By Lisa Verdekal
The elderly woman looked at the group of kids crowding around her. Even in the rain the children didn’t mind sitting outside. Once she started reading they seemed to sustain comfort by their enthusiasm alone. Transfixed on her face, wide-eyed, they listened in silence until the final word of the story. She, on the other hand, always felt damp and couldn’t help yearning for earlier times, indoors, when kids chose books out of the rich selection on the shelves.
She chuckled at the memory of the occasional grubby hands leaving marks on the pages. It used to annoy her, yet now she’d allow them to eat chocolate in a library, in fact she’d give it to them, if only to be back in the comfort of a dry building. These days the huts and tents were too dark to read in, even with glasses. Old pairs of spectacles, like everything else she’d taken for granted, were now a precious commodity. She handled hers like a holy relic.
Sighing, she lifted one of the tattered books lying on the ground before her. She could just make out the words
Harry Potter and …,
the rest of the title had disappeared with most of the cover. But she knew exactly which one it was. Out of the few books left to them after fire, flood and cruel winds had devastated the area, she’d read this book to the kids so often she could likely tell the story from memory.
From memory she also attempted to tell other well-known children’s stories, but not really doing them justice, she often ended up taking the stories down new roads, even making up her own. She guessed that made sense. Back to the art of oral storytelling.
She looked out at the younger men and women in ragged clothing. Bent low over the earth, they collected the scant harvest they’d managed to produce on the poor soil. Farther off in the distance people searched for any bits of firewood left on the charred landscape.
Everywhere people were busy with the task of surviving. With keeping determination above despair. She felt blessed to have such an easy job. Everyone seemed satisfied with her role as storyteller. It made sense, had she not been a librarian before the distruction.
The image of a hot cup of tea came into her mind. She shook her head chiding herself for her useless desires. Now that was a lost luxury. Even finding clean water was a chore now.
A shiver moved through her. A reminder that these shallower wants masked bigger fears. Would their small community persevere? Would they be attacked by marauding bands of survivors? Surely others were out there. Could an old woman like her withstand an illness or accident in such a harsh environment?
She turned her attention back to the small, ardent faces looking up at her, their expressions still untouched by hopelessness. Nodding, she smiled and began.
Once upon a time…
Born and bred in the city of the angels, Lisa Verdekal ran away to Europe and now lives in the west of Ireland. She has had several stories published online.