WANJURAH: Beer not books: The library’s unique catalogue
On its website, it advertises itself as the best place to be because when your parents call to check on you, you do not have to lie. “Just say you are in the Librarym,” it advises.
As I found out, the lie would easily pass inside the building that, from the outside, is unremarkable, its red bricks and English architecture indistinguishable from many of its neighbours.
Immediately across the road teeing off from the main highway and past the traffic lights, a campus block is under construction. It is one of the many ultra-modern buildings coming up nearby.
From its towering size, you imagine that were a misfortune to occur and one of the workers balanced on the scaffolding lost his footing, he would fall on the Library’s roof.
But it would take more than just a mammoth size for any building to wrestle prominence from the Library. In this part of this city, a more loved and faithfully patronised hangout is hard to imagine besides the nearby Hyde Park.
When darkness falls, the Library doors open to its many loyalists. Unlike, the Park, here you are definitely safe, warmer and, should you so wish, wined and dined– at your cost of course!
When my friend suggested we meet at the Library on a Thursday evening, I wondered why, of all other places, he would want us to meet there.
Ours was meant to be a get-to-know-you-better moment and I thought the default settings of a library naturally dissuaded its choice as a venue for a tete-a-tete. But he made it sound like a well-entrenched ritual with his other friends. Besides, I did not want to look “slow” or unscholarly.
On the day, I went to the main library. I checked on all the floors but I did not see him. I went to the second library and combed it too. I did not see him.
Then I remembered he was an engineering student so I went to what we call the morgue: an isolated third library beloved of scientists and “serious” scholars and which is so quiet and lifeless that a sneeze inside it sounds like a scream! Still, I did not find him.
I concluded he was either a liar or that assignments may have overwhelmed him into forgetting our date. Seeing how the libraries were full with students left me feeling idle and unserious.
While others were studying, here I was busy shuttling between libraries looking for a drink and gossip mate. Gnawed by guilt, I went to the first library and read like the exam of my life was set for the following day.
As I walked home at midnight after the switching off of library lights forced me out, I thought I had finally cracked the secret to a Ph.D. candidature.
He was the first to revisit our missed date when we bumped into each other after a fortnight. He said his friends and him waited for me until nearly midnight. I narrated of my fruitless search for him.
He explained that they were in the “Seminar Room” which I thought explained why I never saw him. As the name implies, seminar rooms are semi-private cubicles within libraries that are designed for group study. And true, I had not checked in any of those.
Another date was set for the following Thursday. To insure myself from the guilt of misplaced priorities, I spent considerable time in the library during the day. Come the evening, I began my search for my friend and his company. There were not there in all the three libraries. All the seminar rooms were either empty or locked. His phone was off!
Now I was sure he was a liar. To prove to myself that I could still manage a social life despite the apparent snub, I walked into a random bar and engaged an elderly man with whom I shared a table in a conversation about the winter and Jeremy Corbyn. But boredom soon set in, especially because, lacking many teeth, saliva oozed from his mouth whenever he spoke with a significant portion of it ending on my face. I walked home whistling as my private evidence that I may have been alone but I was far from lonely.
I would discover my embarrassing ignorance about the Library on a Tuesday evening. I was walking home around 10 pm in the biting winter when a group of rowdy young men and women clad in nothing besides underwear, body paint and fancy headgears interrupted the evening. They were roaring drunk and chasing at each other in the streets.
The temperatures must have been below zero. But the naked group took the time to wrestle each other on the wet pavements and to pose for photos. Seeing my flummoxed sense, a passer-by helpfully explained they were from the Library for a themed evening appropriately named “The Night of Madness.” I asked her where the Library was. She asked me to follow her.
Whatever my friend had been saying now made sense. The Library is a lovely bar with big screens and cosy seats ideal for catching up on sports. The choice of the name must have been truly inspired considering it is tucked in amid a sprawling campus. But the privately owned bar invested in luring its primary target clientele– the university community.
There is a common room, a silent study room and, of course, the seminar rooms. You can opt to “study” in the great hall with such giant screens that the players appear in almost their real-life sizes. But the acoustics are so well controlled that apart from the sports commentary and muffled music, the lie of telling your parents or whoever calls that you in the Library is not farfetched. As it brags, “they won’t know it’s a pub that has become your second home!”
Besides its ambience and eccentric theme nights, the Library is also famous for its French fries served in old aluminium cups, the kind you would find in your grandma’s kitchen or at Njuguna’s serving soup! The surface has rubbed off in some to leave the cups looking old and rusty. But this odd utensil, like its generous serving of chicken wings on Wednesdays, is part of the Library authenticity.
The waiters appear to have been recruited primarily for their looks. The last time I was there to witness Chelsea’s capitulation to PSG, an elderly couple got into a quarrel over the woman’s generous tip to the waiter.
The husband admonished her for being “wasteful” to which she retorted: “Just admit it, Jack. You don’t like him as if it was his fault for being deliciously good-looking!”
Like Jack, I don’t particularly like the same waiter serving me too. But my reasons are different. I prefer Suzzie and her playful rebuke for messing the table. Or even better, Cate because she pretends to help me with imaginary homework.
She once offered me complimentary chicken wings that made me feel so special until I saw every other client receiving the same. I wonder if I should summon the courage to confess to her that I could do with a home tutor for my assignments!
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