It was not in any of the books in my house. I searched through every one on the shelves. I visited friends who had borrowed books from me and I even visited friends who had lent me books. They thought me strange, looking so hard for something that seemed insignificant to them.
My last option led me to the longest part of my search. How many books have I borrowed from libraries over the years? In how many towns? In fifteen years the book may have been moved to other libraries, been sold, or even worse, pulped. Someone may have discarded what they thought of as a worthless bookmark when they borrowed the book. To some my search may have seemed hopeless, but they don't understand just how much it means to me.
The search would have been easier if I only liked to read occasionally and a particular type of book, however I am a voracious reader and have eclectic tastes. I always check out the maximum number of books I am allowed and often return them within the week. I worked out that could be easily mean over 4,000 books to search for. Matters were worse than that though as libraries often have multiple copies of the same book, if they are popular. There is no way I could recall every book either.
I got some strange looks from librarians as I worked through every book on every shelf in their library and then came back weeks later and then months later to look for any that had been returned. Some libraries had closed and I had to find out what had happened to their stocks. The search took me all over the country. I had to leave my job, there was not enough time for me to search after work and on Saturdays. My savings evaporated with costs of travel and finding somewhere to live away from home. If I don’t find it soon I will have to give up.
Today I am over 500 miles away from home, standing in a layby in the Highlands of Scotland, waiting for the mobile library van. There are a couple of Land Rovers and a tractor parked next to me with people waiting for the library. I’m so obviously not a local that the stares that I’m getting might even be hostile. In the distance I can see the van labouring up the glen, perhaps this will be my lucky day.
I’m first up the steps as soon as the driver opens the doors. Not many shelves to search, but I can’t leave any stone unturned. Then I see a book I recognise. Could this be it? ‘Lord Byron: The Major Works’. I rush to grab it, heedless of the comments of the others crowded into this small vehicle. My heart jumps, there, at the page where I stopped reading when tears filled my eyes. How could I have forgotten this poem and the effect it had on me? I should have remembered.
WHEN we two parted
In silence and tears,
To sever for years,
Pale grew thy cheek and cold,
Colder thy kiss;
Truly that hour foretold
Sorrow to this.
Nestling at this page is a small fragile leaf. Yellowed now with age. No scent of the lemon groves next to the Temple of Aphaia, on the isle Aegina, where my lost love picked it for me and kissed it. I kiss the lost leaf and gently place it in my wallet next to my heart.