Lost between the letters
Posted on October 23rd, 2012
My friends, I have some news. I have a newly rediscovered passion, one which snuck up and caught me completely by surprise. I have found myself the victim of a contagious disease, no small concern when in East Africa, one to which there is no prevention and just one cure available. I’m exhibiting known symptoms, clearly visible and easily diagnosed. I appear highly sedentary for many hours each day. I’ve noticed dark marks on my fingers. I’m dehydrated. I’m slow to respond to external stimuli. The diagnosis comes through plain and clear: I’ve become addicted to books.
It’s tragic, and glorious all at once. I hadn’t picked up a book in months (honest, I swear), thinking that perhaps I’d thoroughly kicked this affliction, when it came back with a vengeance. It all happened so easily, I was sitting, eating with my girlfriend in the common space of a Kampala backpackers. We were checking our emails, reading websites, doing general internet-related things (I’ll share that addiction with you another time..) when we noticed that the power was off. No problem, we agreed, it would be back later and there was no real need for concern. We’re in a thriving east african hub, about to head off for a game safari. Why do we need power anyway?
The next day we found the power had returned (patting ourselves on the back for our powers of prediction), when we noticed that conversely, the internet had not. This was a slightly different problem, one we dealt with by promptly picking up the worlds smallest magnetic chess set and waging small scale war. Several hours later, noticing that both the power and internet were still out, I began to look for alternative activities requiring neither.
It all started so innocently. The book exchange shelf was sitting there silently, patiently, pregnant with suggestion. Surely the french verb book in my pack would make a superb exchange, it seemed to suggest and ‘why not?’ I thought. I knelt down to inspect the contents, peering beyond the padlocked glass doors and single-space, laminated A4 page instructions. I had, quite literally, no idea what was in store for me.
What’s new about this addiction is the innocuous way it crept into my mind and slipped before my eyes. It all stemmed from scarcity, from the loss of those small, tiny essentials. The need to conserve power, the loss of external connectivity, the loss of a dry outdoor climate. Together these factors conspired to drive me into the arms of this jealous lover.
One week later, I have returned to the scene of first contact. Ground zero, if you will. In the intervening week I have devoured words, in what can only be described as a flurry of pages and a blur of eyeballs. I have inhaled books, sparing only furtive wayward glances to see that the unwritten world was still spinning as expected. I have inhabited these books, taking steps, vaulting barriers and cheering the small victories as they came. I’ve been the fifth beatle, the second shooter on the hill, the thirteenth player on the pitch. I’m loving it.
Oh fiction, you saucy minx. You had me at Chaper 1.