The sounds and bustle of lunchtime in our building’s common space fold around me as I sink into the first pages of a new book. Those first sentences can make or break that relationship, the one between writer and reader, or at least between story and reader.
The white noise din allows me to fall down between black letters on ecru paper, down into a large family home in a small Nigerian town. The story invites me in and holds me there. I revel in the words, the sense of place and character.
Before I even notice, it has won me over.
I have completely disengaged from work, from my meetings, from everything I wrote this morning, from everyone upstairs, everyone I spoke to on the phone or email. I am no longer part of my surroundings, they bleed out, blurring a few inches beyond my reach. I could be atop a cliff, surrounded by a roaring abyss. I am no longer even distinctly me. I am there in the moment, hovering, or maybe I’m part of the air, or the page.
It doesn’t matter where or who I am. I fade, too.
Every now and then, I take a bite of my lunch – leftover chicken and grilled vegetable pasta – it tastes good but doesn’t pull me away from the story.
It is a few seconds before I notice a white shirt in the hazy space before me, a presence. I look up into my friend’s face.
“Sorry to disturb you,” he begins, but I smile, close my book and tell him he didn’t and he shouldn’t be sorry. I invite him to join me. We chat for a while about the better parts of work, about people we know, and I ask him where I should run while I’m in Geneva (he used to work there). Before long, he excuses himself and heads home to meet his wife for lunch. I return to my book.
I’m not sure how much further I get before another friend pulls up a chair, sets his lunch down in a definitive manner and gets right down to the conversation. “Hi. Whatcha reading?” A different style but equally pleasurable company.
He stays until we both have to head back upstairs.
I will not get to read anymore of my book today but I can feel its essence even now, and its pull. It’s a warm, enticing yet calm feeling akin to wearing a warm but bright sweater on a cold day. I know it will stay with me the rest of the day, returning each time I turn the story over in my mind, returning when I next pick up the book.
I’m glad I had a chance to chat to two people I was happy to see. It was a pleasant lunch hour, slow, relaxed, friendly. I never used to take a lunch break if I wasn’t running or going to a yoga class. I should do this more often.
It’s good for the soul.