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Just Follow the Instructions

by Cornelia 

Posted: 07 June 2011
Word Count: 1032
Summary: Help comes from an unexpected source

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‘It’s simple – just place the books in here and follow the onscreen instructions. If you need further assistance, please don’t hesitate to ask’, said the brisk young librarian, heels clicking as she returned to her desk.

Jean inspected the metal box with the hollow square at its centre.

It looked harmless enough, but Jean remembered a time when library tickets were little brown pockets, not plastic swipe cards. Still, this was no time for nostalgia, and it was best just to get on with it; she took the books from her bag, placed them in the space then crossed her fingers. The titles flashed up on the screen:

Banish Indecision
How to Make Your Mind Up
Grasping the Nettle
No wonder it had taken her so long to get through them; the advice they gave seemed to be so reckless. While she was reading, Jean could her mother’s voice in her head: ‘Oh, do stop dithering Jean.’ None of the books had been any help, though. Jean had better just accept the fact that she was chronically indecisive.
She still hadn’t decided what to wear at her daughter Natasha’s wedding: the coral pink with matching beige hat that suited her or something brighter. That would have to be bought. The groom’s mother had chosen an outfit in sunshine yellow, her daughter had told her, hinting in a not-so-subtle way that it wouldn’t hurt for Jean to be bolder.
Jean sighed as she looked at the button choices on the screen. She pressed Return and then Yes when the screen asked if she wanted a receipt. When Jean’s silent prayer answered, she took the receipt, and felt relieved that her ordeal was over.
But what was this! A nasty green arrow began to dance about on the screen. It was pointing downwards. In a panic, Jean glanced at her shoes, than round at the shelves.
‘Excuse me, but I couldn’t help noticing...’ The speaker was a smartly dressed man, probably in his sixties, with an amused expression on his face. ‘It’s telling you to put your books on the trolley. I had the same problem understanding when I used it the first time. Here, let me help.’
Before lifting out the books, her rescuer placed the two books he was carrying under his arm. Jean saw a picture of mountains on the outer one and a title: ‘Conquering the Peaks’
‘Thank you so much,’ Jean said. ‘I’m afraid these machines get the better of me. It wouldn’t happen to you, I’m sure.’ She smiled and pointed at the books he held. ‘You’d soon conquer them.’
‘What? Oh, take no notice of these! ’ He laughed and held up the books. ‘They’re for my nephew. He’s always trying new hobbies. I’m no mountaineer; even have to think twice about steep hills nowadays.’
‘Well, thanks again,’ said Jean, and headed off to the self-help section.
The books she’d read had made her aware of an inconvenient character trait, a wish to try to please everyone, but otherwise they hadn’t worked.
Her gallant helper was still standing near the sports section when she returned. He was browsing through a book on skydiving.
‘I wonder if you could help me again’, said Joan
‘Of course!’ For a moment, Jean had the impression he’d been waiting for her to return.
‘Is it the same procedure for borrowing a book? I’m sorry to ask, but I don’t want to trouble the librarian. You were so kind before’
‘Oh, yes, just the same – put them in –ah, just the one this time, I see – and then follow the instructions that appear on the screen.’ He turned his attention back to the books he’d been looking at, but seemed to hover, as if hoping she’d need further help.
Jean put her book in the box and the title flashed up:
Take Charge of Your life and Move On
This time she clicked on Borrow and a message on the screen asked her to put her library card in a slot indicated by an arrow.
Her helper had walked over to the fiction shelves. She slid her card in the slot then jabbed at the button labelled ‘Borrow’.
When she’d collected the receipt, just before the screen went blank, she noticed a message that flashed across it:
Then, after a few seconds, it disappeared.
Again, Jean looked around. What on earth could it mean? It almost seemed as if the machine was becoming impatient with her indecision, but that was impossible. Surely all the instructions it gave out were about how to take out or check in books, not how to live her life!
As she headed towards the door the helpful man appeared again. He introduced himself as Derek and asked if she had time for a coffee before she headed home.
To her surprise, Jean heard herself say, ‘Thank you. That would be lovely’.
Some weeks later, Jean stood in front of the library machine once more. Natasha and James were still on honeymoon and Jean reflected that was glad she’d chosen the pink and beige for the wedding, after all. So much more flattering, her escort had said, than the garish colours some other women had chosen. He hadn’t mentioned the groom’s mother, but she knew what he meant. Like the rest of the family, she’d warmed to Derek
Now, if things continued as she hoped, she had a whole new dilemma to consider. After placing the book on the trolley, she hurried off to a section that was new to her.
She soon returned, book in hand, then smiled at the title as it flashed up on the screen:
September Songs: The Good news about Marriage in the Later Years.
As she looked around, Derek returned from the sports section, clutching a book on water-skiing. Really, that nephew of his was so indecisive. Maybe she should recommend a book or two about making his mind up.
‘That was quick. Need some help with the machine?’ asked Derek.
Jean smiled and linked her arm through his. ‘Oh, I don’t think so’. She straightened her shoulders. ‘After all, it’s just a matter of following instructions.’

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