I pass through the double doors and enter the lobby. The rec center and café portions of the building are open for business, but a sign to my right informs me that the library doesn’t open until 10:00. I sit down on a nearby bench and settle in to spend the next twenty minutes people watching.
A rec center Zumba class for the aging lets out, and this provides me with more than enough to smile about. Gray hair, bright spandex, and breathless chatter fill the space around me.
“I found this class to be a very challenging experience,” one woman comments to her three friends.
“Oh, you poor dear! I loved it; I thought the instructor added an element of fun!” a younger looking friend replies, a hint of playful condescension in her tone. In my entire life, I have only seen a few minutes of The Golden Girls, but that’s enough for me to imagine her as the Blanche of the squad.
“Have you seen that John Wick movie yet?” an older man asks his buddy as they follow the ladies out of the building, fresh cups of coffee in their hands and bright white sneakers on their feet.
A pack of wild little children enters the lobby followed by their guardian, a woman that looks far too tired for the hour. She frowns at the posted library hours.
“Okay guys, it looks like we have a few minutes before the library opens. Can we try and stand and wait quietly?
They can’t, and I look forward to observing every moment of their laughing, teasing, pushing, and nose picking.
Another frown, this one on the face of a woman holding a plastic shopping bag filled with what appears to be library books.
“Do you know where I can return these?” she asks me.
“Isn’t there a bin outside?” I suggest in reply.
“Yes, but it wouldn’t let me…” her voice trails off.
“I can return them for you, if you don’t think that’s weird,” I offer.
“Oh, would you? I would be so grateful…” she is almost crying.
She holds up the bag with both hands. I take hold of it, but she doesn’t let go. I look up and smile kindly as our eyes meet.
“I’m happy to help,” I assure her.
“We checked these out for our trip to Vegas, but we didn’t even have time…” her voice trails off again.
I am oddly comfortable holding onto a bag of books with this stranger as I wait for her to continue her explanation.
“I mean, when we got down there, we got a call…” she lets go of the bag, her arms dropping to her sides as if in defeat.
“My brother…” she says.
I sense a familiar, desperate distraction in her voice.
“My brother died,” she finally manages to say.
The words don’t make sense to her, and my heart breaks to know that they never will.
“Oh dear, I’m so sorry, it’s a hard thing, losing someone.”
“Thank you for this,” she says.
“It’s the smallest thing I can do,” I say.
“Thank you,” she says once more before turning to leave.