I reached for a piece of paper and handed it to Leo Marco.
He read it. Maritime History of the World, Volume 1, by Fernando Aguas.
“Reading it can help you even more as a sailor. I learned a lot about my father’s job as a seafarer. You can find it in the Reference Section located further down the hall." I mentioned.
Leo Marco stepped into the marbled tile foyer and air-conditioned hall of the La Biblioteca Nacional de Frias building standing along Avenida de Los Vientos. His eyes caught the attention of the familiar mural painting on the wall - the image of the Duke of Frias. The moment the door opened, the place overwhelmed him. In his life, he never saw as many books as this. He checked the paper I gave him inside his pocket. He looked around the library. Unsure of his steps, he read the note again and searched for the book. It was his first time to visit the place, and wasn’t familiar with the book sections. His eyes glanced at the stack of books marked, “On Sale” on top of a table. He scanned the titles, reached for one book and opened it. He read few pages and closed it. He leafed through the other books. This continued for thirty minutes, before he noticed the time and the real reason why he was there.
At the information desk, Alegria picked up several new arrival books inside the box and placed them on a table for encoding in the computer later. She paced herself across the room. Then, she saw a tall figure walked towards her desk. By now, he was too impatient to search.
"Buenas tardes, senorita. Puede ayurdame? Can you tell me where the Reference Section is?” asked Leo.
"Hola! Buenas tardes. It's straight up ahead. Look for the sign. You will not miss it.” Alegria replied.
She smiled and glanced at his towering height. After a while, he came back with the book.
“Hey Miss, I got it. Do I need to sign anything?” Leo asked.
“Yes, please, senor. Kindly fill in this form here.” she replied.
She discussed the library rules and regulations and everything involved and asked him to sign the logbook.
“You are good to go, sir,” she said.
Her lips formed a wide smile and said, "De nada, senor. Enjoy reading!"
That was a year ago.
Yet, in her memory, it was only yesterday.
“Miss Almeda. I know our meeting had a bad start, and things turned even worse after that. I wanted to settle the matter with you. Will you give me a chance to explain?” asked Leo.
“Please make it fast, Senor Marco. It’s a busy day at the library.” Alegria replied.
Leo turned to look if there were people around to listen. He cleared his throat.
“Miss Almeda, it was an accident,” he began. “The book fell into the water when the boat I was riding in with my cousin Rogelio, capsized at Ebro river. He was not a good swimmer. So, I rescued him first and made sure he was okay. I brought him to the clinic since it was an emergency situation. When I remembered the book, I came back but it was too late. It went deeper into the river.
“Senor Marco, I have known it a long time ago, something happened to the book. I was mad at you the first time, because of your brash attitude which turned me off. If my memory served me right, I will remind you of that day," Alegria remarked.
Confused, Leo stood there silently and waited in apprehension.
How much is that book? I will pay for it including the penalty. It was an old book anyway, I am sure it won’t cost much. Or, I can order a couple of those books from abroad. Who is the author again? Which do you prefer, Senora Almeda?
Leo was stunned. He tapped his fingers on top of the table. That was unexpected. How could she remember that? He thought.
As if Alegria had read what was on his mind, she smiled and said,
“I made an incident report about it, Senor Marco.”
Leo was amazed, but ignored what she had just said,
“So, how can we settle this problem?”
“As per the library’s regulations, either you replace the book or pay for it in full amount including the penalty. Since you left, it was deducted from my salary. And we don’t waive the library fee.
“Okay. I would pay for the book now.” He reached for his wallet inside his pocket and handed her some bills.
“Please bring this note to the cashier and pay the indicated amount. Muchas gracias, Senor. Have a nice day."
Alegria looked at him without any expression. He turned his back and she noticed the graceful movements he made as he walked to the cashier department. But something was missing. Perhaps, he had never done it before. Or it was a great deal of effort for him to say the word. Whatever it was, she quickly dismissed the thought.
When the fee was settled, Leo left and walked past several bookshelves, and the same foyer, on his way out to Avenida de Los Vientos. The sun has passed the horizon. Dusk enveloped the whole town of Frias.
For Alegria, a sense of calmness ensued, "I'm glad this issue is over now."
Or so, she thought.
Leo went straight to my place again and sought advice.
“Tell me, Leo, is it good news or what? I asked while I led him to the table.
“I paid for the lost book, Hermano. She was fine with it. No problemo.” Leo answered.
“Do you like her?”
Leo knew, I was referring to Alegria. I was a regular reader at the library.
“Do I what...? Why do you ask?” he asked, and pretended he had no idea.