This story is part of the A-Z challenge that I’m doing.
Everyone knew Mrs. Stella lived alone in a tiny log house at the end of the road and yet they found her cheerful every time they ran into her. Sometimes they stopped her and asked the secret of her happiness, to which she always replied, “My friends.”
Her smile — the smile of an elderly lonely woman — discouraged almost everyone to ask any follow-up question. Almost everyone. Almost. Joey was the notorious kid down the block who never gave up. He’d ask, “I am your friend. Who else? Where are they? Will they play with me?”
She’d shrug her shoulders with a faint smile on her lips, as if they are trying to conceal a secret, and pull out a chocolate out of her bag for Joey. “Here’s your chocolate, Joey,” she’d say extending her hand. Joey would grab the chocolate and run away to play with his friends. Not today. Today he seemed determined. He declined the chocolate and insisted on meeting her other friends.
She kept telling him, “Joey. I’ll make you meet them some other day.”
“I want to meet them today, Mrs. Stella.”
“What if they don’t want to play with you?”
“They won’t play with me, Mrs. Stella?” Joey said in a tone of disappointment.
Mrs. Stella’s face fell. To cheer Joey up, she said, “Come on, let’s find out then. Let’s go and meet them.”
Joey’s eyes sparkled and a smile through which white bright teeth were visible was all over his little face. He exclaimed, “We are going to meet your friends!”
Both began walking down the street, Joey following Mrs. Stella and enjoying his chocolate. “Are we there yet, Mrs. Stella?”
After a few minutes, still engrossed in his chocolate, Joey asked, “Are we there yet, Mrs. Stella?”
“Not yet, Joey.”
Again after a few minutes, “Are we there yet?”
“We indeed are.”
Joey’s eyes moved up for the first time from his chocolate and found himself standing in front of a building that bore an uninteresting gray board on which golden letters spelled ‘Library’.
“Here?” Joey asked dumbfounded.
“Come on. Let’s go inside.”
They both entered the library and in the main hall, Joey found himself standing in the middle of huge racks containing hundreds of thousands of books in total.
Brimming with confusion, Joey asked, “Where are your friends, Mrs. Stella? There’s no one here.”
Mrs. Stella smiled at him. Holding his shoulders and moving in various directions, she animatedly told, “Here are my friends, Joey. Frank lives in the third rack, fifth shelf. He graduated yesterday. His mother is proud of him. Patricia in first rack, second shelf. Her boyfriend proposed to her this week. She is ecstatic these days. Leon in the last shelf on this rack. He has finally moved to a different school where I hope he doesn’t get beaten by the bullies again. Beatrice lives downstairs. She is traveling to Prague next week. Johnsie lives mostly on this rack. She just lost her arm. Poor child. James lives upstairs. He just got married. Here are my friends, Joey. They are my friends.”
Joey’s face bore an even more confused expression. He tried to comprehend what he just heard. Unable to find a relevant answer, he remarked, “I don’t think your friends will play with me,” and ran outside the building leaving Mrs. Stella alone among her friends.