One cherry eaten. I was so hungry. And so hot. And thirsty, too. Was I desperate enough to rip up a library book? I took out the book again to consider the possibilities. Then I saw some dust appearing over the horizon.
I watched it come toward me. It happened torturously slowly. Would this be good news or bad news? Should I be running away or setting up another place under my little tent? I held onto the pages of the book, ready to rip them up if I had to.
Finally, I began to hear something besides the wind and the sand. It sounded like someone singing. I couldn’t understand what he was saying – but it sounded like a happy tune.
Then, I saw a tall figure approaching, leading a camel. The camel was loaded down with many bags and boxes.
The singer had a blue scarf wrapped around his head and neck and most of his face. He was covered by layers of light fabrics – a linen vest over a long linen shirt, almost as long as a dress and linen pants. The clothes were a creamy beige color that almost made him disappear into the landscape. Only the blue scarf stood out against the sand. From certain angles, though, his head disappeared into the sky. Slung across his shoulder was a leather bag.
So far he hadn’t noticed me – neither the person nor the camel seemed to know I was there. I waited for his song to finish and then waved, saying “Hello.”
Both man and camel looked up at the sound of my voice and then looked at each other. Then the person waved back.
I started to come out of my tent and he gestured for me to stay where I was. They climbed the dune toward me. I’d never seen a camel in real life before and having one come right toward me scared me a little bit but I tried to stay cool.
Once they got closer, he said, “ Silim, I have not seen you before.”
“I just got plopped here by accident.” I said.
“Are you setting up to camp here? Will you need a book?”
“I’d like to find my way out of here, actually. And did you say book?”
“Yes,” he said, “I am a Wandering Librarian. I bring books to those who cannot get to a library. I bring the library to them, you see. May I present you to the library?”
He gestured to the camel, which seemed to make a little bow with its head.
“He is the library. I am the librarian. My name is Ammon. His name is Tabus. Would you like to browse the library shelves?”
“I would,” I said and began to climb out of my tent. I was a little wobbly on my feet
The librarian took one look at me and quickly ran to a box near the front of the camel and returned with a leather bag with a nozzle on it and handed it to me.
“Water” he said, “I have plenty. As much as you want.”
I didn’t argue. It felt like I had the desert in my throat and I would never not be thirsty again. I drank and drank and drank and finally felt myself returning to normal. “How did you know?” I said.
“You had thirsty eyes. No one can read with thirsty eyes. I recognize the signs. Also – hungry eyes. Which you also have, to tell you the truth. Will you take a bit of bread?”
I thought it might be polite to refuse it but I found myself unable to even shake my head.
“You must,” he said and handed me a hunk of fluffy flatbread, which I readily stuffed into my mouth. As I ate, Ammon handed me a shiny green cloth and told me how to wind it around my head.
“To keep off the sun,” he said.
When I finished the bread, he nodded and said, “That is better. The eyes are not so blurry. You can read what you like.”
And he gestured me toward the camel.
He opened one of the boxes strapped to the camel and revealed a shelf featuring three rows of neatly stacked books.
“These are the adventure stories here.” He said, waving his arm and then took me on a tour, around the whole camel, showing me a multitude of shelves.
“But aren’t all these books heavy for the camel?” I asked.
“Oh no. The library is used to it. Tabus started from a baby, just carrying a book or two on his head. Is not that right, you clever monster?”
The librarian scratched the camel under his chin and the camel seemed to smile.
“Tabus loves to carry books. And while he cannot read them himself, he does enjoy being read to. Would you care to read something to the Library?”
I nodded, suddenly feeling a little shy.
“Let’s see,” said the Librarian, looking over one of the shelves. “How about this one?”
Ammon showed me a long skinny book with a green cover and took down a little folding stool, which he set up right by the camel’s head. I sat down and proceeded to read a rollicking science fiction story about a planet where all of the people literally wore their hearts on their sleeves and the whole culture evolved to protect this very vulnerable part worn on the outsides of their bodies. I wasn’t usually a fan of science fiction but I liked this story and more importantly, so did the camel. He bent his nose into the book as if to nuzzle it.
“He loves science fiction,” said Ammon. “And westerns. But he will listen to anything. Would you like to check out a book?”
“I might,” I said. “I think - if you have any books with a map of this desert, like an atlas or something? I would very much like to find my way out of it.” “I can help you with that,” said Ammon as he re-shelved the green book. “if you would like a guide.” I hugged him. I couldn’t help it. I definitely needed a guide.
I put my things back into my backpack and we set out, continuing along the same way they’d been going when they stumbled upon me. As we walked, Ammon asked me what I was doing there. When I told him my story, he listened attentively and then frowned. He looked around him before saying, “I think, perhaps, someone would like for you to abandon your quest.”
“I could not say. Though I can tell you that there are those who would prefer if Akita had no children at all. And sometimes I think they would prefer for Akita to have no books at all!”
“But isn’t this place one giant library?”
“It is, yes. We are in the oldest part of it now, in The Cradle. But even though this entire place is made for books – there are some who do not care for them. And they grow more powerful every day.”
“Do you think that’s who removed the books from my library?”
“Possibly. I could not say. But believe me, if someone removed the books from my library, I would not rest until I found them.”
We passed over sand dune after sand dune until we could see what looked like a town full of colorful tents of all different sizes and shapes. Round purple tents sat next to bright green triangles and yellow banana shaped tents. There were sparkly tents and striped tents and tents with stars on them. There were even several tents that looked like books. Palm trees poked out throughout the village.
Ammon told me that this was where the Wandering Librarians gathered. There was a burro library, an elephant library, a crocodile library and an ostrich library.
“We’ll get some more supplies here.” he said, “and we can ask what anyone knows about your library’s books. No one knows more about the goings on in Akita than the Union of Wandering Librarians. I am a bit late, though, so we may have to wait until after tea for finding answers.”
“I’m sorry I made you late,” I said. “If you hadn’t stopped for me, you’d have made it on time.”
“If I hadn’t stopped for you – Asagudug! – I hate to think what would have happened to you. But also – Tabus would never have allowed it. And we would not have met you, which would have been a very big shame. I am not the least bit concerned to be late. Each member of the Union of Wandering Librarians would have done the very same as we have. They will celebrate our arrival whenever it shall be.”
I was pretty excited to meet the other librarians and to see all the animal libraries and also to finally get some useful information. As we approached the welcome banner over the tent city, though, everything seemed very quiet. Ammon became very concerned.
He stood at the edge of the village, listening carefully. “Do you hear that?”