I was stitched together and perfumed, and lived on a shelf for much of the beginning. I liked that. I had a pretty cover, full of bright colours and promises of magic, and my siblings and I would wait for small hands to turn us over and read our backs. Some liked the promise of magic, some were sceptical, others had parents who would not allow a fantastical belief. I always felt bad for them, but hoped for their best.
She came into my life in a rush – hungry eyes devouring words and pictures, fervently turning pages. She touched the stars on my jacket and her little nose sniffed and her little mouth smiled. Her fingers caressed my spine and rubbed together the corners of my pages – making sure that she didn’t accidentally skip a word here or a sentence there before turning. I did not feel violated; I felt loved. She held me to her chest and called for her mother, who made her put me back on the shelf.
But her mother came by later again, and perused me herself. Satisfied, I suppose, with what I had to offer, she took me home, wrapped me up in pretty paper, and gifted me on a day of chocolate cake, colourful streamers, and loud, singing children.
She was ecstatic to have me, and hugged me before she hugged her mother in thanks. I liked her warmth.
* * *
She scribbled her name on my first page in glitter ink. She had not yet decided what she wanted her handwriting to look like, so she mixed cursive with print, her own special font mingling with mine. She dotted the i in her name with a star.
She filled in the black-and-white graphics with her own colours – pencils, pastels, ink, paint. Not one stroke escaped the bounds of a printed line. She drew little hearts and stars in me.
At first, her mother read me to her, before she insisted that she was “a big girl” and could read by herself. She went much slower then, stopping occasionally to look up what a word or two meant, and asked questions. Why? What? When? Where? How? Sometimes, I puzzled her, but mostly, she was delighted and wishful, yearning for my insides to become her reality.
I loved her, and she loved me.
She finished me once, twice, thrice, many times, finding something new to smile about at every reading. She gave me to her friends enthusiastically, forcing them to admire me too. Not all of them read me like her, but it didn’t matter. She and I were made for each other.
She wrote in her diary about me. I heard it whisper her words to me at night, across the shelves, across the other books she hadn’t loved as thoroughly. She had drawn parts of me, and written her own stories and theories in a still-undecided handwriting, and fashioned herself after the heroes she discovered in me. I was flattered, and before I realised it, I had begun to fashion myself after her as well. The glitter ink, the highlighted words, the little drawings she had stuck in me made me different from all my siblings. We had moulded each other.
* * *
I saw her more rarely after that. She was growing up, finding other things to read, or watch, or play. It started with not seeing her for days, to weeks, to months. We old folks gathered dust; our pages started yellowing in disuse. The glitter ink began to fade and lost its sparkle.
Sometimes she would come up with some other books to add to her shelves. And sometimes she would take some older books away in cardboard boxes, and I would never see them again. I never left her bookshelf, but I missed her. She had not read me for years.
I fell asleep.
* * *
She was still warm and soft when she touched me again.
“I’d forgotten about you,” she whispered as I slowly came to again. The whisper was a mix of worry, sadness, and relief. She looked different now. She was almost twice as big as the last time I had seen her – older, more beautiful. She dusted me off and ran her fingers down my spine, making me tingle, making me feel alive again. And she still had that look in her eyes – a look of love, of longing. I wanted to invite her into me again, but all she did was sit down on the floor, stare, and stroke me. My pages rustled under her touch, in memory of the one time she accidentally spilled some water and left some pages permanently textured.
It was just like the old days. She admired me, and I admired her. I think, through me, she admired herself. I am happy to be able to do that for her.
It wasn’t long before another voice called her to another room, and she put me back on my shelf and went away. It didn’t matter; I was content.
I fell asleep again.
* * *
The next time I woke up, I was on another bookshelf. I recognised very few of us remaining; she had not kept all of us, all those who had raised her. I wondered where the others were. And I felt happy that she had kept me all this while. I was still special to her.
She re-read me once, then. It was much faster than she had ever read me before. She did not smile or gasp as often, but when she did, it was more profound. When she turned the last page, she cried a happy cry – the kind where her face was wet enough to texture a few more spots of my endpapers. She hugged me to her chest, more tightly than ever before, and all worries of falling apart disappeared. My binding did not feel loose, my ink did not feel faded, my glitter-ink-sparkle returned.
What more does a children’s book need, other than its promise of magic?
* * *
She read me to her kids after that. Each time, the reading got more dramatic; each time, the reactions were more magnificent. Each time, I felt enjoyed again. Admired. Loved.
I hope they will keep passing on the magic.