First there was the alphabet. Shaky, winding lines and curves on an endless exercise book, until the day I wrote my first word. I hated writing. I hated it with a passion. By the end of the first school year I learned how to write a simple sentence without the need to do it over three pages. AND I managed to decrease the size of each letter from one inch high to a mere quarter of an inch. I still hated it.
Then the reading began.
Ridiculous stories about cute puppies that only managed to bark, go for a walk, wag their tails and bark again at least once more until the end of the book. I never understood the school librarian and her book choices. Maybe she just hated little kids and loved torturing them.
My parents asked Aunt Maricica to stay with me while they were working away. I reckon they only did it because they believed that I wanted to set on fire our collection of books, a mixture of non-fiction novels and all types of fiction.
Aunt Maricica was a couturiere at that time. She brought with her a sewing machine, one of those old fashioned cast iron belt-driven Singer contraptions. And she started sewing. And sewing. And sewing again. I reckon she was so engrossed in her work that I could have burned the whole house down, not just the bookcase and the books within. Until the day when the nightmare began.
“Lilly, could you please go get a book and read it to me out loud?” Aunt Maricica stopped sewing and turned around to stare at me with impassible eyes. I hadn’t done anything wrong, I swear, but she obviously seemed to think differently. Otherwise, why would she want to inflict the ultimate punishment on me? I stared blankly at her for a while, looking for an escape hole. There was none, other than the garbage chute that ran all the way down to the ground floor of the apartment building. So I grabbed a book and came back in the room, turned the pages until I figured out where the story started, and began to read. I even managed to go through fifty words within the first couple of hours.
The next day Aunt Maricica stopped sewing again for a moment. I then realized that she must hate me really bad. Not to mention that she recited the same sentence she’d hit me with the day before. “Lilly, could you please go get a book and read it to me out loud?”
By the end of the first week I was certain that Aunt Maricica must have been a torturer in a former life. I tried all sorts of tricks. “I’m tired. I have homework to do. I need to go tinkle for at least half an hour. There’s something in my throat, choking me.” She seemed to be immune to them all. Merciless. Cold blooded.
One day, a couple of weeks later she turned around again and looked at me. A warm, loving stare that I caught with the corner of my eye before looking down at the book again. I wasn’t reading out loud anymore. I was just reading, lost in a surreal world I never knew existed.
Thirty five years on, I am still reading. Obsessively. I’ve read Karl May’s Winnetou fifty two times. I’ve read Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind so many times, I lost count. And all the books in my school’s library. Then the ones at home, including the forbidden one that taught me what couples do when they lock themselves in their bedroom. Quite fascinating.
I love books. I adore them. I had never thought I could write one of my own, let alone a few. And I have never started a novel whose end I already knew. Writing is blissful discovering. Reading is paying the most wonderful tribute to the author. Because that is what writing is for us, novelists. Laying our heart and soul on blank pages for readers to feed on. Opening doors that too many of us still ignore. The doors of hope, laughter, love, at times sorrow, but always glorious, spellbinding doors.
An amazing experience for which our lifetime will never be long enough.