“Would you rather be a blind seer or an idiotic visionary?”‘ the woman in the lavender silk scarf asked me out of the blue.
Something about her was not quite right. Her hair colour was an orange about halfway between a former president’s and Lucille Ball’s, but it wasn’t that. Nor was it the loose-fitting lime-green topcoat covering a pink jumpsuit. I’m also certain it wasn’t the black lipstick she was wearing either. It must have been the bright-red oven mitts she wore on her hands.
“Do I get to choose?” I responded.
“I’m speaking hypothetically. For the purpose of the exercise, you do.”
“I’ll answer your question if you answer mine.”
“All right,” she responded. “You first.”
“Are you a baker?”
“Is that the best you got?”
I felt shamed. I had been outed in the worst possible way. I had been given an opportunity to ask one of the great universal questions, like “Why does going to war always lead to stability and an economic boon?” Or “How can a species occupy a planet and seek to destroy it at the same time?” Or “How does the same guy who wrote the ‘James Bond Theme’ also write ‘Peggy Sue’s Homecoming’?”
“I suppose I can forgive your lack of imagination in asking that question, but I would have expected more from someone who works in here.”
“Well, you can be forgiven in this regard. I wear these mitts for the same reason a baker does. For protection while I’m working.”
“Yes. I’m a book medium.”
“You really must get out more. A book medium is a person who can see the entire history of a book just by holding it. Every person who has read it, sometimes even their favourite passages, right back to the day it was printed.”
“I’ve never heard of such a job.”
“Well, we don’t exactly advertise. The good ones can go back further, put themselves in the room while the writer was putting it down on paper. Or papyrus. But I’m not in that league, I’ve only been doing this 23 years.”
“You mean they could do that for any book?”
“Could they do ‘The Bible’?”
“No way. Too many hands. It’d be like doing a high school yearbook.”
She could see the doubtful expression on my face.
“You don’t believe me, do you?”
I didn’t answer.
“Hand me a book. Any book,” she said as she was removing an oven mitt.
I picked up the nearest book. It was “Jacob Two-Two and the Two-Headed Fang” by Mordecai Richler. I handed it to her bare hand. She closed her eyes briefly before she spoke.
“The last reader of this book was an artist from Victoria. Did a lot of humpback whales, I think. The time before that, it was a Facebook fact-checker. He reported that there was no such surname as Two-Two.”
“How can you determine that from just holding a book?”
She looked at me sharply.
“I guess that pretty well eliminates the blind seer, doesn’t it?”