I can’t recall the first time I was acquainted with your space. Was it with a friend? Or alone? Either way, you feel like home. The paperbacks, hardcovers, pocket books and tomes are enough to accompany my languid afternoons flaneuring down Bussorah Street. All my friends know I can’t leave the precinct without paying you a visit.
Leila Aboulela’s The Translator for myself, and Tariq Ramadan’s Islam: The Essentials for a dear friend. The first books I’d picked up from your neatly arranged stacks. Often, without meaning to, I’d swing by and sequester myself between your shelves. An assembly of ochreous, hanging lamps light your face like little moons. Whispered conversations, hands skimming new books. Light tinkling of your door bell greets a curious and sweaty visitor wandering around the corner on a sweltering afternoon. Your sturdy yet rickety century-old staircase transports me to the iconic bookshop flanked on the Left Bank in Paris. You are our city’s very own Shakespeare and Company, London Review, Atlantis.
A much-needed respite from a hot and humid day, or a shelter from the cold, drizzling rain, you have held space for many book lovers and fledgling authors like me. I enjoy chats with your booksellers who are ever so genial, warm and welcoming. I have connected with gentle, kindly souls during my first Qur’an journaling session which I had shared in your second-floor classroom. I was so generously given space to hold an Author Session for my debut book. And unforgettably, I had the golden opportunity to distribute my works – the first with a friend, Untuk Mama, and the second, my book of poems, Homebound, under your care. From Rumi to al-Ghazali, from Palestine to Turkey, from Qur’an to Poetry, the books you carry are food for my mind and soul.
You were even a witness to what’s been written in my own, personal story. On our first meeting, my husband and I had arranged to meet in your corner; flipping books and pretending to not notice the other as you witnessed our very first “Hello”. I knew I had to immortalise this memorable moment in photographs after we were wedded, at the place where we both first met in real life. You saw me reading, searching, teaching, learning, loving, in humility and gratitude. And I believe, that this surely is God’s gift, for gratitude is the Giver’s vision, never the gift.
Every book has a soul, the soul of the person who wrote it and the soul of those who read it and dream about it.Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Perhaps this is the reason returning to you feels like visiting a dear friend. Perhaps this is why a step into your unassuming space makes me feel so alive. I feel welcomed and thrilled to join in these deeper conversations even if for a while. Here, as I wander down your aisles of towering books, and hide inside your cosiest, comfiest nooks, I am content to be ever transported to a world where I lose myself in these pages and find myself whole again…