Mr Fegelmann’s List

Mr Fegelmann almost never drinks the cup of coffee brought to him until it is lukewarm, a thin film spreading on the surface trying desperately to keep in the last bits of coffee tasting warmth inside. Mostly he just sits and reads.

Sometimes he sleeps. and sometimes, if you look closely, you may detect a slight flickering of closed eyelids and an almost imperceptible shade of a smile, or maybe a tear gently rolling down, to show that Mr Fegelmann may be, just may be dreaming.

Mornings start early for Mr Fegelmann, one would think, as he slowly shuffles into the library, a tattered cap on his head, his right hand clutching a yellowing library card. there are bags under his eyes and as he walks up to the librarian’s desk, his right leg stumbling slightly, every time, probably unwilling to hold on to the man’s weight. every morning, as the big copper faux-victorian era clock behind the desk emits a sputtering ring at 10, Mr Fegelmann drags himself and his gimp leg upto the librarian and asks for a book.

This routine, according to the librarian and some of the old-timers, hasn’t changed at all for as long as they can remember. Mr Fegelmann then goes to one of the rows of desks and chairs set up inside and sits. People with an interest in symmetry might wonder if he has always sat at the same spot, but no one has ever really come to the library long enough, or frequently enough, to make a note of this.

A small boy brings around coffee for the librarian, and the latter very kindly asks the boy to go and place a cup by Mr Fegelmann’s chair, whether he sits there or goes to the bathroom for his quite frequent breaks in reading.The librarian realises there must be a causal and effectual relation between the coffee and Mr Fegelmann’s breaks, but the old man does appreciate the gesture and nods towards him, so he feels he must be doing something good.

There aren’t too many people reading in the library nowadays. both the librarian and the coffee-mongering boy note this. The chairs are often more filled with the dust swirled around by the ceiling fans than with backsides, and the books (to the librarian’s somewhat overly imaginative mind) are more carefully perused by silverfish and termites than actual human eyes. There is the harried looking exam candidate rushing in and out of the aisles, bringing down books, riffling through them and putting them back in (as the librarian huffily notes) wrong positions as he seeks to make up for months and months of lost time, of which all he has now are memories. There is the couple steadily passing on notes to each other between languorous sips of coffee, each note accompanied by a tinkly giggle and a sharp lift of the eyebrow from the librarian, who wonders, not without a small hint of guilt what the contents of such mirth-inducing notes might be.

Of course, all this, the librarian accepts, must be common enough in all other libraries around the world for him to be paying too much attention to. There is not much dinner conversation to be wrung out, no jokes to be conjured up, to be told in front of friends and family from such mundane happenings. There is however one curious bit of information that the librarian acquires and notes every day that may lead to a few moments of attention from his audience. This information brings him back to Mr Fegelmann.

Mr Fegelmann always, always asks for the same book.

It is a slim book, the librarian notes. The brown leather cover looks to have been replaced several times in the book’s lifetime. The language of the book is one the librarian doesn’t know. All in all, the book looks much like any other book kept there,and the librarian would not have paid any interest to it had the curious bit of information of Mr Fegelmann always asking for the same book not come to his notice. The librarian would be completing 12 years there in June, and not once, if he remembers (and librarians remember well) has Mr Fegelmann’s choice of daily reading ever varied.

This realization, startling in itself (to him, anyhow) leads the librarian onto a diverting little observational exercise. He now sits and watches Mr Fegelmann  (of course the other readers as well, but in particular him) read the book. He has also seen Mr Fegelmann read the book, the same book, in a fascinatingly different number of ways. He sometimes notes these ways down and then (the librarian is an avid reader of Auguste Dupin) tries to gauge if there is a pattern that emerges from Mr Fegelmann’s varied exertions. It adds a bit of levity to a (to be frank) boring job, the librarian admits:

1. Happy, undoubtedly happy. moved through the pages very rapidly. found some parts funny and laughed ( I almost had to tell him to quieten). Did not go for bathroom breaks very often. Even rewarded the coffee boy with a smile and a pat on the back. The coffee boy inquires of me if he might be willing to pay;I tell him i don’t know. Leaves in the evening with a cheery tip of that hat of his. I think he was whistling.

2. Doesn’t move beyond what I think is the first page. Doesn’t turn the page. Simply looks at the page. The coffee has been left untouched. Coffee boy disappointed. looks up and stares at clock for long periods of time. as if willing it to move faster. or maybe stop. Too much imagination on my part.

3. Holds book to his chest, eases into the chair and sleeps. Maybe had a long night. (what could an old man be doing to have a long night?)

4. Today he has actually arisen from his chair. Is limping around with the book. Talking to himself-or to the book, maybe? I do not understand the words, but he sounds entreating,pleading. sometimes clenches a fist and looks at the clock angrily. Tells the coffee boy he doesn’t want his coffee, nearly shoos him away.

5. Goes to the bathroom, does not come back for quite some time, and when he does…..I think he might have been crying….sits and sleeps on the table, keeping book between arms. I wake him up when I switch the lights off. he mumbles a ‘thank you’ and walks away…I think he was certainly crying.

There are other things he has written down as well, and the librarian imagines this story must be something he can interest his son into listening . Sometimes he feels like they both don’t know each other too well. maybe this would enthuse the boy to know more about his father’s profession, mundane as it is. The librarian feels a trifle bemused, and (although he does not want to admit it) disappointed when he thinks about his son’s disinterest in books-his father’s tools of trade. It is not much, he knows, but it would feel good, if his son would someday come to the library, talk to him, look at the books, old and arcane as they may be, maybe even pick up something to read.

The only time his son had actually talked to him about books or his job, he remembers, is when he had wanted to know the names of ten moderately famous (but not too well-known ) books that he thought could influence their reader. Or something like that, the boy wasn’t very sure. Just the names though. Nothing more. He had said it was for something he had to show his friends. The librarian remembers how hard he tried to recall the name of Mr Fegelmann’s one solitary book then. A book that passionately, and that continuously read, the librarian assumes (even though his understanding of such matters is limited), must decidedly have some influence.




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