Friday, September 12, 2014

The Book Ship

Memory is an interesting thing. Today when I was at work I caught a bit of a TV segment on mobile libraries. Basically, busses that drive around full of books. We used to have a mobile library in my city, but I haven’t seen it pulled in up at the park for a while. Maybe we don’t have it anymore.

So, catching a few minutes of that program, I suddenly remembered something similar, but altogether more magical, from my childhood:

A ship full of books.

Maybe a boat. I was about five. It seemed as big as a cargo ship to me, but probably wasn’t. It seemed magical too, but it probably wasn't. 

source

We were living in Arawa at the time – a town that has been pretty much wiped off the map thanks to the civil war in Bougainville – but if there was a ship, it would have come to the port at Kieta. I don’t remember much about the drive to Kieta. Just lots of jungle, and, after a sharp turn, a clearing at the edge of the road with a single hut in it. There were always chickens outside that hut and, sometimes, an old man sitting on a stump outside.

I knew we were halfway to Kieta, or halfway home, when we passed that hut sitting in a clearing carved out of the jungle.

The book ship was special. It was a big deal. I don’t know who ran it – some sort of missionary group, maybe – but to step inside was to feel overwhelmed by choice. I’d never seen so many books. It was probably every book in the world!

There weren’t any book shops in Arawa. The local supermarket – Ples Bilong Sun Kamap – stocked Golden Books, but Golden Books lose their lure quite quickly, don’t they? There’s not much of a challenge in a Golden Book. And the books we got from school weren’t very exciting either. I still hate Sam, Pam, Digger the dog and Nat the cat.

So to step onto a ship full of books – rows and rows of shelves, bigger than any library I could remember – was like stepping into a magical wonderland. It was like a birthday and Christmas all rolled into one. I chose a picture book about cats. I still have it somewhere, even though the dustcover has been torn and the pages are stained and dog-eared. I loved that book so much when I was a kid. Looking back, it’s not the book I love as much as the story of how I got that book – that mysterious ship full of books that arrived one day and was gone the next, vanishing on the glittering blue waters of the Pacific like a dream.



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And thanks so much to everyone who left a comment on my post about losing Cleo. Seriously, anyone who thinks that online friendships aren't as important as "real" ones, is doing it wrong. My co-writer Jill sent me a picture she took of Cleo when she was visiting Australia last November. It was Cleo sneaking into the guest room wearing her "I love you. Do you have food?" face. 



She wore that face 90% of the time. It worked well for her. 




3 comments:

  1. Such a ship as this would be magical indeed. As a kid I'd of seriously tried to stow away. Heck, even now I'd try to stow away.

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    Replies
    1. Definitely one of those childhood memories I had to look into and try and figure out how much of it was real, and how much was imagination.

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    2. However big the ship really was, I'm sure it felt like discovering this.

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