A Random Bookseller Talks to a Random Stranger:

Jesse Dorey, Indigo Books

I want to tell you a quick story, but there are three crucial things you must know about me before we get into the specifics: (1) I’m a bookseller at the Indigo on the Stoney Creek Mountain; (2) I’m exceptionally bad at starting conversations with people, which makes Point (1) much more interesting than it should be; and (3) I have depression. There’s a bit more to me, but that’s all you need to know for now. 
In our store, there’s a small subsection in our Well Being area called Depression and Mood Disorders. While I was doing my laps around the store one night, I saw a woman standing there, blankly staring at the small selection of books without making a single movement. I didn’t think much of it, so I kept on with my circuits. About fifteen minutes later, I passed by her again. She was still in the same spot, but this time, she was staring at the back cover of a book that she was holding shut in her hand.[1] It was a book that I had read a few weeks earlier, and one that, in my opinion, portrayed depression in a needlessly harmful way.[2] I tried to poke my head around the corner and get the customer’s attention, but nothing seemed to work; it was like I wasn’t even there. When I made an initial greeting - nothing more than a (hopefully) warm “Hello!” - she raised her head ever so slightly to meet my eyes, then slowly lowered her head without any indication that she had actually heard me.[3] So, panicking because of Point (2), I decided to continue on with my circuits. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, though. I can’t possibly let her read that book, I thought to myself. But how can I tell her that when she won’t even give me the time of day?     
After about twenty minutes, I noticed she was still in the same spot.[4] This time, however, she had cracked open the book she had previously been holding, and I could tell she was reading. It was like she had snapped out of some kind of trance or something. Because I’m a horrible person and disrespect the traditional “do not bug a reader while they’re reading” rule, I decided it was time to finally approach her again. You can do this, I told myself. In fact, you have to do this; it’s literally your job. I worked up all the courage I had, which is very little, and marched over to where she was standing. When I got close to her, she looked up at me, I panicked, I hurried past her, and I hid in the back corner of the store for a little while. 
After collecting my thoughts and psyching myself up once again, I decided to give it another try. I marched over to her for a third time and, instead of opting for a traditional greeting, like “Hello” or “Are you finding everything okay?” I chose to blurt out, “That book you’re reading is really, really awful you shouldn’t read it.” Now, there are three problems with the approach I took here: (1) When I use the phrase “blurt out,” what I actually mean is that I shouted it really loud, and I was talking exceptionally fast; (2) I’m not good at starting conversations with people, but I usually don’t use the phrase “really, really,” and I’m usuallycapable of formulating complete sentences; and (3) I approached her from behind, where she couldn’t see me. She jumped so high that I thought she was going to throw the book at me. I apologized profusely and, after giving her time to catch her breath, explained to her that I had noticed her looking at the book throughout the night and couldn’t possibly live with myself had I let her continue reading it without warning her about how bad I thought it was. 

“I’m no expert,” I said, “but it really messed me up for a while, because it wasn’t the understanding of depression that I experience…” I caught myself. Did I actually just confess to this random stranger that I’m depressed within thirty seconds of meeting her? [5]  She closed the book, paused for a second, and, after a short while, said: “You suffer, too?” 

We spent about twenty minutes together, talking about how depression had affected our lives - where we thought it came from, what our symptoms and coping mechanisms were, and how long we had known we were depressed. You know, all the usual stuff a random bookseller would expect to talk about with a random stranger. At the end of our chat, I told her about a book - Matt Haig’s Reasons to Stay Alive - that helped me immensely when I needed it the most. She picked up the book and went on her way.

I thought that would be the end of it. 
A few weeks later, when I was doing one of my circuits around the store, I saw her again, standing in the same spot where I had first met her. This time, she was actively leafing through some of the workbooks we stock. “Your selection hasn’t really changed much, has it?” she said with a slight chuckle. Because I am the way that I am (i.e., nervous literally all of the time), I made some corny joke that I’d really rather not repeat. “I just wanted to say thank you,” she said. “Thank you for talking, and thank you for listening.” We talked for a few more minutes. She told me she hadn’t read the book yet, but was eager to find a time when she could finally sit down and dive into it. She asked me how I had been feeling lately, and I asked her how she had been feeling lately. I didn’t give her any more book recommendations, and she didn’t ask for anything else. We were both just happy to chat. She thanked me again, we said our goodbyes, and I carried on with my circuits. 

After about half of a lap, I realized I had intended to ask for her name but, getting swept up in the conversation and concentrating on not making a complete ass of myself, it had slipped my mind. I hurried back to the section, cutting my circuit short, but by the time I got there she was gone.

I haven’t seen her since.


[1] You can tell by the movement of the eyes or the furrowing of the brow when people are reading, even if it’s just the synopsis or reviews. In this moment, however, there were no indications of the sort at all. Instead, there was only a blank, emotionless stare. For all intents and purposes, I could tell that this particular customer was not reading the synopsis of the book she was holding; she was simply looking at it.

[2] For obvious reasons, the book will remain nameless. Take my word that it was exceptionally bad, though.

[3] When you’ve worked in customer service for as long as I have, you know very well when a customer wants nothing to do with you. It’s usually represented by a quick aversion of the eyes, a swift move past you while ensuring the head remains entirely still, an annoyed grunt, or a “piss off.” This was not one of those times.

[4] N.B.: It took me so long to go back because I was spending my time being crushed by the unbearably heavy weight of failed conversation and couldn’t possibly bring myself to confront failure for a second time.

[5] I’d like to pause here for a second to emphasize that, contrary to this particularly shaky example, I’m really not that bad at my job. I can assure you that this interaction is simply an outlier. Or, at least one of the outliers.  

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William Jesse Dorey is a writer and editor from Hamilton, Ontario. He holds an MA in English Literature from McMaster University. He co-founded The Paper Street Journal in 2014 and is a staff writer for the Hamilton Arts Council. His fiction, non-fiction, and reviews have been featured in The Paper Street Journal and Hamilton Arts & Letters.