The National Library

5 Nov

 

Please listen carefully to the following important security announcement.  One of your fellow citizens has been reported missing.  If you have any information regarding his disappearance, please contact the Compartment of Internal Affairs at your earliest convenience.

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The City Library replaces the former Naroznikkviivljotat that stood in the Uuniivrsitat district of the capital. The head librarian is Hr Kaarel Nuubøj.  It’s a position of some cultural significance.  Previous post-holders include the writer Juuri-Luukas Borkmanis and Viliim Bejr, former director of the Knigisbørg City Archive.  If Nuubøj is intimidated by his illustrious predecessors, he doesn’t show it. 

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A seemingly serious and studious young man, by evening, like some crepuscular creature in a gothic novel, Nuubøj undergoes a transformation.  In the bars of Vitomokol, he may be observed with his friends where he becomes merrymaker-in-chief.  He is inclined to give impromptu and heart-felt performances of famous ballads, all of which would astonish the library’s regular users.  He is also a skilled Latin dancer, engaging random women in the samba or rumba, given the slightest opportunity.  Not without reason, then, Nuubøj is a great admirer of the works of Wilde and Stevenson. 

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Hr Nuubøj has been interviewed extensively – some might say excessively – by both the External and Internal Agencies over the disappearance of Iivo-Jaan Knuutssendaal, former assistant librarian at the City Library and occupant of Compartment 19B-4.  The head librarian has stated repeatedly that he knows nothing whatsoever about the whereabouts of his subordinate or the circumstances concerning his departure.  He suspects that the Compartment of Arts is trying to sully his name, having taken exception to his Bohemian alter-ego. 

How would you know him if you saw him?  What did he look like, then, this Knuutssendaal?  Well, that’s rather hard to say, to recall precisely.  There are few photographs of him as an adult and those that do exist are either out of focus or taken from a distance.  He was tall, for sure, a little overweight, perhaps, and pasty-faced.  It’s not much, admittedly, but it’s all that we have to go on. 

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He’s been free for a number of weeks now, never staying in one place for more than a day, moving around by train.  Old habits die hard.  He has travelled many hundreds of kilometres, had his hair cut short, shaved off his beard and exchanged his spectacles for contact lenses.  As the train approaches the provincial railway station, he takes down his valise from the luggage rack (the manuscript is safe inside it) and pulls on his overcoat.  The brakes screech and the train jolts to a halt.  He steps down from the coach.  It’s shortly before noon and the sun blazes above the platform awning, immersing the station in shadow.  His eyes take a moment to adjust.  He looks either way along the platform.  The ticket hall and exit are to his left.  Four or five other passengers have disembarked and are heading in that direction.  And though he knows it looks suspicious, he can’t quite resist glancing over his shoulder.  There’s a railway inspector standing between him and the entrance to the ticket hall.  As he approaches, she holds up her right hand, addressing herself directly to him.

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‘Excuse me, sir.  May I see your ticket?

‘Of course.’

What does he have to hide?  It’s inside his wallet, in his left trouser pocket.  He puts down the valise, retrieves the ticket and passes it to the inspector.  She frowns at it.  The other passengers have all dispersed.  The station is deserted.  She looks him in the eye. 

‘Would you just step into the ticket hall for a moment, please, sir?’

Unnerved, he follows her.  It’s darker still inside the building.  He thinks about the cold metal object that he keeps in the inside pocket of his coat.  Two figures emerge from the gloom on either side of the hall – railway officials in peaked caps – exactly as he knew they would.  They’re wearing gunbelts.  It’s too late now.  They take an arm each, like old comrades. 

‘This way, please, mij haar,’ one of them says, as if some choice still remained in the matter. 

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Extract from work-in-progress and images of Biblioteca Luis Ángel Arango in Bogotá © PSR 2016

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