Minha Amada Biblioteca

The little library where I work is one of the biggest worlds I know.

To know any space — to know where the floorboards creak and the sofa sinks, or which drawer holds the whisk, the paperclips — surely fulfills some innate human desire.

But to know a library…

This week, I’ve read A Brief History of Time and Biscuit Goes to School, Alice no País das Maravilhas and The Red Tent, Practical Lambing: A Guide to Veterinary Care at Lambing and Mein Kampf.

Six down. Twenty-nine thousand, nine hundred ninety-four to go.

I get home at 4:16 pm with rusty hands and sweaty temples. Must be all those black holes and rabbit holes. Or potholes (the chain fell off my bike again).

I wash the bicycle grease off my hands, walk to the living room, and sit, right leg folded under me, left leg dangling off the couch. A little slip of paper peeks out of my right pocket. There are four others inside. Names and numbers belonging to the sixth graders who keep me company while I work.

I smile, remembering. They don’t talk about books. They talk about Lil Wayne.

One girl asks me what I want to be when I grow up. Her older sister laughs — “Ana, what do you mean? She’s already grown up!”

I laugh too, but inside I panic a little. I recently finished my first book in Portuguese: Peter Pan.

After they leave, a ten-year-old boy comes in to check-out a book about spiritualism. (“A system of religious belief or practice based on supposed communication with the spirits of the dead, especially through mediums.”)

“How’d he get interested in spiritualism?”

His mom looks bewildered. Embarrassed even.

“On his own,” she answers. “He read about it online somewhere.”

An elderly lady comes in next. A regular. She looks through the Nicholas Sparks books for a while, adjusting her glasses as she examines each of the book’s back covers. Then, empty-handedly, she wanders to the horror/suspense section, promptly plucks two books off the shelf, and walks to the front desk.

For six hours a day, five days a week, I am surrounded by stories. All 30,000 of the library’s books were donated, by families from down the road, across the country, and overseas. Books have been sent to the institute from places as far away as Singapore and Germany, by tourists who visited Morretes and were charmed by the little library with the wicker furniture and ivy-covered archway.

Because of this, the majority of the books have heartfelt notes or distracted scrawls recorded inside their front covers. My favorites are those inside the children’s books — the “jONaThaN”s and “mARiANA”s written in bright colored pencil in the books with the red labels (those for the youngest tots), as well as the careful cursive of the older kids in the books with the blue labels: “Juliana Peniche, 6th grade. I don’t love anything.

Well, Juliana, I love all your angsty little notations in Mamãe Não Deixa (“Mom Doesn’t Let Me”). I also love riding my bike to work every day and the sound of the rain on the skylights and the smell of the old books. And the people – I especially love the people.

I’m not changing the world from over here, but I’m learning new things all the time, and that’s plenty for me.