Bookshop of the Night

I met George at the Bookshop of the Night. It was the only place we ever met. George was the owner of this extraordinary place. Since the bookshop only opened at night, he slept during the day. For as long as our friendship lasted, I had never been in his house. I think the bookshop was his place of work as well as his home. Allthough I can’t be sure about that, because I have never been able to find my way back once again. I met George for the first time three years ago. It was the 15th of December, two weeks before Christmas. The whole night I had layn awake in my bed. The clock hit two and when it hit three, I still felt the loneliness running down my spine. I stepped out of my bed and put on the clothes that were still there from the day before. They smelt like Olivia, the girl who was the main reason I couldn’t sleep. That evening she had told me she wanted to end our relationship. She still loved me, so she said, but her love was insufficient for a future together. Though the amount of her feelings was enough for a friendship, if that’s what I wanted. I stared at her big blue eyes, not hearing the message quite well. The love I felt for her was enough for the rest of our life, for better or worse, to buy a house, start a family, to have some grandchildren, until the day we died. And the only thing she asked for was my friendship? Some days later I found out that a young, handsome bartender was the reason for her diminishing love. When I realised that, I didn’t want to be her friend anymore. So that night I layn awake, because I didn’t have a clue what to do with the rest of my life. Thirty five years old, working as a Risk Management banker on Wall Street, renting a small apartment on 89th street with an empty bed and all my dreams crashed. So, on that December night, I decided to take a walk through Central Park and, get some fresh air, hoping the smell of the snow might clear up my mind.

When I closed the front door I already sensed something was different. Some lanterns were flickering, a dog was howling and I thought I was being followed by a man who seemed to be drunk. His loud footsteps came closer and when he caught up with me a few steps later, he started to cry. I ran to the first exit and left the park. Next I crossed the street and entered the second one at the right. I stopped for a group of men who were just leaving a bar. They were drunk as well, so I passed them and stopped. Next to the bar was a dark brown windowpane with a purple flickering light. When I got a closer look I read the words: Bookshop of the Night. I had never seen the shop before, nor heard anyone talk about it, although my friends were diehard book fans, how come they hadn’t told me? The door was open as if someone wanted me to step in. When I stepped over the threshold, an Old Fashioned bell rang. At first I couldn’t see a thing, but after twenty seconds a small Chinese man came towards me. “Good evening!” were his first words. “Welcome to the Bookshop of the Night, a bookshop for people who can’t sleep.” I smiled when we shook hands. “Good night, mister…” “Call me George, my Chinese name is unpronounciable.” He closed the door and led me to the centre of the shop. There was an empty table with six chairs around it. The walls were packed with books. On several shelves hung some notes, but it was too dark to read them. I believe I was the only customer, but I couldn’t be sure. “How can I help you?” When George sat down on the tabletop I noticed once again how small he was. His feet hung at least one inch above the floor. He noticed me staring and gave me a hard look. “Tell me, what is the main reason you can’t sleep tonight?”

I laughed, feeling a little shy. Should I tell him about my worryies?. “I’ve never met a bookseller before who asked about my private issues.” “Don’t worry,” George said. “I started this bookshop, because a lot of people can’t sleep and start worruieing about their life, their work or their partner. I really believe that books can strengthen your thoughts, clear up those crazy ideas and save the good ones. Pull yourself together, open up your mind. So please, don’t hesitate to tell me what’s the matter.” “Well, it’s not that bad, I think.” George laughed. “ That’s what they all say. So why are you here then? You couldn’t sleep, got out of bed and went for a walk, so something must be going on, musn’t it?” “Yeah, yeah, you are absolutely right.” I grabbed a chair and started talking. George was a good listener, took some notes, while I told him about my doubts for the future now that Olivia had left me for a bartender, who had had the guts to seduce her by dancing and mixing cocktails right in front of her. I ended my story with: “I don’t know who I am at this moment.”

George nodded and dropped into silence for a while. Then he stood up and climbed up a ladder. He took three books out of the closet, stepped down and put them in front of me. “Choose one of these,” he said. “Start reading, have some coffee or tea. After you have finished the book, go home and experience the difference.” I wanted to thank him, but he refused my gratitude. “Thank me by sleeping the whole night through,” was his answer. I laughed. Could it be that easy? I read the titles of the books: the first one was about crocodiles in the Australian outback, the second one was a story about a magician who could disappear when people were telling lies. And the third book was poetry and contained thirty poems about love. I didn’t believe in magic and I didn’t have plans to visit Australia, so I chose the love poems and started reading immediately. After five poems I stood up and looked for the coffee machine. At the back of the shop I not only noticed the coffee and tea, I also became aware that I was not the only night reader. There were two women and three men, all five of a different age, reading a book, just like me. There was a serene silence in the store. The only thing I could hear was the flipping of a page.

At six thirty I finished the book. George wrapped it in a blue piece of paper, shook hands and waved at me when I left the bookshop. “Sleep well!” At home I took a shower, a quick shave and, then went to work feeling as if I had had a good night sleep. The following night I slept like a baby, woke up at seven thirty and feeling really refreshed. After three nights of excellent sleep I went back to the bookstore, but it had vanished. I walked along the street twice, but couldn’t discover the dark brown windowpane. I started to doubt, could this all have been a dream? Back home I found the book of love poetry. After reading one or two sentences I immediately fell into a deep sleep. A couple of weeks later I thought I saw George running in Central Park, but during the time he got closer it was just a lookalike.

Afbeelding blog Verliefd op een vluchteling Lorna Minkman

Verliefd op een vluchteling

Kun jij je voorstellen dat je verliefd wordt op een vluchteling? Het zou zomaar kunnen. Toch? Het overkomt Sia Heeregrave in ieder geval wel. De eerste keer dat Darko bij haar in de klas verschijnt, valt ze als een blok voor zijn ondoorgrondelijke en duistere blik. Het boek Ik ben bij je gaat over hun onmogelijke liefde die zich afspeelt tussen oorlog en vrede.

Darko en Sia

Darko is niet alleen knap; hij is ook mysterieus, zeker als blijkt dat hij iedereen uit de weg gaat. Toch doet Sia enkele pogingen om met hem in gesprek te raken. Als ze erachter komt dat hij vanwege de Balkanoorlog naar Nederland is gevlucht, doet ze nog meer haar best. Wat gaat er om in zijn hoofd? Wat heeft hij allemaal meegemaakt?

‘Vind je het jammer dat hij weg is?’, vroeg Paulien een paar dagen later.


‘Jouw hoogstpersoonlijke oorlogsvluchteling.’

‘Hij heeft een naam!’

 Vluchtelingen in ons land

De laatste maanden komen er veel vluchtelingen ons land binnen. Ze zijn op zoek naar een veilige plek, waar kinderen gewoon naar school kunnen gaan, zonder dat ze bang hoeven te zijn. Nu zijn het veel mensen uit Syrië. In de jaren 90 waren ze afkomstig uit Bosnië of Kroatië. Hun steden waren, net als de Syrische steden Homs en Aleppo, totaal verwoest. Ook op de Balkan woedde een afschuwelijke oorlog, waarin het levensgevaarlijk was om als kind op straat te lopen.

Oorlog in je kop

Stel je voor dat er in jouw straat wordt geschoten? Dat er vlakbij bommen inslaan waarbij mensen die je kent worden gedood. Je ouders houden je binnenshuis, je mag niet meer naar school, je ontmoet je vrienden niet meer. En dan besluiten je ouders om te vluchten naar een onbekend land. En jij hoopt op een huis zonder kogelgaten en een school met nieuwe vrienden. Zullen die oorlogsbeelden uit je gedachten verdwijnen? Zal er iemand zijn die jou begrijpt? En die nachtmerries, zullen die overgaan?

Gebaseerd op een waargebeurd verhaal

Als schrijver vroeg ik me af wat zich afspeelt in het hoofd van een vluchteling, zodra hij in Nederland een leven probeert op te bouwen. Wat zou er kunnen gebeuren als die oorlog in zijn kop blijft rondspoken? Zou hij bomaanslagen en schoten horen, terwijl die er niet zijn?

Mijn idee om daarover te schrijven begon nadat er een meisje in Nijmegen in 2003 werd vermoord door drie van haar allerbeste vrienden. De hoofddader en het meisje waren beide vluchtelingen uit de Balkan. Ze leerden elkaar in Nederland kennen. Het lukte haar om een nieuw leven op te bouwen. Haar vriend had daar veel meer moeite mee. Hadden zijn oorlogservaringen een rol gespeeld bij het beramen van de moord?

Heftige herinneringen

Ik ben bij je gaat over een liefde tussen twee jonge mensen. Hoeveel ze ook voor elkaar voelen, hoezeer ze elkaar ook nodig hebben, de oorlog blijft tussen hen instaan. Heftige herinneringen blijven uiteindelijk zoveel aandacht opeisen, dat ze stap voor stap de liefde verpulveren.

Lorna Minkman



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