The school yard was going to be a graveyard.
Preparations took two whole days, and a couple of men had been hired to empty the library.
I watched them slowly pile up manuals, maps and books. Considering the size of that heap, it was going to be an impressing fire. The library must be empty by now… I sat in my classroom, staring out of the window, observing the coming and going. Men throwing books across the yard, smoking, drinking alcohol.
The librarian – a small withered woman with huge glasses, grey hair tied to a knot – ran nervously from one corner of the building to the other. That quiet dark room has been her home, for who knows how long. Now the books were all gone, and the emptiness took over the shelves, cupboards, desks.
Books should never be treated that way… Never…
I didn’t pay any attention to any lesson. But no one did anyway. It was an exceptional state. Everyone was discussing the last weeks, debating, pupils as well as teachers. It seemed everyone has cheered up, like it was carnival. Laughing, joking. It was – odd…
People have died, and with the military occupying the town, and the killing seemed to continue… How could anyone be happy with this?
“Today. At 4 o’clock.” The teacher raised her voice. “They will burn the books. We’re done for today. Don’t forget your homework! Cut out the first page in all your textbooks! And the emblem on the last page too. We are not getting new books! So be careful!”
Unable to look at her, doing that to her textbook, I turned my head. Again the men were carrying books to the yard… A grave yard. For words. It felt like blasphemy to me.
I believed in books, always did. I believed in stories. Even if I was nothing more than a child, I knew, certain things were important. Books were important, stories were important. It was not about who’s picture was in the book, it was about what those words made you feel and do… A power that could not be eliminated, simply by destroying paper. It was sheer waste. Waste! Stop wasting!
I tried to convince myself, that it was an act of bravery, to save one of them. Even one book. That was my goal.*
The odor of old paper, that had gotten wet some time ago, was overwhelming. I could smell glue too, dust. A faint aroma of mold… Balancing over the backs and covers of books I tried to get an overview.
History books. Mostly.
Every class had to deliver the history books to the teachers. I gave my text book back too, after going through it again, specially through the chapter of Ancient Egypt.
Now they have ended here, waiting for the fire. A lot of Philosophy and Politics too. Art, Literature and Poetry were scattered. Some books had been already ripped apart, spilling their guts over the others. Destruction was evident. Nearly every book I picked up was vandalized. Pictures added with vulgar drawings. It made me recoil. Disgusting! I let the books slip back on their grave.
The men were shouting. Everyone should stand back.
People came to watch. Some brought beer and snacks. They prepared to roast some bacon, as if it was going to be just nice camp fire… There were even folks bringing their own books, waiting to throw them into the fire.
I stood there, with three books hidden under my cardigan.
I watched, as the men went, with brightly lit torches around the pile. Laughingly lighting the fire. Paper could not defend itself.
It caught easily fire, as the flames touched their surface. The destruction rushed fast to their core, burned the pages to grey crumbled petals, floating in the heat radiating in every direction.
White smoke filled the yard. Filled the noses and mouthes, crept into lungs and bellies. One last revengeful strike. Coughing. Everyone.
Suddenly the wind lifted the curse. One lungful history, philosophy, politics, literature, poetry… One lungful dying stories and wasted words.