Today I find a used book store I'm sure was not there before, in a basement on Heroes of the Warsaw Ghetto Street, though the place does not look new. This discovery excites me until I walk down the concrete steps.
It is raining, the door is open, and the place is cold and dim and fusty. A man with long gray hair and a missing row of teeth -- I've forgotten whether it was the top row or the bottom -- greets me just inside and turns on a fluorescent light. When I ask, he leads me to the English-language books.
I crook my neck to read the titles. There are just nine books in English. The titles are gone from my head now, but the number, I think, was nine.
And I remember the woman in the corner, a thin woman, maybe fifty years old with long dark curly hair. She is in a brown turtleneck sweater and she is hunched over and reading. No, she is not reading after all, she is looking at the knuckles of her left hand.
The man goes over and pats the woman on the head with what looks like affection and he scratches her scalp like you might scratch a dog behind the ears. She looks up and says nothing. I am embarrassed to look. I twist my neck again and read the nine titles. Nine books in English about nine things no one ever was interested in. There is nothing here I want to touch.
I hear a retch and look up. The man is gone and the woman is in a small kitchen alcove near this corner of the basement. I can't see her but I hear her puking. She retches seven times.
I hear another woman come in and ask for Basia and I hear the man say that Basia is right there, but then he sees that she is not right there and he goes to look for her. I know she is puking in the kitchen alcove, where I can see a jar of instant coffee and a canister of sugar. I never see the other woman. I say thank you and goodbye to the man now and squeeze through the aisle toward the exit before Basia can be found.
This place, it might be gone the next time I go past.