The bell above the shop door sounded, indicating the lull in customers was, for the time being, over. Eulalia turned the drawing upside down on the shop counter, and stood up to relieve her muscles from the previous few hours of being constantly sat down.
A man entered the premises, tall, with tousled hair graying at the temples. He had a fine clipped beard and moustache and peered at her through a kindly pair of eyes, bookended by laughter lines that added character and appeal. His dress sense was a little eccentric without being stark. He wore a white men’s dress shirt that looked like it belonged in the Victorian era, and as if to prove it a black silk sleeve garter adorned his left, though not right, arm. He wore black cotton trousers held up by braces and his feet were clad in slightly scuffed leather Oxfords. Eulalia put him at around half a decade her senior.
‘Hello,’ he greeted, with a genteel voice. ‘I wonder if you could help me. I’m looking for something for my niece. She has a taste for the fanciful in literature, something a little fantastical and romantic at the same time is what she prefers to read.’ The man continued to look and smile at her. He seemed to want to say something more. It was not until he raised his eyebrows that Eulalia realized she had simply been looking dumbly back.
‘How old is your niece?’ she asked.
‘Twenty-four. Not much older than you, I should imagine.’
Eulalia blushed. ‘On the contrary, I’m over one a half times her age.’
The man took a step back. ‘Well, you sincerely have me surprised.’ Eulalia could not recall hearing a man speak with more eccentricity and at the same time appeal.
‘What about…’ Eulalia walked over to one of the shelves and removed from it The Historian by Eizabeth Kostova.
She handed the man the book and he turned it over to read the back cover précis. ‘Indeed, this does sound her kind of thing, and I’m sure she has not read this one before. I trust you have read it yourself?’
‘I have, yes.’ Eulalia was half aware of fanning her eyelashes as if they were peacock feathers, and made a conscious effort to stop herself. ‘Delicious prose. So delicious, in fact, you simply want to read it out loud.’
‘How wonderful. Yes, I’m sure it will make an ideal birthday gift for Eulalia.’
Eulalia thought she had misheard. ‘I beg your pardon? For whom?’
‘Eulalia. My niece. There’s not many of them about, I know, but I think it’s a wonderful name.’
‘My name is Eulalia.’
The man took another step back. One look at her eyes told him she was not lying. ‘Well, you are full of surprises, aren’t you?’ he said through his smile.
They remained looking at each other a half minute more, a moment that became intense and yet not for a second awkward.
‘Would you like anything else?’ asked Eulalia.
‘Anything else?’ asked the man.
‘For your niece? Or yourself even?…Maybe even your wife, for example?’
‘Oh, I see. Well, I’m afraid there’s no wife to buy for. No, never did find the one, it simply never happened. Sometimes it seems like such a shame.’ His eyes settled back on hers. ‘Other times I’m not so sure.’
‘I can’t believe your niece is also called Eulalia.’
‘Me neither. Quite amazing, isn’t it? You know what I would call that?’ he leaned closer as he finished the question.
‘The fact you both share such an unusual name? I’d call it a sign. No, more than a sign, in fact. I’d call it an omen. A good omen.’
Eulalia stared at the man, in his dated elegant clothing, with his offbeat and arresting patter, the novel still grasped in his hand.
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