There were a set of rules in every library that wasn’t written down, but everyone knew them and were expected to follow them. The most important rules being: (1) Don’t bother people in libraries for no reason, (2) they’re busy and most likely don’t have time for distractions, (3) and unless you know the person, avoid talking to them loudly. It’s a library, the home of quiet.
It seemed that some people didn’t know these rules. Or didn’t know the most important ones. I thought differently at the time, so I didn’t think anything was off when I caught sight of a guy walking towards me, looking nervous. He didn’t look at the shelves, but I thought that he was just going to pass by me to get to where ever he was going. But instead, he stopped in front of me, shifting nervously from foot to foot until I looked up at him from the book I had in my hands. Once my attention was on him, he stopped his peculiar actions.
“Do you remember?” He asked suddenly, making me raise an eyebrow.
“Do I know you?” I responded more harshly than I intended to.
He seemed to deflate, his expression similar to a kicked puppy and it was honestly heartbreaking. I felt my soul wither in guilt. That wasn’t supposed to happen. I was supposed to pick out a new book to read in hopes of it distracting me from the hole in myself where it felt that something was missing, like a gaping wound but also like a mountain pressing down on my chest. I just wanted a book to distract myself with characters who knew who they were, while I was still figuring that out. This utterly destroyed-looking boy was not meant to be there.
Still, the guilt gnawed at me enough to make me mutter an apology and put the book back on the shelf. He looked up with a hopeful light in his eyes. I refused to face him as I continued, speaking softly. “Look, I’m sorry. It’s just that this hasn’t been a good day for me. If it upsets you so much that I don’t remember you, why don’t we get to know each other so I have some memories of you?”
He perked up. “Really?!”
I shushed him quickly, his words loud enough to disturb the silence and make my skin prickle with the feeling of being watched. I knew I wasn’t, it was just the paranoia that came with something that might bring unwanted attention to me.
“Don’t be so loud,” I reprimanded.
“It’s a library. Respect the silence.”
“Oh, right. Sorry.”
I shook my head at him with a small smile, letting him know I forgave him as I reached for another book. “So what’s your name?”
He looked startled at my question. “What?”
“Your name? You know, I thought you were upset by me not knowing you, so if you want me to know you, a name is a good place to start.”
His eyes seemed to darken for a moment, as if they held storms. Then he nodded, “Right. I’m Innugati.”
Not knowing what to do after that, I turned my attention back to the bookshelf, dragging my fingers lightly against the worn spines of the books. The air around us grew warmer, more comfortable than the strangely tense one from before. His name struck a chord in me, but I couldn’t understand why the name seemed so familiar or why I felt like I knew him more that I did. So I did my best to shake the feeling away and keep the atmosphere from turning awkward by grabbing another book.
“Are you Inuit by any chance? Or a descendant or something?” His question caught me off guard, making me look at him warily, but nod. Innugati brightened. “Same! It’s like before.” He commented. I furrowed my brow in confusion, running his words through my mind again.
“What do you mean by ‘like before’?”
He froze. “Oh. Nothing.”
I frowned. “Really?”
“It’s really nothing, Anuun.”
His almost defensive tone, that also sounded broken and sad for whatever reason, made me narrow my eyes, but I let it go. There would be other times to talk about it. I still had to find a book to read and take away the hollow ache in me for a few hours.
I pulled out another book, sighed, and put it back, slowly making my way down the aisle. Innugati hovered behind me, shifting from foot to foot. He continued fidgeting as I pulled out a few more books and put them back, losing hope in finding something to read. As I reached for another book at the end of the aisle, Innugati suddenly straightened out, making me aware of the two inches difference that I hadn’t noticed before, and he took off, leaving me in the aisle, staring after his retreating form for a moment before shrugging and turning my gaze back on the bookshelf.
It was silent for a few minutes, no sound of another person’s breathing, or shuffling footsteps, or fidgeting limbs. I went to the next aisle to continue my search when Innugati suddenly appeared behind me. Startled, I flinched back and stared at him with wide, surprised eyes. He was grinning and was holding out a book for me. I made no move to take it. Instead, I looked at it uncertainly.
He rolled his eyes and pushed it into my hands. “Usually, people want you to take whatever they’re giving you.”
I blinked and looked down at the book. “What is this?”
“A time machine,” he replied sarcastically. “A book! It’s a book Anuun!”
“I can see that Sass Master, but why are you giving me this book?” I looked up to him only to see sadness in his eyes. “Woah, hey, you okay there Innugati? You look really sad.”
He shook himself and smiled, but I knew it was fake. When a smile was real, the corners of their eyes would crinkle; that’s why people get laugh lines. The skin around his eyes wwas smooth as ever. But Innugati didn’t seem to want to talk about his dilemma, so I didn’t push. I didn’t know him that well anyways, and pushing would be rude.
“I’m not sad,” he protested. “Well, a little sad since you don’t know that book and it’s my favorite. Which is also why I found it for you. So you can read it.”
I raised an eyebrow. “You went out and found your favorite book just so I, someone you met literally ten minutes ago, could read it?”
Innugati nodded. “Yeah. I always thought that the best way to get close with someone is to read their favorite book. And since you seem to like reading so much, I figure, ‘Why not?’ and found it for you.” He paused to point threateningly at me. “You better love that book,” he hissed, but the smile got rid of any heat in his words.
“Alright, alright,” I complied. “I’ll read it. But only if you read one of my favorite books.”
I grinned and left the aisle, crossing the library, following the steps I took everyday to my usual table that stood alone from the others, separated too much on the left. I set the book Innugati had given me, “The World’s Waiting,” it was called, on the table and gestured for him to sit. “Wait here,” I said before turning and walking away from the table and into another aisle.
My eyes skimmed the spines, searching for the familiar one that held the name, “A Punch in the Face is a Metaphor for My Life." The large spine was a faded blue. I moved from one bookcase to another, hoping that no one had checked it out of the library. My eyes moved up and down the bookshelves quickly, taking in the blur of spines before settling on the one I was searching for.
“There you are!” I thought victoriously as I reached up to grab it. The familiar weight in my hands lessened the ache inside me slightly. There was something about books that made me feel better. The way the characters knew who they were, stood by who they were and didn’t change, and how some of them found who they were and held onto that person the way I wanted to. It made me forget about me and for a few hours I could be those characters who knew who they were and what they were doing. That was why I was so picky with books; it had to be perfect or the ache would still be pressing in from the back of my mind, distracting me from the story. That was also why I loved this book so much; I was easily pulled away from reality and could be Kalyn for a few hours.
Innugati better love the book as much as I did.
I walked back to my table, book in hand, and dropped into the seat next to Innugati like a dead weight. I handed the book to him, then grabbed the one he gave to me off the table and flipped it open to the first page.
“The world was waiting for its heroes, since there seemed to be a small supply that quickly ran out. Hercules, Perseus, Theseus, Mulan, and many more, including Gabrielle. She’s my best friend. And me? I have the loving role of the sidekick who dies in the end. Joy.”
The next few weeks passed in a similar manner. I would go to my classes, only talk to when spoken to, respond from a wave from Innugati in the hallway when leaving fifth period, and going to the library to enjoy the quiet after a loud, busy day. I would sit at my table, which was rapidly becoming our table in my mind since Innugati joined me everyday after school to read there. I would have a new book for him to read every few days, and he would have one for me every few days, and we would spend the days in between reading those stories. Sometime in the second week, we began talking about parts of the story, pointing out a certain line, or scene. Sometimes one of us would laugh quietly and the other would look over to see what caused the reaction, then join in on the laughter once the scene was recognized. We began to talk, laying our books aside on the table, silly bookmarks of animals and cakes sticking out from between the pages.
He was the person I felt closest too after I moved here and spent a year in self forced isolation due to my inability to start conversations or hold them very well until I got to know who I was talking to.
I learned about Innugati from the books and the characters. I learned how he loved fiction the most, especially humorous fiction. Friendship was important to him, which I saw from all the books he had given me that focused on or contained a strong friendship between two people or a group of people. He was an only child, so he was never able to completely relate to characters that had siblings. I also learned, in one of our many conversations about a story, that he felt lonely most of the time, but not with me. He had said, “I feel like I’ve met you before and that makes me feel like I’m not the only one in the world.”
But I never did learn why he acted so strangely when we first met, or why he would greet me everyday with the question, “Do you remember?”
“Remember what?” I would say, and he’d would smile sadly and sit down, pulling the book he was reading out of his backpack and opening it without another word.
It was three weeks before I began noticing similarities in the characters and stories in the books he gave me. Each one had a girl that was best friends with someone and messed with people, a pair of pranksters. The main character would always be a little headstrong, but always looking out for her friend and never backed down from a challenge.
Those stories didn’t just block the dull, empty ache I always felt, but filled it. I would read, and feel as if I were those characters: Riley, Terra, Namandla, Gralli, Ylnde, Alex, Hiyo, and so many others. Those characters stuck with me even after I finished the book, filling the emptiness inside me.
Something else began to gnaw away at me then. A darkness in my mind. Not a bad, evil type that was seen often in books as corruption of the soul, or from the outside world. No, this darkness was sad and made me feel as though I was forgetting something important, something that mattered to me. This darkness kept me up at night, wondering what was missing that could make me feel this way. This darkness made me tune out of class, staring at my desk blankly and trying to figure out the feeling as though it was a puzzle that was missing all but one piece.
The one puzzle piece I had was Innugati.
I had waited impatiently for him the day I realized that, arms folded across each other on the table that I stared at blankly, trying to listen to the familiar footsteps of his, slightly uneven, as though he walked with a limp. It was ten minutes before I heard them make their way towards me.
When he dropped his backpack besides his chair and sat down, I looked up to him. A feeling of I know you hit me, followed by one of I missed you, but it was a feeling so strong I couldn’t help but wonder if those foreign feelings had stretched across centuries to reach me and make me feel like that. They were far too strong to be for someone I had only known for three weeks.
“What if I knew Innugati longer than three weeks?” I wondered, then shook the thought away since it was so impossible. After all, I had never seen him before that day in the aisle of the library.
“Do you remember?” he asked, just as he did everyday.
I stared up at him, lost. “No. But I know I’m forgetting something, Innugati. I don’t know why I feel like I’m forgetting something, but I am. I didn’t feel this before you started giving me those books.” His eyes widened in shock and hope, and I found myself asking, “Do you remember, Innugati? Do you remember something that I shouldn’t have forgotten?”
He nodded slowly and opened his mouth, then closed it again. He tried again, but his voice seemed to get caught in his throat and his eyes glistened with tears. “Anuun,” he whined, reminding me of a puppy left by its owner in the rain, “Anuun, you have to remember.”
“Help me remember.”
His eyes darted around helplessly, searching for an answer. I never took my eyes off him as I asked again. “Help me remember, Innugati. You know whatever it is that I’m missing, and I don’t want to live with this empty ache or this darkness in me. I want to remember.”
“Alright,” he began, voice choked up and heavy. He nodded and wiped his eyes once. “Alright. Time to tell you my favorite story. So, we were originally born years ago. Years and years ago. Thousands of years ago.”
“We’re really old,” I commented. He barked out a watery laugh in agreement.
“Yeah, we are. We were born in an Inuit clan in Alaska. Our clan was Tagiugmiut, the Inuit people who lived on the coast. We were born in the same year, so we spent most of our time together and we ended up being the pranksters of the clan.” Innugati paused to smile fondly as he recalled something from those long ago times that I had no memory of. Yet my heart tugged at his words, as if it were telling me, “Yes, yes, that’s it! You were best friends with him then and you never did anything without each other! You were meant to meet him again.” But still no memories sprang to mind.
Innugati shook himself out of his memories and went back to helping me regain mine. “We were best friends and did a lot together. Everyone used to say that we’d be a part of the stars someday, to tell future generations the stories of our tricks and pranks.” He bit his lip and looked down. “You got sick one winter, and nothing would make you better.” Innugati took a deep breath and opened his mouth again to speak, but a shuddering breath came out instead. I grabbed his hands to comfort him and he smiled in thanks.
I must have meant a lot to him if he was still tore up about it, despite that fact that I was sitting in front of him, healthy as a baby bear. “Hey,” I said gently, “I’m right here and I’m not sick. All that’s gone and past.” He nodded and looked up to continue his story.
“I promised you that-”
“We’ll find each other in the next life to finish that prank. And all the other ones that we haven’t been able to do yet. We’ll find each other and annoy the universe again, I promise.”
Gasping, I pulled away from him. Another voice, sounding exactly like Innugati’s but still different, drowned out his words. All I could hear was the promise from so long ago, and my memories hit me at once.
My teeth dug into my lip to muffle the cries of pain as the memories pounded my mind into mush, a constant throb making its home in my head. My hands cradled my head and a few whimpers escaped me. I could faintly hear someone worriedly calling out my name and felt a hand lightly stroking the top of my head.
“Don’t worry, it’ll be fine!” He reassured me as he tugged me along, dragging me through the fields of white snow, a herd of caribou at the tree line. I stumbled along, and laugh pushing past my frozen lips and thick hood. The clan had been down and boring, so we took it on ourselves to make them smile again with a prank.
He was older, but so was I. He leaned over me, panic and concern filling his gaze. “I’m going to die soon, aren’t I?” I rasp out, weakly shivering. He shook his head and gripped my frail hand, already growing thin enough that it was nearly all skin and bone. The tears began to fall, and I wished I had the strength to reach up and brush them away.
It was different time, and we were no longer surrounded by snow. Instead, we were surrounded by an army. “I thought you said it would be fine!” I hissed angrily, holding most of his weight since the bullet in his leg didn’t let him stand on his own.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t expect things to turn out this way!” he hissed back, a mixture of pain and annoyance.
“You told me this prank was going to be harmless and it would help the people smile a little! Now we have the army ready to kill us and a revolution at our back! They’re going to kill us, they’re going to think this was an act planned out by the revolution!”
And it was. The men raised their guns and aimed. I glared at him one last time. “In the next life, you better bring me an apology gift.”
The echo of gun shots rang through the air.
The pounding of my head faded. I grasped onto those memories, the clearest out of everything else. Blinking slowly to make sure I wasn’t dreaming and have the library disappear to the ringing or my alarm, I lifted my head from where it lay in my hands. Innugati looked at me with concern in his eyes.
“Anuun?” he said uncertainly.
Rather than answer, I straightened up, glared at him, and hit the side of his head. “Ow!” he gasped, a hand reaching up to where I hit him as if he might feel a bump. “What was that for?”
“French Revolution? Really? That is the worst time you possibly could pick to pull a prank.”
His hand dropped, as did his jaw. “You- Anuun- Do you really-”
I rolled my eyes at his shocked sputters. “Yes, I remember. And you so owe me that gift. I didn’t follow you out there and watch out for you just to get shot by soldiers.”
“I can’t believe-”
“Neither can I,” I interrupted, shrugging. “But hey, at least you knew that the whole reincarnation thing was real. I had to go into that blindly.”
Innugati looked down guiltily. “Sorry,” he said, “I wanted to tell you, but I was afraid that nothing would trigger your memory, or you would think I was insane, or you would get hurt with the memories of your past lives if you did remember.”
“Well, it did hurt. But it was just a really intense headache. It’s fine.”
“Yeah, well, that was why I didn’t want to tell you. That’s why I kept giving you those books.”
For a moment, I stared at him in confusion. Then it hit me; the ache and the darkness were gone, and I felt whole. I remembered who I was. Headstrong like Riley, hesitantly supportive like Terra, a strong and passionate person like Namandla, a concerned mother hen like Gralli, a best friend like Ylnde, Alex, and Hiyo; I was all that and more.
“Oh,” I said.
Innugati beamed at smile, then wrapped me up in a bear hug. “There’s the girl I knew all those years ago.”
“What a welcome,” I remarked drily, and he laughed, letting go of me and standing up.
He held a hand out to me, which I took with a grin. As he pulled me up, he said, “Well, we have a lot of pranks to catch up on.”
“And that apology gift that you owe me for being an idiot.”
“Deal.” He said. And with that, Innugati and I slung our backpacks over one shoulder and walked out of the library, ready to make up for all the time we missed together.