“Why Laila D Never Lent Books,” by Prarthana JA

Aug 20th, 2021 | By | Category: Fiction, Prose

On a crisp summer day, while blowing bubbles with a straw into a glass of iced watermelon juice, and feeling like a child, I was faced with an adult perplexity.

I had to choose between two lovers.

Tony Manezes took long elegant strides into a room bursting with the light from his halo. He was a god descended from the skies, or so I believed at the sight of his infinitely long eyelashes, curling from a pair of knockout eyes, set into a knockout of a face. I was at an age where wisdom had not yet set in and youth was impressed by nothing but beauty, so I involuntarily shifted in my seat and wished he were mine.

I was eighteen.

Drama class was the only reprieve in a doggone semester, not only because I loved theatre, but because Tony Manezes played Sydney Carton, in this year’s showcasing of A Tale of Two Cities. I was the brown oily girl who cut cardboard sheets into 17th century carriages, and occasionally tucked oversized costumes into place.

One day, Tony Menezes spoke to me. That had never happened before, at least not in this way, warm to the point of intimacy.

“Hey, Laila D,” he said, flashing a smile I had turned over in my head and treasured for many moons.

“Would you happen to have the book? The Tale of Two Cities?”

“Huh,” came a whimper.

I was both perplexed and astonished at the fact that Tony Menezes wanted a book, and from me. Tony, I could swear, had never read a book in his life, not for pleasure, and never spoke to oily brown girls in glasses, he certainly didn’t smile at them.

“I need it for character reference,” he said. “Mr. Menon says reading the book would help me play the character in depth.” It seems that on inquiry, Tony was notified that I was more likely to possess the book than the school library.

“Yes… sure,” the words tumbled out. Before the gravity of the matter set in, I had duly invited Tony Menezes to my house around the corner, to lend him the book.

Tony eyed my room with considerable awe. I was sure that under my brown skin, spots of hot pink appeared in a hurry. Tall shelves rose like the Great Wall of China folded in three, along the three sides of my room. Books were neatly stacked in impeccably straight lines, labelled shelves strictly housed the mentioned genres, and each book was numbered.

In all, I was the sole owner of 2,862 books, and was obnoxiously proud of it.

“Wowee,” said he, mystified. “You must be so smart”.

I was, but I quickly assumed a bashful and modest air and chattered with the love of my short, and currently bedazzled life. He was visibly taken by me and my intellectual yet entertaining banter. I was sure that, soon we’d be walking to school together, sharing lunch under the tamarind tree, falling in love, getting married and making pretty babies with a propensity for fine language.

This was short lived with the immediate dawn of reality, so harsh, so cruel. I had never lent a book in my life. You see, according to me, books should not be lent. They are strange, precious things that house a numen, irrevocably binding it to its owner, a numen that should not be tampered with. Books are sacred and delicate things. They cannot be placed open and upside down, they cannot be tossed into crowded bags, lest the pages bend. Worst of all, the abomination of dog-earring of corners cannot be committed. You cannot touch them without washing your hands, the grease and sweat might soil the crisp pages. You cannot place them in or near a kitchen or read while in traffic, unless you risk the smell of smoke and grime robbing the perfume of the paper. And you cannot lose them. You simply cannot. What if one of them was a present? As if gestures of love and affection via a book were replaceable, by any stretch of imagination.

So a fair amount of breath went out of my lungs, when I pulled out A Tale of Two Cities, from between a very reprimanding John Halifax, Gentleman and Jane Eyre.

He had to pull it out of my hands. “Thanks,” he said, oblivious to the furor of activity inside my numbing head.

“When can I have it back?” I asked at once.

“Huh, once the play is over”. He had not expected the question, and in such a severe tone.

Suddenly, Tony Menezes’s halo had dimmed. He now possessed an incredible amount of power to hurt my book, and hence me.

“Alright,” I said. “Promise to take care of it?”

“Sure,” he said, gripping it dangerously by its corners.

“Please don’t place it upside down”

“Sure,” he shrugged.

“And no dog ears please… here’s a bookmark,” I said, grabbing one from the abundance in my room.

“Okay,” His smile had shortened by an inch.

“Be sure to turn the pages gently? It’s an old book.”


 “Sorry, “I gushed, “it’s just that, I’m a little possessive about my books,”

“Oh I get it,” No you don’t, you gumball! I thought. If you did, you’d cradle it with both your hands across your chest.

“Care to stay for some orange juice?”

“Oh no I got to go, got to read… and practice.” His smile was completely gone, when he rushed out of my house in a hurry. That night I dreamt of Tony Menezes standing over my spread-eagled book, muddied and torn on the floor. On some nights he was setting it on fire, on others he was tearing off pages and stuffing them into his mouth. I had never been so insomniac in all my life, as I was that entire week.

“Did you finish reading my book?” I asked him, three mornings before the staging of the play.

“Ah almost, quite a fat book,” he said. My heart sank.

The evening before the event, I was quite certain he wouldn’t need the book, but with one look in my direction, he disappeared through the door. I caught him between a crowd of babbling girls.

“Hey hi… you have my book on you?”

“Nope… shall give it to you after the play?”

I was angry as hell, and extensively worried.

At the drawing of curtains, I dashed at him while he was taking off the ridiculously long 17th century hat.

“Hey, about my book, do you happen to have it on you?”

“Oh no, sorry, I shall bring it tomorrow”

“Oh alright… umm and congratulations, that was a great performance”

On the morrow, while for a moment I had forgotten my predicament while blowing bubbles into my glass of watermelon juice, I saw him saunter across the cafeteria.

“That’s it,” I said to myself, I flew at him with an urgency of a dart to a bull’s eye.

“I need my book back,” I said.

He promptly unzipped his backpack, pulled out the book and stuffed it into my welcoming hands, and was gone without a word. A Tale of Two Cities was in fairly decent shape. Only a mild tinkering of a few pages showed at the right hand side corner. I gently eased the bends into place. Some wisdom had quickly come to me, in the form of a monumental self-realization. That I could never love a man who did not understand books as I did, how much ever of a knockout he was.

Tony Menezes never crossed my path again and all my 2,862 books were intact.


Prarthana JA, is a stay-at-home mom from Bangalore, India, who has perfected the art of cooking, typing, and cleaning with one hand while holding a toddler in the other. As a former corporate writer for almost a decade, she quit her dead-end job because she simply had to write a novel, a very serious one, so she balances it off with writing humorous short stories. A writer has to start somewhere. She really hopes she can start here.

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