It was my favorite present, a book, and not just an ordinary book. With a boy and a girl sitting on an origami animal, smiling and waving at me from the hard sky-blue cover, this was my first book in color. “My First Encyclopedia,” grandma read the letters on the cover, and I delved in.
A picture of a tall gray skyscraper in New York; an Eskimo wearing white fur and holding a spear standing by his Igloo; an English double-decker riding the streets of London, and a rickshaw pulled through the alleys of India. Each page was a treasure of hand-drawn pictures, and under each picture, a caption, which grandma kept reading to me until I’d memorized them all.
I sat with my book on the black and red sofa in the heated library room, listening to the wind blowing outside. It was a stormy night, as stormy as in the black and yellow picture of a horse hanging on the wall. The horse, carrying an empty cart, was waiting patiently in the storm for an old man, who was collecting seaweed in knee-high water far in the background. “I hope he makes it safely to his horse,” I thought when grandma told me that the storm outside was so fierce that I’ll need to stay the night.
As night fell, lightning was flashing, thunder roaring, rain was drumming on the window shutters, and I remained lying on my stomach memorizing the pictures and their captions. I was oblivious to the smell of eggs frying in olive oil rising from the kitchen, where grandpa was preparing my dinner. I ignored my favorite treat: a glass of hot chocolate and a plate of fresh coconut cookies that grandpa had laid on a tray next to me. I was surrounded by thousands of books, but aware of one only, which now I knew by heart.
The following day, street glittering clean and sporadic patches of cumulus clouds drifting eastwards in the blue were all that was left from the storm. On our way home, I read everything along our path. I read ‘Police’ on a blue and white police car and ‘Taxi’ on a taxi. I read ‘Grocer’ and ‘Barber. ’ I read the black letters on a ‘Beware, Enemy Area Ahead’ sign, and the street names in white letters on navy background on every house entrance. Climbing the staircase to our apartment, I read every neighbor’s nameplate. By the time we reached our door on the fourth floor I could read. And the first person I wanted to share my new skill with was Michelle.