The bookstore owner spaced chairs every few feet or so along the large second story window that peered down upon the busy street below. What I loved about that spot was that despite the constant hustle of the traffic outside, the glass was nearly soundproof. It was an odd effect, with sight and sound somewhat contradicting each other.
At the far end of the row of seats I found the lone remaining vacant chair and sat. For the previous twenty minutes I had been browsing the endless shelves, snatching a few curious books and then taking them here to examine further. Usually my stack was four or five; today, however, it was eight — a good day indeed, though in the end none made the cut. But that’s beside the point.
This has been my routine nearly once per week for the last few months on my lunch break. I enjoy the sun shining through the windows — it beats my cubicle walls. I enjoy the calm, settling feeling — it beats the anxious and uncontrollable world of finance.
Only a few minutes later, a man — maybe thirty, thirty-five, with a thin build, rough stubble and shirt unbuttoned at the top, revealing curly strands of chest hair — walked up beside me. In one hand he had a children’s chapter book, and in the other he held the delicate hand of a little girl — maybe six or seven, with a pink dress and short brown pigtails. With no empty chairs around, the man took a seat on the floor against the window. The girl dropped to the ground at his side and pressed her hands against the glass.
“Look at all the cars,” she said in innocent amusement.
“Cool seeing them from up here, isn’t it?” the man said.
“I saw them from higher before.”
The man smiled and pulled the girl into his lap. “Okay, have we read this one before?” he said as he opened the book.
“Uh, dad, I’m not a baby.”
The man smirked and then began reading, but I couldn’t. I was distracted. The girl, in my mind, was clearly school age. The man didn’t look like he had held a job in a while. At noon on a Tuesday, these two were in the wrong place.
Was I pleased to see a father actually reading to his daughter, rather than just handing her an iPad to keep her busy? Absolutely. But there’s a time fore that, after work, after school.
I tried to put them from my mind and get back to my novels. But then the girl said, “We should buy this book.”
Typical dad these days, I thought. No backbone. Just tell the girl ‘no’ if that’s what you mean. These are the lessons kids need to learn at a young age.
The man went back to reading, and this time so did I — or I tried, at least. But I kept thinking about that dad and daughter. I reminded myself that I was being cynical, but I couldn’t help it. It wasn’t right. He probably pulled her out of school just to be the fun dad, I thought.
Back to reading. This time I actually put them from my mind completely. The sun peeked from behind a cloud and shined through the window once more, warming my skin, and with whatever time I had left on my break I was going to enjoy it.
Several minutes later, the man stopped reading and closed the book. “Do you remember where we got this?” he said.
The little girl nodded and jumped up and dashed away to return the book to the shelf. The man stood up, and I just couldn’t help myself.
“Out of school in the middle of the day?” I said to him, more as an accusation than a question.
He gave me a polite look. His daughter returned and he took her hand.
“Let’s go to the ice cream place,” she said as they started walking away.
“A little irresponsible,” I muttered loud enough to be heard.
But that’s when I heard the girl say, “Mommy loves ice cream. Will they let us bring it to her in the hospital?”
And my heart sank.