‘We are as indestructible as we believe ourselves to be.’
I stared at those words as they stay perfectly stagnant. This was supposed to be the sign, the sign for me to jump into the water and starts swimming. But I ignored it. I put the card back down in its own compartment and walked away from the shelf.
The bookstore is usually empty in the morning. The perfect time for me to venture in. I love books, I love all of it. The smell of paper, the sound of the pages flipping, the colourful and mundane cover, the place where books are stored, the inside and the outside. This is what true love is, I guess. You accept every part of the things you love.
I walked around the next shelf, the Young Adult section. My eyes linger lazily on the titles display, touching them briskly with my finger, as if I could feel the story slowly sipping in me. Some of the books I have already seen far too many times that even with a single glance, I know which book that is. Some of the books, I don’t even need to read the summary, I already know what it is all about.
Frankly speaking, I don’t even know my purpose of being here. I just simply like books and I want to be near books. The library is too far away, in the busy maddening town that I have no interest to drive through a heavy traffic this early in the morning. So I guess I settled in for the bookstore.
I bend down politely, letting my flare skirt spread the floor to scan the bottom shelf books. I pulled a foreign title to me out and survey it. It has a nice cover of a huge paper clip. “Paper Towns” is the title. I’ve heard of this book before, and has once stumble upon it but I have yet to read the summary. Reading summary is my favourite too. Waiting to see how compelling it could be.
“What is the purpose of life?” Suddenly I heard someone saying it.
I looked up and saw a guy around my age, looking too intensely at the back cover of a book. I did not feel his presence so I quickly got up and brush unseen dirt from my skirt and fix the front side of my hijab out of habit. It is fairly impolite to crouch beside a stranger, mainly a man.
He looked up from the book and straight into my wide eyes. “I’m sorry?” I asked. “Are you asking me?”
He smiled. He had a crooked smile. “I was talking to myself but feel free to answer if you want to.”
Usually I would say no and walk away. That’s the thing, I prefer to be in the company of books more than people. It is easier to understand books than to understand the human mind. How ironic, actually. Since books exist because of the human mind. “To obey, I guess,” I answered, surprising myself of the courage I found ever so suddenly.
“Obey what?” He asked. He raised an eyebrow and it arched perfectly.
“Who. Obey who should be the question,” I said and answered, “God. The Almighty.”
“That was written in the Quran, right? Al-Zariyat verse 56,” he said. I was surprised actually. He does not seem like the guy who has the Quran memorized at the tip of his tongue. He was wearing blue jeans and a plain button down shirt. I guess I am in no place to judge him by his appearance.
“Yeah, I guess,” I said. I don’t even memorized which verse it is. I just knew because it was a normal input like when someone asked you who do you love the most and you would say your parents without a second thought. A schema answer.
“Are you from a religious school?” He asked and without thinking much, I nodded. He looked down at my wide square hijab, my Muslimah T-shirt that went down to my knee and of course, the flare skirt. A typical representative of a Muslimah dress code.
He averted his eyes back at the book. “You are lucky,” he said. I wanted to ask why but then he repeat back the question with a bright smile to cover his sad eyes. “So, what is the purpose of life?”
“I thought I answered you,” I said, shift my feet, looking slightly uncomfortable out of a sudden. The question suddenly came into my mind like it was the first time. I tried to block the typical answer and search for the answer on my own. I have lived for 22 years, following orders. Simply following. I saw in my lifetime people found happiness and found the light and was brought back into the right path. They seem to be in calmness. Me? I am simply here. Stagnant. Following orders without putting my heart into it.
I was blind to something. Something that others could see, that I couldn’t. Something that I missed in between the busy lifetime of following. Following. What I was asked to do, I follow. Is that the purpose of life? Simply following?
He smiled at me again. I guess he saw it. “You are lucky to have the chance to gain the knowledge, but you’ll be luckier if you put your heart to it.” He put the book back and walked away without a second word. I began to feel tears forming at the tip of my eyes.
‘We are as indestructible as we believe ourselves to be.’ I guess that was the push to jump in. To move from this spot.