the bookworm

After a long and refreshing dream Roberto woke up and started stretching like a cat. He was stretching and stretching, actually trying to remember the thought that kept popping into his head ever since he had come to this town. And so, while he was in the shower, the thought flashed through his mind like a pale reflection against the darkness beneath his eyelids: “They all have the same eyes,” he mused. Not just the eyes, he realized, but the way they looked at him was identical as well: a bit askew, with their heads half turned as if they were trying to glimpse him between the shadows of the shivering birch leaves. The same was true of the squire whom he would visit just after breakfast. The previous month, the squire had placed an advertisement in the city newspapers looking for a tutor for his children. Such advertisements were not unusual and there would have been nothing strange about this one had it not required a tutor who would not only teach the children but also make them give up extensive reading. It stated that reading is of “no use and bad for one’s eyes, posture and inner harmony.” This was a challenge Roberto could not resist. People usually paid good money to teach their children to read but the person who had placed this advertisement offered a substantial amount for the exact opposite, something Roberto had never heard of before. Roberto sat down, wrote the application and sent it to the given address. To be honest, he did not expect to be chosen since, although a good teacher, he was still young. However, as it happened, the stars were in his favour or, more likely, very few were interested in coming to a town which was practically at the end of the world. And so, Roberto found himself sitting in the dining room of the manor house sweating because of the shifty glances the squire and his wife were giving him. His mouth was dry and it seemed to him he would soon faint for lack of air. His head was thumping, so when the squire announced his children, Roberto got up from the chair like a convict waiting for the judge to read the verdict. He closed his eyes, willing himself to get away instantly, to North Africa for example, but when he opened his eyes again he was still in the squire’s dining room. The squire had just finished counting his children and said: “Everyone is here except the tenth child and she is the one all this is about. No doubt she has her head buried in a book.” At that moment, the massive door of the dining room squeaked open and the squire said: “Here she comes. Our little bookworm.” The other children started laughing and slapping their thighs, while Roberto, upon turning round, was struck dumb. He beheld a little girl or a young woman, he wasn’t sure, who really resembled a bookworm. Her face was white, almost transparent - a clear sign that she had been spending too much time inside with a book in her hands. Something about the look on her face made him realize that she would perish if forced apart from her books. He certainly could not do that, Roberto thought. He would never forbid anyone to read, especially not such a delicate soul. He could only point out the direction she should follow as a reader. Random reading could, Roberto knew, satisfy the thirst for books, but little would stick in the reader’s mind; structured reading could create order for the reader and therefore become a weapon of knowledge and lead along the path to wisdom. Of course, he said nothing to the squire or his inquisitive wife. After he had introduced himself to the children, he retired to his room to prepare the list of books, notebooks, maps, pencils, crayons, rulers and other things the squire should purchase, together with a blackboard. And so, Roberto’s life as a family tutor began. Until then, he had been working in schools, both private and public, so everything now seemed strange. He got up later in the morning, ate a large breakfast and then went into the room on the ground floor where they kept the teaching materials, together with a greenish school board. Three daughters of their friend, Mrs Mortgage, soon joined the class and, a few days later, the son of the chief gardener as well. He was older than other pupils, so Roberto assigned him a special place in the tenth grade. The other children were divided into four groups of different ages. He had not found a way to keep the girl called Bookworm away from books. As time passed, he realized that her love of books was genuine, although books and reading often served to protect her from reality. Roberto soon learnt that as a family tutor you become something like an honorary member of the family, whether you like it or not. And so he, unwittingly, became a close friend of the squire’s wife and her beloved daughter, Bookworm. One night a maid brought him a message from the squire’s wife to visit her in her chambers as soon as possible. Roberto had to review and mark the homework he had given to his pupils that morning so the numerous clocks in the house were striking ten when he finally came to her room. Bookworm was there. She and her mother were sitting on a bed, embracing and crying bitterly. Listening to their broken whispers, he finally realized why the squire wanted Bookworm to stop reading books. A long time ago, the squire had decided to force her to marry Bruno, the only and not too bright son of the count of Opportunia, a county in the north. This Bruno was barely able to read and write and therefore, the squire’s wife sobbed, he regarded books as his personal enemies and destroyed every single one he got hold of. Roberto wondered what he could possibly do to help. What could he, an ordinary teacher, do against a count? The squire’s wife replied that he could probably do nothing by himself, but would be able to do a lot, once he had love on his side. “What’s love got to do with it?”, Roberto thought, but then again, he looked at Bookworm’s face, shining with some kind of inner light. She looked at him quizzically, her eyelids half closed. Roberto pictured the two of them walking by the river together, reading each other poems and stories found in some brand new books. Then he slowly, really slowly, started moving towards her and she slowly, really slowly, started moving towards him… This is where we leave them, because further down the storyline, everything happens as in other true love stories. Some things really do not need to be repeated.

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