If he's being honest, he wishes he was at home with a Bourbon and a good book. He's never been one for pageantry. But the party is to honor him. The other retiring faculty members too, of course. But ... [+]
It's a sunny Sunday afternoon —celebratory day: the sun hadn't visited your city's sky in ages— and you're out in the flea market. Browsing the offerings among the throng of people: old things, new things, odd things, useless pretty things, possible future presents (but Christmas is still too far away and there are no birthdays in the horizon). No purchasing intention: thanks, señor. I'm just browsing. Then, out of the blue, you spot it. Lying among old vinyl records and cassette tapes. Leather-bound, textured, cream-colored hard cover. On the spine, a golden cat wearing a feathered hat plays the violin on a dark-blue background and golden letters stand out against a violet backdrop: Poems and Songs. A wormhole to your past, the only tome you owned of a 15-volume children's encyclopedia. Glossy pages filled with bold, colored illustrations. Out of print for many years, missed to this day. Taken away by time, like those hopscotch grids you and your friends used to draw on the asphalt of your neighborhood.
You put your hand on the book, just as another person does the same. Both of you exchange exploratory glances. Your rival is about your age, as determined as you to buy, to steal, this treasure. The seller comes over: No, he only has this one copy of the tome.
"I have a kid," says your adversary. "This is a present for him."
You remain silent for a few seconds. You hesitate. But no, you're not about to concede.
"I also have a child."
Your rival looks at you with suspicion and you hold the stare: what, you don't seem like the type who has children? But you have a child in you. A child who used to spend long weekends in bed with grandma, when she came over to visit, lost in books and eating from boxes of assorted chocolates. Your grandma is long gone. Your childhood books are long gone, most given away without your permission to younger cousins, along with clothes and toys that you'd outgrown. Clothes and toys were fair game, but you never outgrew your books.
The seller sorts things out by drawing straws. You draw the long stick. Did you just become lucky? You've never won a raffle, a game of chance, in your whole life.
"I hope your kid likes the book as much as mine would," your rival throws a dart at you before leaving.
You pay and walk away fast, hugging your new/old possession, your recovered treasure, merging once again with the crowd.
You feel guilty. You feel good. You feel bad. No, you feel good. You can't wait to get back home and retrieve your childhood from those pages.