The thing is
That it seems nothing is happening. I spend each and every day following the same routine, the dull rhythm of the week waxing and waning, more timely than the moon. Waking up at 5:30 in the morning, the darkness still swirling like the fog, I stumble, tumble down the stairs, make dark coffee and a bowl of muesli, ascend again carrying the bowl balanced on top of the coffeecup and read for two hours; e.g. Orientalism or Purity and Danger or De Officiis. Around seven-thirty-five I set aside the books, dress, wash the dishes, prepare for the day. By eight it’s light outside, people are waiting for the bus—I could see them, the faint and fuzzy outlines of knit caps and wool coats, if I looked out the window. Still, I read a bit more, then leave for the library at eight-twenty-five or so, a slow walk, watching traffic.
That I’m always too early for the library to open: readers not admitted before 9 a.m. says the sign in sententious san-serif. The guard leans back in his booth, thumbing a paper, watching the clock. At 8:57 there’s usually a line of old men in tweed jackets, hunch-backed from centuries of poor posture, and the young Germans, silent with scarves. And that woman, whom I’m afraid of, because she reminds me of myself. Always alone, twitchy, nervous, fully covered always with black skirts and jackets, her hair piled atop her head as she learned when she was Edwardian. She snaps her gum, though (which is anyhow forbidden) and talks to herself when others can see and swears at the staff, which I could never do—not openly at least.
That I spend the day migrating from library to lecture to library again, returning to my narrow room by way of the post-box, which is usually empty. That the most meaningful and complete thoughts I utter in the day are ‘please’ and ‘thank-you.’ That I could stumble after people, engage them in idle chit-chat, how’s the weather, it sure is cold, that I could coil around them like a serpent—but they seem so happy, and so beautiful, just as they are. And so we pass in silence.