I went to the library the other day and checked out three books.
I hadn't done this in a long time, because I had a fine and didn't feel like paying it for awhile. Because this wasn't just an ordinary fine. It was a $14.50 fine because last time I went to the library, I kept my two books thirty days past their due date, completely by accident.
One of my best friends and I are driving around downtown one afternoon, and he asks if I ever go to the library. I pop out some kind of excuse like “I used to, but I've been so busy lately,” but then I feel lame and tell the truth.
“Actually, I don't go because I have a fine I don't really feel like paying right now. I'm going to take care of it when I get a job and have some extra money.”
Andrew looks over at me. “How big is the fine?”
“Fifteen dollars,” I said. I'm pretty sure I'm blushing. I mean, who has a fifteen-dollar fine at the library? I do.
He turns around the vehicle. “Where are we going?” I ask.
“We're going to take care of your library fine.”
And I'm nearly speechless. This is so unexpected. I've never had someone want to pay my library fine before. Buy me dessert? Yeah. But a library fine? That's another matter entirely. We pull up to the front, and I finally say, “You don't have to do this, Andrew.”
“I know,” he says, “I'm just in the mood to do nice things for people.”
I smile and shake my head. Words fail me, again. We walk into our library. Don't get me wrong, I love libraries and I love the books in them. But our local library is a little...different. We don't have librarians, they're representatives. And almost all of them are cold and stern. Many of them are in fact formidable. And when you want to check out a book, you stand before the long circulation desk with a cold marble counter where four prim, unsmiling Representatives check out books and sternly peer over their bifocals if you make too much noise. You wait on the marble circle beneath the ceiling dome that amplifies your every whisper, near the sign that says, Quiet Please! This Is A Library! And there you “wait for the next available representative.” Yes ma'am.
So we walk in and wait beneath the austere dome before the austere librarians and wait, until we are called over by a Representative dressed entirely in a most unsavory flavor of green, somewhere between lime and olive. She looks over her glasses as Andrew states our purpose in coming. “Hello, I'm here to take care of a fine she doesn't feel like paying.”
Ms. Representative raises her eyebrows, unimpressed. She requests my library card, which of course I don't have with me, since I haven't carried it in months and I certainly didn't expect to be coming to the library. I explain this to her, and the corners of her lipstick mouth turn down. I offer her my ID and suggest that perhaps she could access my account this way instead. She sighs, shakes her head, and says, “Well, I'm really not supposed to do this, but since you feel like paying, I will.”
So she accesses my account, Andrew pays the fine, and then, since I've turned eighteen since I've been to the library, she makes me renew my library card and sign a contract. Reading it, I learn that the library policies have changed and that fines go straight to the city collections agency.
That's probably my fault.
I sign the slip, retain my carbon copy, and then Andrew points out a sign on the cold marble countertop which strikes us both as funny. I almost snort, trying to stifle my laughter, but that domed ceiling neutralizes my efforts, causing the corners of Ms. Representative's lipstick mouth descend yet further. She glances up from the computer screen where she's entering my information, and I pretend to have very bad allergies. She ignores it and continues pecking out the words on her keyboard, using a single index finger with a long, acrylic fingernail, intently scanning the keyboard for each letter before poking at it. That aggressive fingernail makes kind of an eerie clicking sound. She states that we've gotten stuck with the slowest typer in the library. I don't doubt it. But finally, she finishes and hands me my shiny new library card.
We leave the library. Cold, gray, and strict it may be, but it holds a wealth of treasure in books and Andrew's once again given me the key. It's hot outside, but it feels wonderful. My chilled toes thaw and I break into a grin.
I've been mystified about the scenario ever since. I mean, who pays people's library fines, just to be nice? Andrew did that for me, and it was unexpected and wonderful. Honestly, that fine wasn't that big of a deal, and I could have scraped up the money and paid it myself. But realistically, I wouldn't have made that happen for a long time, and now I don't have to worry about it at all. I can enjoy the library again, thanks to Andrew. I'm now a welcome patron instead of a frowned-upon teenager, and I have access to the wealth of words housed here, waiting for me. I feel like a little kid on a Saturday afternoon again, but better, because I'm now old enough to venture beyond the children's section and I understand the vast amount of information at my fingertips. And I don't take the library for granted anymore.
So walking through the library doors the other day, I rub my shiny new card between my fingers and remember Andrew's extraordinary kindness. That is how I want to be, I think, and I smile at the memory as I walk into a building full of words and happiness.