The Hesitant Architect
Haka M.K.
Bookstars Εκδόσεις - Free Publishing

The book signing was going well. Peter rubbed his tired eyes and
smiled at the tall woman facing him across the table.
He was truly astonished at the response to his book. All those
years in academia, and a single mention in the immensely popular
Lucinda show had done the trick! It had really taken him by surprise,
to say the least―the large turnout, the unprecedented rise in
sales―given that most of the crowd queuing up for his autographed
copy were not art-and architecture students or even practising
Maybe, he thought, lifestyle is the new religion, with shows like
Lucinda spreading the word. After all, the term “style icon” was tossed
around often enough… Or maybe he had unwittingly touched a
nerve, the quest for a cultural identity in the new millennium being
first and foremost in the mind of the British public. Or not…
Casting his doubts aside he focused on the task at hand. “Who
shall I…?” he began.
“To Jenny, she’s my eldest grand-daughter,” said the elegantly
dressed lady, her silver hair expertly coiffed. “She’s an Oxbridge
hopeful.” A note of pride had crept into her voice.
Her casual use of the collective term for those two seats of
learning, Cambridge and That Other Place, made him cringe
inwardly, but he was too well-mannered to allow his emotions to
show, so he merely smiled and wrote: “To Jenny, Best of luck, Peter
“Thank you so much,” she beamed at him, “and a very Merry
Christmas to you.”
Christmas! So near and yet almost forgotten amidst all this
unaccustomed publicity.

His unexpected rise to fame had come about in November, during
one of the “run-up to Christmas” shows.
The Lucinda Ayes show―aptly named Lucinda’s Eyes―was
interviewing Eleanor Sanders, a fellow student of Peter’s from his
Cambridge years. After spending a good many years in the States,
Eleanor had returned to Britain in the mid-nineties, to recover from a
bitter divorce. What she did not know then was that she would soon
become the style guru in the eyes of the British public, and would
continue to reign unchallenged fifteen years on.
Gift ideas were being discussed and books inevitably came up:
“And what are you reading at the moment, Eleanor?”
“Oh, this fabulous book by my good friend and fellow architect
Peter Hunter. It’s called: ‘Bookcases, the Totem Poles of Our Times’.
Best book I’ve read in ages and, may I say, a must-read and a perfect
holiday gift.”
Those few words had been enough to uplift the―so far
obscure―book’s literary career, and endow Peter with celebrity
Pondering now upon this unforeseen turn of events, Peter
mumbled, “Oh, well. Never look a gift horse in the mouth,” and
gazed round him distractedly. Suddenly he froze. Across the table,
Eleanor Sanders was staring right into his eyes.

The bookshop, where the book signing was taking place, was not a
modest affair. Situated in trendy Docklands, facing the river, it was
housed in―yet another―restored warehouse. There were high wallto-
ceiling metal-frame windows all along the front, while inside, its
cast-iron columns proudly bore witness to the past. The interior
resembled a glorified toyshop of the old picture-book variety.
Colourful volumes seemed to lie everywhere, covering all available
surfaces in a non-minimalist way and forming a joyful tapestry of the
printed word.

Among the materials used, wood ruled, competing with books
for supremacy. Every single surface was formed by a different variety
of wood, ranging from the trusted oak to the more exotic tropical
varieties devoted to rare books. The intention of the design team had
been to produce a layout reminiscent of an old college library―down
to the beeswax polish smell. The plan was user friendly, with all
books available to every customer within arm’s reach, so as to avoid
the use of sliding ladders (and the possibility of unfortunate
accidents), as well as minimize the need for assistance from the staff
in order to access the top shelves.
The aisles were wide and were formed by medium-height
freestanding bookcases. Children’s books nestled within bleached-oak
shelves, while the fiction department resided in mahogany quarters.
There were no display tables. Instead, spindle-back chairs had been
drawn up to writing tables in between the wider aisles. The tables
were equipped with old-fashioned reading lamps, to reinforce the
antiquated library motif.
The new titles were housed inside enormous carousel-like
structures on the ground floor, by the street entrance. The structures
were multitiered, and were carved in places with totem-like figures of
famous authors. They revolved noiselessly, like a well-oiled machine.
In fact, that was how the entire bookshop seemed to operate, though
“shop” did not do it credit; it was a true Book Emporium.
And Christmas had brought this to light.

Alighting from her mini-cab, Eleanor inhaled the familiar river air. In
the past, the Docklands area had been a favourite haunt of hers, ever
since her student years. During her diploma course in the
Architecture school of Cambridge, she had produced a set of inspired
watercolour drawings for a maritime museum in the area. The
mysterious feel of the docks, the dreamlike quality of the derelict old warehouses, and the romance of the Silk roads to China had appealed to her wanderlust; but now, it often felt like these drawings were the
only remains of another time, another life.
Lost in her thoughts, she approached the side entrance to the
recently opened bookstore. Dusk had fallen and the windows along
the ground level reflected the still waters and a wealth of tiny lights from across the river. There was a Christmas feel in the air, all storefronts nearby dressed and ready to greet the festive season.
Turning a corner, however, she was quite unprepared for the sight
that met her eyes.
The bookshop facade was festooned with overscale seasonal
garlands―which, she noted, probably cost more than many a good
book. Gigantic red-berry wreaths were lit up and glittering. She had
not expected this level of glamour. It brought on a sense of
dislocation… She was in New York for the first time, amazed and
held captive by the seasonal grandeur of a Fifth Avenue grand store
But here, in the London docks, amidst commercial buildings of
brick and steel, such grandeur seemed somehow incongruous. I have
probably been in this business far too long, Eleanor thought. Why can’t I simply enjoy the festive season for what it is meant to be, without longing to deliver yet another style aphorism? After all, by definition, Christmas can never be too much…
But then, of course, things are never that simple. Analysis and
deconstruction were indelible Cambridge legacies.
“You may leave that place when your time is due But it will never
leave you…,” she rhymed.
And wearing a secret half-smile, she stood before the entrance,
took a deep breath and crossed the threshold.

“…I have always felt safe in bookstores. And feeling safe is very
important to me. As in the proverbial Tiffany’s, I sincerely believe
that nothing really bad can happen in a place full of books.
Being surrounded by books is perhaps the closest I have been to
my idea of a sanctuary. All those collective memories and imaginings
feel far more alive to me than the physical presence of people around
me. As I step into its silk caress, my paper cocoon works its magic.
Calm is restored. Senses alert, it feels safe to venture onto the
unknown, exploring the words of others.
This is my real world, a lifeline, when everyday living becomes
too close for comfort. Before I leave this place of magic, I always
pause to offer a silent thank you to all the authors gracing those
shelves. I believe that you carry them with you, the books you love,
cherishing their memories as though they were your own.
But now the image of Peter, gentle, kind Peter Hunter patiently
signing his books, has triggered a different set of memories. … I am
standing on the steps of the Arts theatre in Cambridge, waiting for
Peter for our one and only non-date. We are about to see a Noel
Coward play, performed by an amateur student group. Peter arrives
on time, bearing gifts. A box of Thorntons’ chocolates and a small
package, this day being my birthday. The package contains a small
Wedgewood dish, decorated with a Sagittarian motif―my
astrological sign―set in relief against the trademark powder-blue
My heart being otherwise engaged at the time, I treat the whole
evening as an absolute non-date. After my final year, I never see him
again. Until now, that is. Twenty-four years have gone by…

“Hello Peter. It’s been a long time,” said Eleanor.
Peter Hunter jumped to attention and formally proffered his
hand. He’d known Eleanor quite well during their college years, but
since then she had reinvented herself completely. Many regarded her
as Britain’s answer to Martha Stewart―only posher and far more
glamorous. In her vintage suit with the fake fur collar trim, she now
looked like a fashion icon from the fifties.
“Well, now. Don’t stare at me as though I’m the Ghost of
Christmas Past. I want to thank you for your Christmas card,
handcrafted and perfect as always. And that charming poem…”
Cutting into her stream of thanks, for it made him feel nervous,
he said rather stiffly, “Eleanor, I’m deeply indebted to you. If it
hadn’t been for your kind words…”
He was interrupted mid-sentence. “Oh, please. You have nothing
to thank me for. The subject-matter of your book is very close to my
heart. And yes, I did read it by the way, in case you were wondering.
All it needed was a little push and I was glad to be able to do just
that. However, there is a small favour you could do for me in return.”
Ah, there we go, thought Peter.
“Why don’t we sit down?” And turning back to the queue she
said, “If you would be so kind. The book signing will resume in
fifteen minutes. The author needs to take a short break. Thank you so
much for your patience.”
The queuing crowd smiled at her adoringly. Their tolerance
seemed to increase exponentially in the face of celebrity. Eleanor
rewarded them with a brilliant smile of her own and proceeded to
take Peter by the arm, leading him to the designated sitting area, that lay directly behind the entrance carousels.
For some reason, he felt that he had been kidnapped from his