In a small town in England, not far from Ipswich, Barry Simpson was staring out the window of his bookshop. The market square was deserted on this rainy day in November. He’d had three customers so far. Mrs. Porter had been the first one. She came by in the morning to see if her knitting book had arrived. It hadn’t of course, because his supplier needed to order it in America. He had told her so two days ago, but still she had come to see for herself. Just before noon a man he didn’t know had bought a book about the history of Suffolk. It was written by a friend of Barry’s dad and they’d had a nice chat about that. It was a welcome break in an otherwise long and boring morning. Just after lunchtime, as the rain was pouring down, Jane Robinson hurried across the square with a big bag in her hand. She and her husband owned a little bistro on the quayside. Barry liked Jane a lot. They were the same age and had been in school together. A month ago Jane’s mother had passed away. She was known across town as ‘that hippie woman’ because of her extravagant clothes and tendency to read people’s palms whether they wanted to or not. The big bag Jane brought along was packed with books that used to belong to her mother. She was hoping Barry would take them off her hands. Together they went through them. Mostly they were spiritual books about chakras, healing stones, astrology and yoga. Although he couldn’t really afford it, Barry bought them all. He even let Jane talk him into paying her more for the books than they were really worth. She had a nice smile though, so he didn’t feel too bad about it.
After Jane had left he wrote the book titles down in his notebook. A real, old-fashioned notebook, not a computer. Upstairs he did have a laptop, but here in the shop everything was done the old way. When he was finished with the notebook he took a pencil and wrote down the prices in the top right corner of the first page.
Barry Simpson was a meticulous man. He knew there were people in town who whispered that he was eccentric or possibly even slightly autistic. Perhaps they were right, but he couldn’t change who he was, so he didn’t worry about it too much. What truly mattered was that he felt at home in this town. He was born and raised here and had been part of its community all his life. Londoners, who were moving here nowadays, had to make an effort to make friends, something which Barry would have hated. Fortunately he was in a position that he could stay to himself and just have a brief chat about the weather or the latest rugby results and still have the feeling he belonged.
At thirty-five, Barry Simpson was still single. Years ago, when he went to university in Ipswich to study Accounting and Financial Management, he had dated a girl. Her name was Pamela and she was an exchange student from Vermont, America. They had kissed a few times and had even gone to second base, as Pamela called it. For Barry the whole ordeal had been a deeply confusing experience. Not unpleasant but somehow very messy. The order in his mind, to which he was so attached, had shaken on its foundation and the fact that he was incredibly shy by nature didn’t help him. At some point he had seriously considered not going to university anymore, just to avoid Pamela. However, she had suddenly gone back to America when her mother got sick and Barry had sighed with relief, as bad as that sounded of course.
After graduation he had gone to work in Harold Chapman’s accountancy office here in town. Mister Chapman was their neighbor and he was happy to give Barry a job. He worked there for several years, but his heart was never in it. When his uncle Steve passed away and left him the bookshop and the old, rundown apartment above it, it had felt like a true gift from heaven to Barry. He had decided to give it a go with the shop and resigned from the accountancy the day after uncle Steve’s will was read. This was almost ten years ago and looking back now he couldn’t imagine doing anything else. Some changes had been made of course. He had refurbished the apartment and when the town began to transform itself from a sleepy seaside town to a place that was popular with Londoners, Barry made some changes in the shop too. He began to sell souvenirs and postcards and a year later he got a license to serve coffee. He had created a small corner by the window where people could sit and read while having a coffee and a biscuit. On sunny days he put out a couple of tables too. All of this combined generated a modest income. Money wasn’t that important to him though. More than money he valued his freedom and independence. When he still worked for Mister Chapman the days were long and his time was spent on nothing but numbers. Now that he was his own boss he could do what he liked most, which was read as many books as he could. Books were Barry’s true love. Even as a child he had read an average of three books a week, according to his parents. While the other children played football Barry was reading. Later, when he was a teenager, it was the same pattern. The other boys went out in the weekend to chase girls, but Barry stayed home and read Shakespeare. Sometimes his mom would have to push him out the door, almost literally, so he would get fresh air and some color on his cheeks. Even his parents wanted him to go to the pub, but the moment Barry was outside he looked for a bench where he could sit and read.