off you go then, before your classmates take all the copies.”
Ana mumbled the librarian’s instructions, “Fifth floor. Aisle 15. Fifth floor. Aisle 15,” over and over as she went up the stairs all the way to the fifth floor. Ana was not athletic, and going up five flights of stairs took the wind out of her. In her head, she thought she was lucky that she lost a lot of weight in the summer and was lighter on her feet now. Still, at the top of the stairs, she was panting and gasping for air.
When she had caught her breath, she walked along the balcony lined by bookshelves on the other side. It was overlooking the lobby from which she saw the paintings and the librarian’s counter. She never asked for the librarian’s name, and a wave of shame swept her.. She looked for the librarian at the lower ground counter, but a younger male librarian was there stamping on the back of books. She took a note in her head to look for the helpful librarian again.
She made her way past this floor’s librarian’s table on the other side of the floor, the rows and rows of computers and study tables, and made her way to the bookshelves.
Ana has always had a knack for finding lost things. In her previous school, Ana’s hobby was finding the owners of the things that end up in the lost and found box. She smiled. She once found a diary filled with poems written by her batch’s head jock.
She took another mental note to find the lost and found box in this library on her way out.
It didn’t take a while for her to find the book all the way in the back of the library hidden from view by the other taller bookshelves. There was one copy left of the book. The book was leatherbound and embellished with gold filigree in the corners. The title too was embossed in gold and underlined with more filigree with what looked like a big white iridescent pearl in the middle.