On most working days I spend part of my lunch hour in the library. There I have a favourite chair. It’s a padded piece of wonderful—a soft cushion, comfortably worn arms. It rests in a corner diagonally opposite the door, hidden away from staff and readers.
A few weeks ago I walked to my seat to find someone else sitting in it. The audacity! This older gent must’ve tried it out—appreciating the comfort and seclusion—and fallen in love, as I once did. He’s been there every day since. Which means I have to sit with Noisy Guy.
Noisy Guy is a lollipop man (someone who guides schoolchildren across roads). He wears the required bright yellow jacket of the trade, and brings his stop sign (the lollipop) with him. He has a shiny, bald head.
Noisy Guy wouldn’t seem particularly noisy in any other situation. He doesn’t talk loudly or burp or fart. But he emits a mostly unnecessary, constant low-level noise, one magnified by the library’s silence. He arrives, wheezing from walking briskly uphill (which is acceptable). Then he slowly undoes his jacket, the pop of each individual button bursting the silence. He sniffs a lot. He somehow makes hanging his jacket over his chair noisy. And from there, it gets worse.
He’ll mumble to himself. Every thought is audible, his brain working with the volume on. “Read the paper”, I’ll hear him say, as he unfolds it onto the table. He’ll forcefully turn the pages, making every one rustle. A plastic bag with his lunch in it will come out, rustling also. He’ll take ages opening a fruit salad packet or a bar of chocolate, the plastic crinkling for years. “That’ll do”, he’ll say, when he decides what to eat.
This symphony will continue until I leave: the rustling of a newspaper, the crinkling of plastic, the muttering, the sniffing. And over in a corner, a man enjoys my chair and the silence. My silence.