The library is noisy, but only I can hear the sounds. The creak of a door handle, the squeak of a chair against polished tile, a cough, a sneeze, a blown nose. The symphony of students hard at work. Or hard at Facebook. Instagram. Snapchat and WhatsApp? Whatever they use these days. I lost track years ago.
I peak out into the open from the shadow of the textbook I’m hiding behind. Harrison’s Internal Medicine. 16th Edition. Outdated and battered. No one will come looking for it. It’s August, which means that a batch of newly-minted medical students will be joining these studious souls on their quest for knowledge and excellence. Ah, the very thought of it makes my wings tingle. Fresh, curious minds just waiting to be filled with knowledge. I retreat back behind Harrison’s and skip a few shelves to the left. Hurst’s The Heart. Possibly the largest book in this entire collection. I snuggle against it, inhaling the sweet, stale scent of a dusty textbook that hasn’t been touched for years. The technological explosion means that there is little need for books. Or for me. But that doesn’t bother me as much as I thought it would. An unused book has a certain smell, taste, feel. Fragile, yet strong.
The stuff a dreams.
“Wow.” An unwelcome intrusion. I curl up closer to Hurst’s The Heart and scowl. “That is one big book.” Before I can react, Hurst’s The Heart is dragged from its place of honour, leaving me exposed to the glaring fluorescent of the basement-level library. “Wow, so heavy, too. How many chapters are in this thing?!?!”
Big brown eyes, straightened hair, ironed shirt, and brand-new jeans. Must be a first-year. A keen one, by the look of her. Might have been her very first day on campus. By the time they’d been around for a while, both the novelty of studying and dressing to impress had worn off. The end-of-year OSCEs were always met by bloodshot eyes, stained scrubs, and pizza breath. That’s if you saw them at all, of course. Final-year students were rare specimens. Board exam studying was undertaken at more exotic locations, like the gym, the park, or the dinner table, over a bowl of tinned ravioli which expired two years ago.
The girl was still ooh-ing and ah-ing over the brightly coloured pictures and photographs, and I smirked, creeping closer for a better look. Her name tag read ‘Kennedy Park’. A good name for a physician. Doctor Park. Sounded strong, and uncompromising. I crept to the ledge of the shelf for a closer look, but ended up slipping on a rather large pile of dust left behind from the book, tumbling off my perch and landing right on page 37.
“Oh!” said the girl, oddly calm. “Hello!”
“Bah,” I said, dusting myself off before fluttering back to my shelf. “Give me back my book!”
“I’m sorry,” the girl said, closing the cover. “Were you reading it?”
“Silly girl!” I said. “Clearly I was sleeping! Do I look like I could pick up that giant book anymore?”
“I’m sorry,” the girl said again. “I’ve just never seen a library fairy before.”
A library fairy? Where did this girl think she was, Disney World? Where on earth would anyone find a library fairy? “Excuse me,” I said firmly, “but I am not a library fairy. I am the Spirit of Medicine. A-A guardian, if you will. Key to information. Ask, and you shall be told.”
The girl’s eyes filled with wonder. “So, you know everything there is to know? About medicine, I mean?”
How gullible and foolish first-year medical students are! So innocent, so eager to know, so happy to please. “I did, at one point. But I’ve become smaller as time passes. There is not much spirit left in the medical community. And, as the spirit shrinks, so do I?”
The girl’s eyes fell, and her forehead furrowed. “Spirit?”
I waved my hands impatiently. “Silly girl, you must know what spirit is!”
“I do, I do, I’m sorry!” Another thing about medical students. They apologise far too much. That might be part of the reason they are so often used as punching bags. “I just meant, I thought there was a lot of spirit in medicine. I’m happy to be here, for one.”
“It won’t last long,” I said, kicking at a rather large pile of dust. My, but these shelves did get dusty! “Give yourself a year or two, and you’ll be crying in the washrooms for your momma.” As if on queue, there was a crash in the ladies’ room behind us, followed by a loud wail. “Good lungs, that girl’s got.”
“That won’t happen to me.” The girl’s bright grin reflected borderline stupidity. “I want to be here. I really do. I’ve wanted to be a doctor since I was six years old. This is a dream come true!”
I shook my head sadly, stepping to the side as the girl replaced Hurst’s The Heart in its rightful spot. “That’s what they all say,” I whispered, more to myself than her. I’d seen hundreds of thousands of medical students grace these corridors over the years. I’d witnessed their eager curiosity, their joy, their pain, their sorrow, their falls. Bit by bit, as the joys dwindles and the sorrows grew, I myself shrunk until I was no larger than a few lines of text in the books they used to read. What happened to the joy of medicine? The delight of healing? Even the newest students these days were focused on grades and research and electives and residency spots. So competitive! No one paused to consider things, to leap for joy, to pursue knowledge for the sake of learning, to learn medicine to help others!
“Well,” the girl said, uncertain. “I guess I’ll see you around.”
“I doubt you will,” I said, curling back into my spot of refuge behind Hurst’s The Heart. “You’ll forget about books and learning soon enough. Good luck with your residency applications.”
“I’ll come back and visit! Promise!” said the girl. “Just you wait and see.”
“Of course,” I said, my tongue heavy as I drifted off to sleep. “Just another empty promise from a dreamy-eyed first-year student…”